by angeliska on February 28, 2023

I’ve been partaking in Nick Jaina’s amazing Memoir Class (seriously go check it out if you’re ready to jumpstart your memoir writing, it’s been absolutely fantastic!) and I’ve been focusing on writing about my years in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina blew me back west, and what I learned from living there. I’ve been contemplating especially how much I’ve grown as a costumer from my many years of making Mardi Gras magic.

As I prepared to finally return to Carnival after a long pandemic hiatus, I took a moment to organize the last 17 years of my Mardi Gras Day costumes (I’ve missed a total of three, out of the last 20 years) and to dream about what visions I want to call into being next!

I feel moved to share here a visual walk-through of what I’ve learned in the past two decades of costuming and reveling – and trust that I’ve been writing a LOT about all this, and will have much to share soon – so definitely stay in touch if you want to read more about this masque and mummery adventure I’ve been on for half my life now…

I moved to New Orleans in 1999, but because I was young and stupid, I often ended up working on Mardi Gras and somehow missed the memo for a few years that it would be my most favorite day! I was twenty years old, and more impressionable than I’d like to admit, so for a little while there, I got turned around into believing that Mardi Gras was too messy, too touristy, too crazy for me. What was I thinking!? Eventually I figured out how wrong I was, and from there – never looked back.

Costuming is not only an art – it’s a form of shamanic embodying, of the spirit or archetype you’re drawn to and desire to create and put on for one day, dancing it out into the streets, into the crowds, to be experienced, admired, glorified, and thoroughly CELEBRATED.

You have to play with it, experiment, do a lot of trial and error, make mistakes, and find your sweet spot! Everyone has their own approach and method to costuming, but for me – I consider a costume a success if it makes a big impact (and yes, I judge this by how many steps I can walk before someone flags me down wanting to photograph what I’ve created!), and if my fellow friends on psychedelics have their minds blown by the colors, details, and overall fabulosity of what I’ve put together.

It’s also got to be not only totally extravagant and elaborate, but simultaneously comfortable enough to walk and dance in, party vigorously, and use the bathroom in from early in the morning to late at night – without falling apart, becoming too cumbersome, or making me totally miserable.

I love challenging myself, and now I work on some of these for years, gathering ideas and materials long before the entire look comes into fruition. I plan, make sketches and lists, source trim and appliqués from distant lands, and plot my debut Mardi Gras morning.

It cracks me up sometimes to examine how seriously I take all this – to the point that I’ve long had Mardi Gras anxiety dreams, (where my costume isn’t ready, is extremely ugly, or full of rats, or too big to get out the door!) but I think this just shows my true commitment to sparkle motion!

You can see a clear progression in my journey to understanding all of this, which no one really taught me, but that I had to figure out for myself – and by observing and being wowed by the costumes of so many of the badass masquers I always look forward to seeing out on the streets each year.

I love the way we inspire and surprise each other, and always try to out-do whatever we pulled off last year, in one way or another. As the quality of the photos taken gets better and better with each year, so too do my costumes.

In continuing my costume retrospective, I’ve been learning so much about my own process by laying everything out year by year like this. It surprises me that I never thought to do so before, but twenty years feels like an appropriate time to reflect back, and see how far I’ve come as a costumer and carouser!

2003: Green Antoinette – I wore tattered green and black Victorian shredded finery and took my 89 year old Grampa out in his wheelchair for his first proper Mardi Gras, and in some ways, mine too.

2004: Pirate Antoinette – Same wig (thank you Alisan – she got a lot of wear!) but I’m starting to get this idea a bit better now… That corset was so gorgeous, and I borrowed the bird’s nest neckpiece from Pandora.

2005: Unicorn Princess — I’m full committed at this point, and living with Pandora was a big influence and delight, when it came to costuming and carousing! This was the first (but not the last) time I got into using taxidermy bases to attach animal bodies to my bodice.

2006: Phoenix – the first Mardi Gras after Katrina. A bit on the nose, and I was definitely falling apart by the end of the day, but what a joyous day!

