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A visual masterpiece. That’s the best way to describe the Venice Carnival. Thousands of festival goers from the around the world arrive decked out head to toe in handmade costumes, perfectly crafted down to the smallest thread, in Venetian masks that allow participants to wander the streets in their chosen fantasy personas. It’s an otherworldly sight that takes place in Venice every year. To participate in this almost frighteningly convincing trip back in time, you have to first nail the costume. Oh, and there are levels. Some costumes are just enough to fit in and mingle with the masked crowds, while others compete for attention at Il Ballo del Doge, recognized by Vanity Fair as the most exclusive ball in the world.
The extravagant carnival is celebrated across a 17-day period, and includes opulent costumes, lavish balls, parades, and even the occasional water fight — yes really!
It sounds appealing, but questions remain. How do you track down these incredible costumes? What are you looking at for prices? We’ve taken this part into our hands with our guide on how to find a Venice Carnival costume. Check out the costume ideas and designers below, and let your imagination get to work.
Costumes and Masks
If you’re attending Venice Carnival, you can either create your own costume when you arrive in Venice, bring one from home, or hire a costume from one of the Venetian ateliers. If you’re bringing a costume from home, don’t forget about luggage restrictions. Meanwhile, if you are hiring a costume in Venice, you will have to request the costume ahead of time. Here are a few of our top picks for carnival costume ateliers, or ideas for how to build your own Venice Carnival costume:
Nicolao Atelier: With more than 30 years of experience designing and creating period costumes, head tailor Stefan Nicolao is a sure bet. Shirts, hats, and shoes can all be purchased through the tailor’s website.
Atelier Marega: From Venetian mask-making demos to high-end costumes available for purchase, Marega offers it all. We’re especially impressed by the wide variety of masks that are certain to make your getup stand out. This atelier has a hand in everything and is a great resource for all sorts of Carnival information.
Venice Events: Venice Events works with a number of ateliers in the Venice area and has a wider selection of costumes and masks. You may not get the personal tailor experience at the Marega or Nicolao, but the Venice Events costume page gives you plenty of options.
eBay: If you’re looking for a Venetian costume on a budget, why not browse eBay or similar sites? You can find several people selling used, or hardly worn, Venetian masks and dress, for a fraction of the price.
Make Your Own: Another low-budget option is to get creative and make your own costume. While you need to purchase a mask, you can visit a seamstress or try your own hand at creating a costume to match the mask. Always opt for a costume the same color as your mask, and don’t be afraid of adding feathers, sequins and beadwork — the more detailing the better!
Generally speaking, you need to have a strict color theme for your carnival costume. Whether it’s black and red, or blue and white, you should try to stick to two colors. Many female costumes are adorned with sparkling flowers or butterflies. Check out the artwork of Painter Pietro Longhi, an 18th-century Venetian artist, for a spot of color inspiration.
You’ll need a beautiful mask for the carnival, and they are easy to purchase in most artisan or tourist shops in Venice. If you don’t like the idea of wearing a mask, you can always paint your face instead. You can also add an extravagant wig or headdress — and if you’re planning on doing so, make sure it matches your color theme. You can also make your own mask at a mask-making workshop and tour.
Some of the best past costumes have included beautiful, white horse headdresses, feline-themed costumes, 16th-century ball costumes and many, many more. One of the best ways to prepare for the Carnival is to check out the costumes that have broken necks in the past. Here are a few articles that highlight the head turners. Keep in mind that many of these are homemade!
This photo journal from the Internationa Business Times catches some of the best from 2017.
Pinterest’s Venice Carnival archives are an excellent source for costume inspiration.
This Business Insider article looks at some of the highlights from the 2016 Carnival.
Venice Carnival, or the Carnevale di Venezia, is one of the oldest carnivals in Northern Italy and the world. The carnival began several centuries ago, with origins as a period of excess and extravagant celebration before Lent, which is 40 days of fasting. Beginning in the 11th century, the Carnival was devised so that Venetians could hide their identities behind masks, and do as they pleased. It was like one last blow out before Lent.
In the 13th century, the carnival is said to have lasted over a two month period. They really knew how to party hard back in the day! The carnival was traditionally celebrated by people from all social backgrounds and was seen as a way that people from different classes could mingle. You could also hide your gender. While the Carnival fell out of popularity in the 18th century, the idea was revived in the 1970s and nowadays it’s one of the best events in Italy.
The Carnival Events
During the carnival, you’ll see street performances, dances, masquerade balls, and extravagant parades. On the first day of the festival, the ‘flight of the angel’ takes place. The event which has changed names over the years and centuries from ‘flight of the eagle’ to ‘flight of the dove, to its existing name, is a spectacle where a person, wearing angle-like carnival dress, is suspended in mid-air and gently descends down to the ground. The event takes place in St Marks Square.
Some of the top areas to visit to see parades, costumes, musical performances and more are at the Bell Tower, the Cannaregio District, and the Cannaregio Canal. It’s also worth visiting San Marco, San Pietro di Castello and the Ca Vendramin Calergi palace on the Grand Canal, where you can throw yourself into the festivities.
Towards the end of the Carnival, there’s a competition for the best mask and the winner is normally chosen around Shrove Tuesday. See the full rundown of events on the Carnival Calendar and make sure you have somewhere to stay after all the festivities, browse all the accommodation in Venice.