People concerned with saving face will not visit Eric Zenner this week.
Folks interested in hiding face might: Mardi Gras will be celebrated Tuesday, and partiers will put their eyes and noses behind both simple and sensational masks.
“Every year it grows and catches on more and more,” said Zenner, director of purchasing for The Costumer costume store, of the final day before Ash Wednesday. “It’s a holiday second to Halloween for masks.”
“They’re an important part of it,” said Jerry Sykes, who owns The Party Warehouse stores in the Capital Region. “If you watch Mardi Gras on TV, you watch any of the parades, they’re all wearing masks.”
People who keep the faith — and those who do not — observe “Fat Tuesday” with feasting, drinking, carousing and relying on white feathers, gold glitter and red sequins for camouflage. In New Orleans, the most famous place in the world for the carnival, all-night parties, throwing beads and marching the streets are always on the agenda.
“If you look at the Mardi Gras history, masks are meant to be a disguise in a parade so people don’t know who you are,” Zenner said, adding his store also carries queen costumes and jester hats for people who will surrender completely to the revelry.
Adrienne Anderson, president of the National Costumers Association in Indianapolis, Ind., said there’s a difference between October and February mask seasons. “Halloween, you’re trying to scare your competition,” she said. “Mardi Gras is more elegant. I think in terms of the masquerade ball that you see in ‘The Phantom of the Opera,’ for instance. It’s just a more elegant occasion.”
Local observations will not be the extravagant bashes scheduled for New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana. But people visiting restaurants for Mardi Gras parties or attending small home dinner parties often want to become lost in a masquerade, and Zenner and staff at The Costumer’s store on Central Avenue in Colonie are prepared to assist in their search for bon temps, French for “good times.”
“The mask is the easiest thing to get because people can wear their regular clothes,” Zenner said. “They can wear a nice suit, and just grab a mask.”
Grabbing means paying $1.50 for a simple glitter-covered Harlequin mask, or $30 for more ornate, full-face covers. Some are garish models that feature the official purple and green colors of Mardi Gras. Some are simple red or black masks, fastened to a stick so people can quickly show their true identities. Some are almost birdlike, with pointed ridges for over the nose; still others add a Colonial-style, three-cornered hat to the mask.
Francis Verret, manager of Red Square in Albany, said he’ll see masked men and women Saturday night at the tavern’s Mardi Gras gathering.
“Mardi Gras day is such a party,” said Verret, born in Lafayette, La. “A lot of people don’t want to be seen.”
He believes wearing masks achieves the disguise challenge, and also adds a sexy component. “I think a lot of people dig it,” he said. “They really can’t tell who others are, and you may even know them very well.”
Al Marley, kitchen manager at the Bayou Cafe in Glenville, said masks and beads have been part of the dress code at past Mardi Gras socials at the restaurant. “Those are the main staples,” he said. “They wear the masks so they can fit in. It’s part of the day.”
At The Party Warehouse, Sykes carries masks that begin at 59 cents for a simple paper mask and run to $40 for a plastic and fabric mask in purple, green and gold.
“The most popular are the feather masks,” Sykes said. “I think they’re fun to wear, and we also sell them for Halloween.”
Sykes added that people want accessories for other spring holidays — green hats, buttons and shamrocks are musts for St. Patrick’s Day — and party gear is sold for the early May “Cinco de Mayo.” Because party lovers and college students will occasionally run get-togethers with Mardi Gras themes, Sykes keeps his purple and green stock in the store year-round.
Zenner said about 80 percent of his Mardi Gras stock will find places on faces come Tuesday.
“It just provides people with another way to party, another way to get out and have a good time,” he said.