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Italian Masquerade: Costumes and Masks

Marian K
A masquerade ball is a formal event where all the revelers dress up in particular costumes and wear masks. The word evolved from the Italian court masques, which were different forms of entertainment for the royalty. Let us explore this colorful tradition of Italian masquerade through the following article.
Our fascination with masking our own identity, or donning another's, for just a night, has led to a longstanding love affair with masquerade balls. As popular today, as they were with European and Elizabethan royalty, they now find their place at dance shows, carnivals and parades.

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They have also served as an inspiration to literature, art, theater and the movies. They are prominent in most movies where the indulgences of royalty are being emphasized or, royal bacchanals are being depicted. The word masquerade takes me back to the famous masked ball scene in The Phantom of the Opera.

About Italian Masquerade

In its nascent stage, the masques were meant to provide entertainment to the members of the court. There were variety of forms, sometimes a pageant, at others, a theatrical performance. During the Renaissance period (16th century), it blossomed into costumed revelry. As it progressed, it was adopted in other European nations.
Arriving in France, it gave rise to the ballet de cour. Popular in Venice, these celebrations included not just royalty, but also other privileged members of society. When many experienced the demise of their good fortune with the fall of the Venetian Republic at the end of the 18th century, these expensive soirées also died out.
Many decades later, in the mid 1900's, owing to the efforts of a youthful bunch of theater aficionados, the grand Venetian carnival tradition was revived. Elaborate masks and costumes draw people from around the world, as it is realized in complete splendor, in the last week before lent in Venice.

Types of Masks

One may be surprised to learn that masquerade masks are used at varied occasions from sweet 16 parties to theme parties and even for some weddings! Modern masks can be half or full-face masks. In present times, half-face masks are more popular, as full-face ones restrict eating and conversation. Masks are available in plenty and in a wide range of prices.
Elaborate expensive metal ones may be adorned with gemstones or intricate gold leaf. Masks similar to the original papier-mâché ones are also available. Most beautifully made masks are dramatic, and make excellent decorative pieces.
And if, like me, you too are The Phantom of the Opera fan, the phantom mask would be ideal. Here are some types of masks explained in detail to give you a better idea about it.

Half-face Mask

As the name suggests, this mask covers half or very little of the face so that unlike the full-face and the stick mask, the operator can eat and drink and talk. A popular half-face mask is the cat face. A Harlequin pattern is seen quite often on half-face masks. Also, a traditional Venetian design seen very often is a half face mask with a long beak-like nose.

Eye Mask

Although being a traditional type, eye masks have become the most popular masks in the modern masquerade themed parties. People have a lot of fun wearing these masks as they can hide their identity to some extent and play around. These masks are available in a wide range of colors from plain to extremely ornate with golden trim and other fancy decorations.
There are two varieties of these masks, one includes a strap worn around the head while the other has a stick, which you can use to hold the mask in front of your face. An additional feature of this mask is, it comes with attached feathers which add extra charm to its look.

Stick Mask

While most masks were worn strapped to the face, it was also popular to carry masks on a stick and occasionally show someone who you really are. This style was pretty informal and used for occasions where identity of the operator/user was supposed to be hidden.
As a good point, these masks made eating and drinking easier and also allowed clear conversation. However, the drawback is that it demands constant use of one of your hands for holding the mask in front of the face, which can cause inconvenience to the user while picking up objects.

Full-face Mask

This mask covers the entire face of the user right from the hairline to the chin and have holes for eyes, mouth and nose. These masks restrict eating, drinking and conversation; the voice of the user sounds muffled and unclear. However, these masks prove to be the best ones for producing or developing the character to the fullest. They also create greater sense of mystery, since no one could ever recognize the person beneath the mask. If you think you can carry a full-face mask well, some full-face joker masks, monster masks, etc., are exquisite varieties.

Court Jester

A jester mask really demands your attention as it is designed in unique style, especially the 'hat' that grows from the head. The long section of the hat has two (sometimes even more) attractive colors with a bell, a ball or beads at every end point. When the user shakes his/her head the bells make a very fantastic sound that adds to the look and overall appearance of the user.

Complete Head Mask

This is a mask that helps maximum concealment of a person's identity. It covers the entire face as well the head of the person and has more elaborate decorations and embellishments like long hair, feathers and head pieces.
Like other types, these masks also have holes for eyes, nose and mouth. While the look seems complete with this mask, it causes difficulty in movement because of its heaviness and large size.

Masquerade Costumes

Contemporary masquerade parties often see guests dressed in stylish attire wearing masks. But there are those who choose to stay true to the masquerade tradition, and dress in elaborate costumes, inspired by clothes of the seventeenth and the eighteenth century royalty.
Yet these outfits are comparatively conservative to those you see at the carnival in Venice. A good way to add to your costume is accessories. You could wear long gloves or a tiara and carry a hand fan. Here is a pictorial view of the traditional court jester as well as royal costumes of earlier times.

Masquerade Prom Dress


The look of the dress is a key factor in masquerade dressing. While most people are trying to come up with new, original and unique ideas for a masquerade themed party, some are still looking at the past getting inspired by the 17th and 18th century dresses.
That is why most women are seen in huge, fancy ball gowns with frills while men look great in old-fashioned tuxedos with long coats or tails and top hats. Other costume choices include king and queen costumes, jester outfits and dresses with Latin American flair.
Along with these options other periodic costumes like Victorian era costumes, Renaissance costumes, Medieval costumes, Gothic costumes and Antebellum era costumes are also a popular choice.


As far as colors are concerned, Italian masquerade or any other style is not confined to any specific color or color scheme. You can choose from a wide range of colors like bright red, blue, golden and silver. Some more colors like sea blue, deep blue, beige, light yellow, mauve, light green, turquoise, look extremely gorgeous when they come together with matching masks and accessories.


You will find a lot of variety in the patterns of a masquerade dress, to choose from. For instance, you can try out silk or satin to attain that shinny party look. You can even design your own costume by planning everything in advance.
However, while doing all this make sure that you are following the dress code mentioned on the invitation. Do not attempt anything that makes you feel uncomfortable and out of the flow of the party.
Masquerade balls are always a lot of fun. One can buy or rent a costume for this occasion. If you are a creative person, it is not too difficult to make your own costume or mask. There are plenty of instructions available on the Internet. Above all, don't feel shy when attempting for a melodramatic costume. Conceal your own identity, and be a count or countess for the night!