A Culture of Theatricality and Masquerade
If parades are the main event of Mardi Gras, it might be said that costuming represents the heart and soul of the gala. The ritual transformation of one’s identity through “masking,” regardless of whether an actual mask is worn, is, after all, what makes possible flights of fancy into a world of joyous license and fantasy, bestowing the exhilaration and magic inherent in the words “Mardi Gras.”
The Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture shows that the pool of New Orleans talent engaged in the creation of festive fashions and accessories is as deep and formidable as the wellspring of the city’s musical and culinary genius. The museum features the private collection of Carl Mack, a modern-day vaudevillian, known as the Xylophone Man, who has also made a name for himself as an impresario, providing entertainers, fanfare and regalia for special events.
The range of costume styles on hand reflects the many ways in which revelers partake in Mardi Gras and other traditions, in a city where creative expression through theatricality and masquerade is a consuming passion and practically a way of life. The collection includes authentic attire worn by Carnival royalty, Mardi Gras Indians, Cajun Mardi Gras maskers, Brazilian samba schools, gay krewes, burlesque performers, street buskers, social aid and pleasure clubs, Mardi Gras walking clubs and more.
The museum rents costumes and offers guided tours and a 45–minute Mardi Gras show with music. Afterwards, guests are invited to dress up in finery from the museum’s well-stocked costume closet, making for some great photo-ops. There’s even a throne for pretend kings and queens to adorn themselves and indulge fantasies of reigning over a Carnival ball. Beholding Carl Mack, a busker at heart, tell a joke or two and sing a song while playing his beloved xylophone, is always a treat.
The museum, located at 1010 Conti Street in the French Quarter, opens for shows at 2 pm on Sunday, Monday and Friday. It opens at 11:30 am on Saturday, with shows at noon and 2 pm. The cost is $15, and tickets can be purchased online. Closing time is 5 pm. The museum is closed Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. For more information, call (504) 949-4009.