Feb 9, 2024 - Mardi Gras

At Mardi Gras, New Orleanians dress the part

A woman stands on the New Orleans Moon Walk, a pathway next to the Mississippi River, with the Crescent City Connection bridge in the background. She wears a floral costume, with boots covered in faux flowers.

The author, wearing her flower-covered boots in 2022. Photo Courtesy of Chelsea Brasted

This weekend and through Mardi Gras, New Orleanians will tuck their hair into wigs, swipe on glitter, button up weird outfits, put the final touches on Indian suits and shimmy into sequins as they dress the part for new personas.

Why it matters: A Mardi Gras Indian queen once told me that she saw wearing her suit not as masking but as revealing something honest about herself.

  • For thousands of us over the next few days, we live that truth.

Context: Masking has been a core part of how we celebrate Mardi Gras since its pagan beginnings in Europe.

  • I often explain to out-of-towners that Mardi Gras costuming has everything and nothing to do with how people dress up for Halloween.
  • "Think less Superman or Disney villain," I'll say, "and more monochromatic flowers, political satire or dressing like an idea of something."
  • (I'm not sure what I say makes any sense until they see it for themselves.)

Zoom in: I'll wear the most meaningful costume of my Mardi Gras today when I join the Krewe de Boots at our annual lunch.

  • We're a small but mighty group of ladies who decorate shoes every year in a theme that asks us to think a little more critically about what we want for ourselves.
A silver lace-up boot embellished with mirrored pieces lays on the ground next to a gold-painted boot covered in sequin patches shaped like red feathers.
A boot from 2023, and a boot from 2024. Photo: Chelsea Brasted/Axios

In 2022, I was three unsuccessful rounds deep into IVF, and I took the theme "manifesting your future" literally.

  • I wanted to grow my family, so I covered my boots in flowers.

In 2023, I was seven months pregnant, so when the annual theme asked me what "permission" I wanted to grant myself, I decided my boots would excuse me from taking on too much while I let my body do all the work.

And this year, when our theme asks us to consider our legacy, I'm thinking about how I want my daughter to be resilient, to find strength in changing her mind and to find what makes her happy on her own terms.

  • My boots will be designed like a phoenix, reminding me to raise a woman capable of both burning things down and rebuilding them from the ashes.

The bottom line: As adults, we're granted precious few opportunities to play, and this time of year in New Orleans is one gigantic excuse to let it rip.

  • Whether you're dressing in something meaningful or you just want to put on something sparkly for the day, I hope you go for it, full-tilt.

🗣️ Tell us: What is inspiring your Mardi Gras costume, Mardi Gras Indian suit or other masking tradition this year? Let us know by emailing [email protected]

  • We may include your reply in an upcoming edition of the newsletter.
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