The Masquerade Ball: A Glamorous Costume Party
- By Jenna Maxwell
The masquerade ball or masked ball has long been a tradition that is both mysterious and glamorous. The concept for these parties first began as far back as the 14th and 15th century, when the Europeans celebrated their carnival season. People would dress up in their most outlandish costume, finished off with an elegant mask to hide their face but show their eyes. These luxurious parties soon became extremely popular in France, when Charles VI held one in 1393. This event, entitled the Bal des Ardents, meaning "burning men's ball," was a decadent and wild party where attendees dressed up in colorful and intriguing costumes complete with masks. He lined the dance floor with burning torches, which added to the mystique and added an element of danger to the party. These parties were loud, wild, and held late into the night; people would drink, eat, and socialize into the early morning hours. The Bal des Ardents ended tragically when four dancers who attended were burned to death.
In the 16th century, the Renaissance era in Italy quickly adopted the masquerade ball trend. Here, it was more of a fashion show, where the wealthy would dress in their most glamorous attire, decorating their clothing with jewels and fine materials. The masks themselves were quite the work of art as well. Often adorned with crystals and feathers, these masks were not just a disguise but also a bold fashion statement and a symbol of prestige. The balls were most popular in Venice during the Carnevale festival, until their popularity faded away toward the end of the 18th century. The rest of mainland Europe had just begun to adopt the concept of the masquerade ball around that same time. Of course, there were those who took issue with these decadent parties. Many opponents said they were to host the immoral, the corrupt, and those who were out of touch with reality. This did not stop the many wealthy hosts of various masquerade balls from continuing on with the popular tradition, which held its ground in Europe for many years. These masked balls were also very popular in Rio de Janeiro and still are today.
Into the 1950s, the idea of a masked ball was becoming a popular concept in the United States. Even home decor featured masquerade masks and people dressed for the ball. In 1966, author Truman Capote decided to host his own Black and White Ball to celebrate the publishing of his famous book In Cold Blood. He decided to invite only the most wealthy and elite to the ball in order to show his personal prowess and standing in the author community. The concept was that the most famous people he could find would attend but would have their faces hidden behind masks. Capote asked the female attendees to also carry fans to add to the intrigue. The guests were photographed in front of the famous Plaza Hotel. Some of the most notable attendees included Andy Warhol (who actually did not wear a mask), Frank Sinatra, Joan Fontaine, and actress Lauren Bacall. When all was said and done, Capote's masquerade ball was called the party of the century.
The costumes worn during European masquerade balls were quite detailed and colorful. Depending on the party's theme, women would wear colorful ball gowns or svelte black dresses. The men would dress in their most elaborate suits, donning darker-colored masks in many cases. Whether the party was gothic-themed or highbrow, the costumes and clothing worn were elaborate and often over-the-top. Some people would dress up as animals or represent something like the four seasons. Others chose to dress in an Asian-themed costume. The costumes were not limited to dressy clothing; everything was left to the partygoer's imagination. These parties were a gathering place for the elite, the wealthy, the famous, and the well-to-do. It was a time where people could let loose and not worry about revealing their identities if they didn't want people to see their faces. The wearing of masks only added to the mystery and intrigue.
Today, masquerade-themed parties are still popular. Many high schools and colleges host their own versions of these wild and wonderful parties. People can make their own masks or buy them from any number of costume stores. Fashion gurus like to host this type of party since it allows their clients and models to dress in wild styles and show off their own creativity. Some people like to have a masquerade-themed Halloween party to add to the mysterious aura of the holiday. Because of the interesting variety of masks and costumes people can wear, this tradition is still enjoyed by people all over the world today.
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