What is it about the British psyche that makes us so reluctant to do anything that could be construed as making us look or sound silly? From using the right accent when speaking another language to donning a fancy dress costume, we don’t easily slip into alter egos, unlike many of our European cousins who smooth talk their way effortlessly through foreign accents and don a wig and high heels at the slightest hint of an excuse.
Well carnival is coming and if ever there was a good time to break the mould ““ this is it. So if you haven’t done any serious role playing since you tottered around the bedroom in your mum’s high heels at the age of four, it’s time to rediscover the inner you.
Using the word costume to describe the incredible creations in which contestants in the Carnaval Queen competition strive to move around the stage, is pure poetic licence. The only part of the outfit that actually comes into contact with the wearer is the skimpiest of bikinis and headgear so heavy that if the girls ever let their heads go down they’d be looking at the floor for the rest of the night.
The costumes themselves are reputed to weigh somewhere in the region of 200 kilos and are mounted on wheels to enable the wearer to move. Stretching muscles the size of knots in string, the poor girls are okay once they’re on the move but any hesitation and they have to be ignominiously jump started by the stage roadies.
Elusive to all but the most avid of carnival fans and competent Spanish speakers, are the magnificently costumed Murgas whose competitions herald the start of Carnaval for weeks in advance.
Heavily dependant on foam coupled with intensely bright primary colours, an excessive use of glitter and face painting that makes David Bowie’s Ziggy look like it could have been done at a kiddie’s fair, the Murgas are a cross between clowns and Leprechauns on drugs and are my favourite Carnaval costumes.
Hoping for temperate nights and sunny days for Opening and Closing Parades respectively, are the troupes of scantily clad dancers who twirl, side step and skip their way through the streets.
Usually sporting variations on whatever Carnaval theme has been chosen that year, spectators are treated to a frenzy of feathers, jewels, glitter, tap shoes and exposed flesh.
Leaving the formal events and heading into the murky waters of the very soul of Carnaval, long after the last parade float has rattled by, the street parties begin and this is when the real ingenuity and imagination of Carnaval costumes comes to the fore.
Mercifully, the furry animal all-in-one costumes that dogged (lit) Carnaval nights for years are now losing popularity and invention has returned. One of the great joys of attending the street parties is to see what rich veins of imagination and professionalism appear in both contemporary and classic outfits.
They may not be as professional looking as the shop bought version, but rising to the challenge of a home made costume is part of the fun. The gender bender option is always an easy one to go for but it’s worth making the effort to do it properly.
You won’t find many men with a couple of balloons stuffed down their girlfriend’s dress, a lopsided wig and smeared lipstick. What you’re much more likely to see are men who look far better than their wives and girlfriends do on a Saturday night with just that touch of OTT make-up and a Dick Emery wobble in the walk to remind you it’s just Carnaval.
In my experience it’s best to begin with one item of clothing or one accessory which may spark an idea, and to work from there. In past years an old mosquito net and a kilt have been catalysts for some rather fetching numbers.
If you really can’t bring yourself to throw off the mantle of conservatism and plunge headlong into full fancy dress, at the very least pick up a glittery hat or a pair of false breasts at one of the kiosks and spark the inner child in you.
Now all you need are the words to the song so you can belt it out:
Fiesta! Fiesta! Nah na na na na, nah na na na na!
Now, how difficult can that be?
Photo of Carnaval Queen and Murgas courtesy of www.carnavaltenerife.es