2007: I couldn’t go this year because Helen’s murder had me gripped in really intense PTSD (plus everything from Katrina was really catching up to me, and I was not okay) I still regret not going, though. 💔

2008: Dark Capricorn – Honestly not my best work. I ran out of time and had too much fun partying! But I redeemed the Capricorn magic in 2020, so NO REGRETS!

2009: Foxy Queen Elizabeth — This was such fun to make and wear! But why did I choose such subtle maquillage? I think I ran out of time, and sweated or cried most of my glitter off. Whatever, I had the skin for it back then!

2010: Black Forest Cake – Here’s where I’m really hitting my stride! I LOVED wearing this costume, so so so much.

2011: Green Tara – Another joy to wear, though much of it was put together from vintage pieces someone made in the 60s or 70s. It was here that I realized how much I love being green.

2012: Peacock – I was very pleased with how this one turned out! All the peacock feathers came from the flock out at Lone Grove, and were gathered by my Aunt Ruth.

2013: Bee Queen – Though I was very proud of this costume, but I think I learned here that black is just… not a showstopping color for Mardi Gras! I wish I’d leaned harder into the honeycomb shades, and that my very detailed (and way too heavy) headpiece had been more visible! Buuuut I loved embodying the Bee Queen, even if I couldn’t bear to wear her into the night!

2014: Rainy Gras! This was the year of the absolute most miserable weather on a Mardi Gras I’ve ever experienced (as I wasn’t there for Freezy Covid Gras of 2021! I decided not to wear my Marine Antoinette costume because it wouldn’t be warm enough, and I didn’t want to waste it on a day when it might not be seen under a coat and umbrella, so I switched gears, pulled together a last minute LEWK I’ll call ummm…Copper Eyes! I had warm layers on, and borrowed some sparkly layers and Pandora’s red rainboots and was SET! It was kind of a Bummer Gras (for a lot of reasons), but I learned some really valuable lessons that day:

1. Costume commitment is important, but comfort is key, and you’ll have way more fun if you’re dressed for the situation. Be flexible, and prepared to change it up last minute, if you need to. There will be sunnier and warmer Mardi Gras days to wear your bikini thong thot flossy costume, I promise. You can still have a fabulous day, even if your look isn’t totally on point. And – NO ONE is looking at your shoes! Clip some bows on your rubber booties and be grateful for the gift of warm dry feets!

2. Choose your krewe wisely. I got ditched by the river for the last time that year, and found myself alone, in the Quarter, way too high in the freezing rain. Plus, I was clutching an order of cold-ass Bloody Marys for people who decided not to wait for me to return with them (or let me know where they went!) I experienced a simultaneous Mardi Gras meltdown and Mardi Gras miracle, as I spotted my beloved Jonno and company, and was blessedly invited to roll with that lovely krewe of sweeties, utterly saving my day, and cementing my eternal love for Jonno and his cohort of bearded babes. They were thrilled to share my Bloodys, and we had some marvelous and unexpected adventures that I never would have gotten to experience had that not occurred, so – it was actually a blessing!

P.S. When I say krewe here, I don’t mean it in the formal sense of organized MG krewe, but just the peeps you roll deep with throughout Carnival. Lowercase krewe for me indicates the folks who will wait up for you when you need to go slow, make sure you don’t get lost, safety pin you back together when you’re falling apart, wait with you in the bathroom line, help you out when you are too altered to function, and generally just have your back throughout the chaos and magic of the best (and most intense) day of the year! If you find them, show up for them in the same way, because that kind of love and loyalty is GOLD!

3. Southern Hospitality is a REAL THING, and oh my lord, it is something to be treasured. Before that dismal, miserable freezing weather Carnival, I’d always eschewed going in people’s houses during the day of Fat Tuesday, except for a quick pee or a waterbottle refill or something. I always wanted to be outside on the street, where all the action was!

But holy moly, what a blessing it is for the people that choose to host others in their gracious homes on that day – often allowing heavily costumed strangers into their parlors and onto their balconies to rest their hooves, graze their snack tables, drink their booze, and maneuver their complicated selves onto their toilets. The trust involved is remarkable. There’s an unspoken pact of respect that locals really understand, and it’s very, very special to witness.

