There are few spectacles which are as awe-inspiring and mind-blowing as Venice Carnival thanks to the elegant handmade costumes and masks. Here is everything you need to know about Venice Carnival Costumes before your trip.
Venice Carnival Costumes
The best way to describe Venice Carnival is a visual masterpiece. Every year 3 million people descend upon this floating city to soak up the iconic scenery, admire the extravagant costumes and masks, and be part of an electric atmosphere.
The elaborate costumes and masks are the essence of Venice Carnival and people flock from around the world to get their fancy-dress fix. Thousands of carnival goers from all around the world arrive dressed up in the most gorgeous handmade costumes and masks, which are perfectly crafted down to the smallest thread.
The iconic scenery of Venice creates the most magical backdrop for the costumed participants and transforms the city into an enchanting and spellbinding place. It is truly an otherworldly sight which takes place in Venice once a year.
Why did they wear costumes at Venice Carnival?
Masking and dressing up was always the Venetian way. Venice Carnival reinterpreted ancient Roman and Greek festivals that saw people dress in masks and costumes to hide differences in social class. With a mask and a hooded cape, you couldn’t tell if you were chatting with a noble man or not.
Venetian Carnival masks and costumes provided anonymity for a few weeks. By becoming anonymous citizens were allowed to indulge in some debauchery, gamble freely, indulge in some hanky-panky without getting caught. Carnival was the time to enjoy all the hedonistic pleasures before lent, a period of decadence and extravagance, not just in behavior, but also in how you dress.
What kind of costumes do they wear at Venice Carnival?
The majority of costumed participants dress as Venetian nobles, wearing opulent fashions from the 18th century, from the time when Venice Carnival was in its heyday! They really make a big effort and go all out in getting into character and re-creating majestic outfits from the past. Many will dress in accordance with the classic Venetian Carnival Masked Characters like the Plague Doctor.
The period costumes will transport you back to another era and let you experience how carnival would have been celebrated centuries ago, during a time when carnival lasted 6 months and masks were used to conceal your identity and sins.
Other costumes are just completely fantasy inspired, this generally means wearing a full face mask and costume that has been overloaded with sparkles, jewels, silk and feathers. Other costumes have been designed to interpret a particular theme like a season, animal or the Sun and the Moon.
There are also plenty of costumed participants who will put a more modern or creative spin into the outfits they wear. Not everyone goes all out wearing costumes and prefers to instead admire them. Most people attending the Venice Carnival will just end up buying a mask to wear around town.
The new fashion for Carnival costumes is called steampunk. This is a Venice Carnival Costume subculture which was inspired by 19th century steam-powered machinery. It involves lots of glasses, copper tubes, pocket watches and chains, which decorate Victorian style dress.
Beautiful masks accompany the grand outfits. Some may just paint their face. Read our article about Venice Carnival Masks.
What to Wear to the Venice Carnival?
Do you have to wear costumes at Venice Carnival? Most tourists don’t dress up for the Venice Carnival and instead prefer to just admire the gorgeous 18th century costumes, hooded capes and incredible masks.
If you want to dress up and be part of the costumed fun, then go for it! Some people take dressing up very seriously and completely immerse themselves in costume and spend months planning. There are costume shops all over the city that rent costumes if you want to go all out.
Venice Carnival is meant to be a fun, relaxed experience, so just wear whatever you feel the most comfortable in. If you think you will feel a little self-conscious in period costumes, then opt for a mask. Venice Carnival isn’t complete without donning a mask. There are hundreds of masks shops and street vendors selling beautiful Venetian masks during carnival and most tourists will buy one.
Where to view the Venice Carnival Costumes?
Costumed participants can be found all over the city during the 17 days of carnival. St Mark’s Square is the heart of Carnival so naturally it is a great spot to catch some of the best costumes. There is also a daily costumes parade featuring the best costumed participants who parade and pose for an awestruck audience against the stunning backdrop of St Mark’s Basilica.
While most of the best-dressed at Carnival congregate in St Mark’s Square, if you are looking to take good photos you are best to try some of the back streets with fewer crowds. There are several other piazzas where people will pose for photos and you won’t get loads of tourists’ heads in the way of your shots.
Where to get a Venice Carnival Costume?
