The month of February can mean many things to many people. While Valentine’s Day may be at the forefront of most people’s mind in the rest of America, here in New Orleans it can only mean one thing: Carnival time! Though the revelry began in early January with the kick-off of Twelfth Night, it all culminates in these next coming weeks. Mardi Gras partying entails plenty of King Cake (Gambino’s, please!), beads in all shapes, sizes and colors, and, of course, shopping. Whether you’re looking for the perfect ensemble for an upcoming Mardi Gras ball or a great get-up on Fat Tuesday, get out there and shop early.
If you find yourself unable to pull a Scarlet O’Hara and make your dream ball gown yourself (and really, who can?), never fear: Specialty shops are here! This town is known for extravagance, and there are plenty of boutiques ready to drape you in a fabulous and wholly individual frock.
Local institution Yvonne La Fleur, just steps from the streetcar line on Carrolton, has long been a destination for debutantes and partygoers alike. La Fleur takes great pride in her handmade designs, many of which are one-of-a-kind creations. Stepping into her namesake boutiques feels like a step back into the grander days of a bygone New Orleans and the service is of the same respectful quality. Having issues finding the perfect dress? Just track down Yvonne herself; she is almost always around, eagerly waiting to assist the lovely ladies who peruse the store.
Stroll down lovely Magazine Street to reach Mimi, another shopping girl’s paradise. Mimi carries all the big designers and has a full range of sizes available, as well as full time tailors in the shop, ensuring the dress fits like Marchesa or Vera made it just for you. Farther down Magazine you’ll find relative newcomer to the formal wear scene, The Red Carpet. Carrying an eclectic mix of both high and low, jeans to ball gowns and everything in between, The Red Carpet is quickly gaining notoriety among the 20-something fashionistas for their vibrantly hued dresses in less traditional ball gown cuts.
Once you’ve completed your duties as a graceful New Orleans woman and had your fill of Mardi Gras balls with their champagne wishes and caviar dreams, it’s time to get down and embrace your inner wild child! On the hunt for the wackiest, tackiest costume around, sure to make all your friends jealous? Your first stop should be Fifi Mahony’s, located in the equally decadent French Quarter. This specialty shop is the place to find outrageous party wigs, glam makeup from Tony and Tina and Urban Decay, and eclectic accessories to complete your Mardi Gras Day ensemble. Their wigs come in hues better than any Technicolor dream, so whether you’re going for Elvis or an electric pink Marie Antoinette look, Fifi Mahony’s has you covered from the neck up.
Uptown Costume and Dancewear is a great place to go if you don’t want your getup to break the bank. Lady cop? Mrs. Claus? A giant feathered chicken? Whatever craziness you can imagine, you will probably find it here. The necessary accoutrements reside here, including sunglasses, glitter, wigs and feather boas. They also do rentals, making the deals even sweeter if you don’t want a possibly incriminating costume hanging around forever.
New Orleans Party and Costume in the Warehouse District is a great place for more traditional costume wear, as well as in-demand accessories. Owner Raquel Deckert stocks a multitude of props, from angel wings to stockings to magic wands.
But don’t forget the most important part of any Fat Tuesday look: a mask! They don’t call them masquerades for nothing, after all. Maskerade on St. Ann Street carries masks of all shapes and sizes, from traditional opera masks, mountable masks, over the top feather creations and even handcrafted ones from Africa and South Africa. Also downtown is New Orleans Masks, formerly Little Shop of Fantasy. This funky little store carries handmade creations, many by local artists, in any medium you could imagine. Go traditional with a harlequin or court jester look, or all-out abstract with an Art Deco take on a bird.
Finally, remember that Mardi Gras is about changes…costume changes, that is! Experienced revelers will attest to sporting a minimum of three looks on Mardi Gras Day, not even counting the rest of Carnival. Shop early and shop often to mix and match the best costumes for as many outfits as you dare.