I’ve gotten to hang out in some of the most exquisite mansions in the French Quarter, filled with fascinating artwork and wonderfully interesting people. It’s so humbling to be the recipient of such kind largesse, and it’s a dream of mine to one day have a home in New Orleans again (when I am ancient and somehow extravagantly wealthy) where I could return the favor.

2015: Marine Antoinette – A triumph! This costume survived the massive fire at the Mudlark Public Theater and lived to be worn with great delight the Mardi Gras after! It was wonderful to have a mostly finished costume for once, too – so I could enjoy myself with less stress of being up hot glue-ing into the wee hours on Lundi Gras! The jellyfish panniers were especially fun to wear, and my wig is a custom glory from Coco Coquette.

2016: Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights – I was particularly proud of this one, especially the headdress (which has lots of little surreal details, and is a replica of the pink tower in the center panel of the painting. I did have a minor Mardi Gras meltdown Lundi Gras night because I felt lumpy and dowdy when I tried everything on, but I made a last minute wig shift, and somehow that completely changed everything!

2017: Amethyst Deceiver: The Amethyst Deceiver is a bright purple mushroom, and my inspiration for this costume was fungus, spies/double agents, and kind of a mycological revolutionary/military theme… I think it was a bit too conceptual, with a lot of fiddly details that were falling apart (hot glue doesn’t really work when sticking appliques to smooth leather, FYI), but it was fun to prance around in, even if my look might’ve translated to…the Purple Pie Man villain from Strawberry Shortcake!

2018: Karma Chameleon: This year we did a Shamanic Neon Animals theme, and had a Wild Hare, a Lion, a Spider Queen, an Owl, and a clown! I’d had a vision of being covered in chameleons, and becoming one with them – so this was an expression of that experience! Again, I’m not totally sure that my concept translated, but I had a blast wearing it!

2019: CHAKRA KHAN: Solar Plexus / Yellow – this was a major group costume where we all dressed as the colors of the rainbow / chakras! I was the Maṇipūra मणिपूर chakra, and I loooooved embodying this energy and color! We had gone to India that January for my 40th birthday and found lots of intricate trims and bits for our costumes. It was pretty amazing to be part of this rainbow krewe, and everyone looked stunning on their own as well.

2020: Holographic Horoscope: Capricorn – We were iridescent embodiments of our zodiac signs! This was an opportunity to redeem myself after my Capricorn costume fail of 2008, and it felt like another triumph! I was an albino Capricorn with double horns and double eyes! I loved making this – especially my goat headdress, and mermaid tail (an aspect I ran out of time to make the first time around!) My scaly leggy warmers did start to fall down right after we left the house that morning, but some careful safety pinning kept them up the rest of the day (though the bottoms of them were soooo gross after wading through Mardi sludge all day, but that’s kind of impossible to avoid!) This was the last Mardi Gras we got to have before Covid hit (I got super sick by that Thursday, and was ill for 3 months!), so I’m grateful that we really got to live it up, and have such a luminous, perfect day.

2021 & 2022 had to be missed out on due to Covid, the big freeze here in Austin, grief and emotional/financial poverty 💔, but Mardi Gras 2023 was incredible and our theme was FANTASTICAL BOTANICAL – Medicinal Plantasy on Parade! I embodied HUACHUMA / San Pedro Cactus, which was a very spiky social distancing costume, and I hope to share those images here soon. I’ve also got visions brewing for 2024, but I’ll keep mum on that for the moment…

Also included are a few choice costumes from Eris Parades of yore, including the Feast of Appetites where we had cupcake shaped umbrella lanterns, and I was covered in fake candy, a glowy-bug witch moment, and a Sea Priestess lewk:

I hope these images and stories will inspire and delight you – and fuel your glue-gun fantasies for your own future costuming! Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Leave your comment


Required. Not published.

If you have one.

ERROR: si-captcha.php plugin says GD image support not detected in PHP!

Contact your web host and ask them why GD image support is not enabled for PHP.

ERROR: si-captcha.php plugin says imagepng function not detected in PHP!

Contact your web host and ask them why imagepng function is not enabled for PHP.