So, you have decided to dress up! Well, you can either make your own and bring it from home, create a costume when you arrive in Venice or just hire one from one of the Venetian ateliers. Remember if you are bringing one from home to take into consideration your luggage restrictions. And if you wish to hire a costume, you must do so ahead of time.
Here are a few of some of the best carnival costume ateliers:
A respect for historic cuts and an in-depth knowledge of materials are the pride of this store. Born from its founder’s passion and love for the theater, Atelier Nicolao has become a reference point for many Venice Carnival Costume lovers. His professionalism will easily guide you in choosing the perfect Venice Carnival, making you stand out among all the masks present.
Located in an elegant wide space along the Fondamenta della Misericordia, you will find their workshop, the shop, the tailoring space and their showroom. The owner of this store, Stefano Nicolao, is constantly engaged in the study of historical texts on materials used to create period dresses, particularly in regards to Venetian suits.
Every year Nicolao Atelier throws one of the most exclusive and luxurious balls in Venice. Venetian Reflections is the theme for Masquerade Ball by Nicolao Atelier and Stefano Nicolao. The party is held at the Palazzo Labia. Nicolao dresses the participants in the most jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring costumes, that create an exceptional atmosphere for the guests.
Located in the center of Venice, close to Basilica of Santa Maria Cloriosa dei Frari who has over 30 years of history! Atelier Marega offers the most exquisite, made to measure, hand-sewn and original 18th and 19th century Venetian costumes. They also have a huge range of beautiful and unique masks.
Atelier Marega is one of the few remaining places in the city that have continued to handcraft carnival masks, in Venice, by local Venice artisans. They use traditions that date back to the XIVth century. By preserving this ancient Venetian art, you end up with a beautiful authentic Venetian mask of the highest quality.
Their store is beautiful and exquisite. The staff are very helpful and attentive. You can tell that the owner puts a lot of effort into making their costumes and masks by just looking at how intricate the details are on everything. They have something to suit everyone’s needs! If you want a faithful replica or something more unique and unusual, you will find it here!
They are also responsible for throwing one of the most exclusive carnival balls of Venice Carnival – the Casanova Grand Carnival Ball, an unforgettable evening inspired by the romantic legend of Giacomo Casanova, they will dress you for this ball which is all about seducing your senses.
Atelier Anonia Sautter
This shop is located in the heart of Venice, Piazza San Marco. Here the dreams of an artisan have become reality. The owner created the Il Ballo del Doge, recognized by Vanity Fair as the most exclusive ball in the world. Her luxury studio has become famous worldwide.
The owner and her passion and creativity for costumes has kept this unique Venice Carnival costume tradition alive, through her creations. In her atelier, you can even admire the costumes used in the movie Eyes Wide Shut. This atelier has decades of experience working with velvets, Venetian silks and brocades. Be enchanted by this world.
Atelier Ca ‘del Sol
Only a few steps from Piazza San Marco you will discover a small shop where the Carnival traditions flow into colorful masks and costumes. From the 1980s onwards, this artisanal boutique emerged in the Venetian scene for its inventiveness with using new materials with amazing effects, silver and copper gilding, gold leaf decorations, precious fabrics, enamels, Swarovski crystals, lace and ancient varnishes.
This group of artists specializes in crafting gorgeous carnival costumes, but they also have a great eye in helping to create a custom-made outfit for any event. You can select from many of the historical carnival costumes and prepare to live the emotion of concealing your identity behind a mask.
Make Your Own
Of course, you can always make your own costumes! Purchase a mask and create a costume to match the mask. Remember to always opt for a costume which is the same color as your mask, and don’t be afraid to add more sequins, feathers and beadwork, the more over the top the detailing, the better.
How much does a Venice Carnival Costume Cost?
We are not going to sugar coat it, the authentic Venice Carnival Costumes are expensive, you may have to save up your pocket money to afford one. Most costumes are designed and purchased months in advance and can cost well into the thousands.
An authentic handmade carnival mask can cost anywhere from €40-€300 depending on how decadent it is. Most people will only wear a mask. And if you are really on a budget there are plenty of cheap Chinese imported Venice Carnival Masks all around the city, that are perfect to wear during carnival.
Carnival Related Articles
- The Essential Guide to Venice Carnival
- Where to stay for Venice Carnival
- Learn all about Venice Carnival Masks