Costumes are a fundamental part of Carnival tradition in New Orleans. During Mardi Gras, the more outrageous an outfit or accessory you’re wearing, the more likely you are to blend in (and, more importantly, have fun). Dressing in the official colors of Carnival – purple, green, and gold – is just about the bare minimum. We’ve compiled a list of tips and local-approved costume shops to help you plan the perfect look that’s sure to turn heads even on Bourbon Street.
Mardi Gras Costume Tips
1. Wear comfortable shoes
This tip may not be the most fun, but it’s crucial if you want to make it through what could be a whole day on the parade route. Mardi Gras involves a lot of walking, so we encourage you to wear shoes that will keep your feet happy. But, comfortable shoes don’t have to be boring shoes! We recommend light-up, metallic, or bejeweled sneakers. If you want to get crafty, you can take a hot glue gun to an older pair of shoes. Look to the iconic shoes of the Krewe of Muses for inspiration—though we highly advise you not to use heels.
2. Dress in layers
The weather in New Orleans is always unpredictable, and Carnival season is no exception. When a chilly, damp morning can turn into a balmy, sunny afternoon at the drop of a hat, you’ll want to build some flexibility into your costume. Wear tights or leggings for a removable extra layer, or consider a jacket that fits with your costume’s color scheme, whether it’s off-the-rack or a design all your own.
3. Wear a wig
A funky wig is one of the easiest ways to turn a regular outfit into a real Mardi Gras ensemble. Whether it’s paired with a tutu and the best beads from your bag of throws or is simply another part of an elaborate costume, a great wig is a game-changer. New Orleans costume shops are full of wigs, so if you travel here without one, we’ve got you covered!
New Orleanians know that feathers and sequins make a costume, but your accessories can be functional as well as flashy. Try carrying a sequin fanny pack to hold your cell phone and wallet or using a feather boa to add texture and keep you warm.
5. Get creative with makeup
False eyelashes, body glitter, face paint—makeup is a fun way to add interest to your Mardi Gras get-up. Add some stick-on rhinestones around your eyes or decorate your cheekbones with colorful body glitter to make whatever you’re wearing really pop.
6. Remember your carnival colors
Not sure what to wear? When in doubt, deck yourself out in the official colors of carnival: purple, green, and gold. Think a green shirt, purple wig, and gold body glitter, or really blend in with the locals in a Mardi Gras polo or rugby shirt.
Local Mardi Gras Costume Shops
If you’re in the market for a wig, look no further than Fifi Mahony’s. Shopping in this French Quarter boutique is an experience—staff will expertly fit wigs based on customers’ face shape, coloring, and costuming needs. You can also purchase body jewels, makeup, and other Mardi Gras accessories there. – 934 Royal St.
Located on Magazine Street in the Irish Channel, Funky Monkey is a resale boutique that specializes in costumes. Here you’ll find pre-made costumes, shoes, accessories, and vintage ball gowns, in addition to the traditional resale options. – 3127 Magazine St.
Miss Claudia’s Vintage Clothing and Costumes
Miss Claudia’s in Uptown is the dream costume shop for lovers of thrifting and all things vintage. Beyond the unassuming front doors, you’ll find a treasure trove of fun accessories, including glittery purses and majorette boots. – 4204 Magazine St.
Southern Costume Company
Are you looking to rent an elaborate costume rather than buy one? Southern Costume Company is the place for you. You may even be able to find a costume used in a movie filmed in New Orleans! In addition to rentals, the shop also offers custom costume services, tailoring, and supplies. – 951 Lafayette St.
Uptown Costume & Dancewear
Located on a stretch of Magazine Street that’s full of boutique retailers, Uptown Costume and Dancewear is hands down one of the most comprehensive costume shops in the city. With numerous selections for all your costume needs, this stop is a must when shopping for Mardi Gras staples. – 4326 Magazine St.
The New Orleans Costume Center
Featuring both new and pre-owned, hand-crafted costumes, The New Orleans Costume Center is a celebration of what makes New Orleans unique. In addition to full costumes, it also carries supplies to make your own—like trims, feathers, and sequins. If you really want to go all out, you can hire a costume designer to make you something special. – 2716 Royal St.
Nikki’s French Quarter Halloween Store
We know Nikki’s has Halloween in its name, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great place to snag some Mardi Gras accessories. Here you’ll find plenty of wigs, masks, body paint, and makeup to augment any costume. – 107 Chartres St. B
Glitter Box N.O.
An independently-owned shop with a passion for empowering people of marginalized genders, Glitter Box N.O. is filled with one-of-a-kind finds and creations from local artists. Get dressed up with one of their sequined items or headpieces, and feel the magic of Carnival season while supporting local artists. A portion of each sale goes to a nonprofit that changes monthly. – 1109 Royal St.
Where to See the Best Mardi Gras Costumes
Bourbon Street Awards
If you want to see some of the city’s most elaborate handmade costumes in action, look no further than the Bourbon Street Awards on Mardi Gras Day. The event has been called “the most famous drag-queen contest in America,” and each year awards are given for Best Drag, Best Leather, Best Group, and Best of Show by local and international drag queen emcees. To watch the awards, make sure to arrive near the intersection of Bourbon and St. Ann Streets early in the morning on Mardi Gras Day to get a spot on the street.
Red Beans Parade
Lundi Gras (or the day before Mardi Gras) means the Red Beans Parade, with krewe members parading in special, hand-decorated suits adorned with—you guessed it—beans! The krewe members parade alongside any unofficial revelers who want to join in. The parade starts at 2 p.m. on Lundi Gras in the Marigny and meets the “Dead Beans” parade, with their Day-of-the-Dead-themed bean costumes, in the Tremé.
St. Anne Parade
The society of St. Anne is a Mardi Gras marching krewe that parades on Mardi Gras Day. In the true spirit of the day, St. Anne does not have a set time or route, but you can usually catch up with them at Anna’s around 10 a.m. or at R Bar later in the day. Those who walk in St. Anne spend all year crafting their costumes and you’ll be treated to one of the most beautiful spectacles New Orleans has to offer.