How to Plan a Masquerade Ball


Would you be able to guess your guests in these getups?
Would you be able to guess your guests in these getups?
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

You can add mystery and lots of other fun potential to a get-together when you make it a masquerade party or ball. You remember what it was like to play dress up as a kid, right? You drape a scarf over your head and suddenly you're a new bride, the flying nun or a shrouded ghoul fresh from the graveyard. The human imagination has a lot of power to delight and surprise. Inject a masked puzzle into the mix and you have the makings of an interesting evening. When your guests are asking questions like, "Who is that masked woman?" or "Is that a sword in his scabbard...?" you know your party is a success.

Masquerade balls have a long history that probably began during the Renaissance. If you were an untitled nobody (with money, of course) who had a secret crush on a noble lady, introducing yourself while in disguise made good sense. You could garner a little face time without being rebuffed within the first five seconds. (Dating has never been easy.) If your broad shoulders and manly chin were appealing, the object of your affection might have ended the evening kissing you behind the hanging tapestries. Fast-forward a few centuries and that strategy can still work. Disguise yourself as Jack Sparrow and you may be able to swashbuckle your way to a naughty but memorable night.

Hey, even if nothing romantic happens, you can always savor the possibility for a few hours while sipping punch and trying to keep your mask on straight. Costume parties are really pretty entertaining. When people aren't being themselves they can sometimes say and do the most revealing things. This is a conundrum of human nature that masquerade party planners understand well and love to exploit.

On the next few pages, let's explore some practical ways to hold a masquerade ball worthy of a mention in your diary. (Just withhold the names to protect the innocent.)

Masquerade Ball Ideas

You know about the masked part of the whole masquerade ball concept. The rest can be as casual or extravagant as time and budget allows. Some folks forgo the costumes entirely in favor of elaborate masks. This is most common when people are wearing evening attire, though (not jammies). Masquerade parties and balls are becoming popular options for birthday parties, anniversaries, proms and sweet 16 parties. Take a look at these popular themes. They're old and new classics:

Color Themes -- Black and white balls are among the most popular color themed events. They can be dress down or dress up affairs, which gives them the advantage of being easy to dress for -- and decorate for, too. Coming up with costume ideas can also be pretty easy: Think "Phantom of the Opera" meets "Black Swan." Look to Truman Capote's infamous Black and White ball for inspiration, too. If a classic black and white masked ball doesn't appeal to you, try a red masquerade ball around the holidays, a sweet 16 pretty in pink ball or an all green ball for St. Patrick's Day.

Venetian Ball -- When most people think of masked balls, they probably flash on the opulent period balls depicted in movies. Wearing velvet and brocade and flirting behind bejeweled and feathered masks looks like sultry fun. If you have a respectable budget to work with, this is certainly doable. There are specialty shops that sell period costumes that will turn the average stock analyst into a serviceable courtier. Stick a powdered wig on his head, and he's good to go. Costumes are available in an impressive range of styles and sizes.

Mardi Gras (or Carnival) -- If you like the idea of an all-inclusive event with loads of character, Mardi Gras balls are great fun. Decorate with the traditional colors of green, purple and gold, and be sure to encourage guests to wear beads and add extra glitz to their masks. Play cool jazz in the background and serve up some appropriate menu items like king cake and shrimp creole.

Vampire Variation -- The undead sure do get around. You can pay homage to your favorite crypt dwellers with a ball designed to celebrate your fanged friends. Whether you go Goth or play it for laughs, this one is a modern take on the masquerade idea. It's a winner around Halloween -- or when the latest Twilight venture looms on the entertainment horizon.

Pick a Theme -- You can mount a masked ball around just about any theme from "Alice in Wonderland" to "Star Wars Revisited." It all depends on how enthusiastic your guests are for the concept. If you're Civil War reenactment club needs a party idea...

Masquerade Party Decorations

A masquerade ball is all about the costumes (or at least the masks), so make sure they're the focus of attention for the gathering. It's a good idea to have someone strategically placed to take photos of guests as they arrive as well as candid shots of them throughout the evening. These tips will help too:

Choose a theme -- Settle on a color scheme as well as two or three decorative elements you plan on repeating throughout the space. Repeated colors and other elements will make the room look more organized and cohesive.

Use masks in your decor -- Exploit the mask idea by using colorful masks in your decor. This can be an inspired solution to a couple of problems. It's easy to come up with really beautiful masks using supplies available at your local craft store, and masks are pretty inexpensive to put together, too. Hang them from the ceiling with ribbon, dress up balloons with them, mount them to the walls (or over mirrors), use them in your table centerpieces or add them to decorative wreaths. Here's an extra added bonus: If a guest arrives without a mask, loan him one of yours.

Avoid overcrowding -- A pirate trying to swagger around wearing a big hat on his head and a patch over one eye probably isn't watching out for your Aunt Edna's crystal candy dish, so give him plenty of room.

Play the right music -- The harpsichord may not be your favorite musical instrument, but if you're having a period ball, using authentic music will help you create the right mood. There are lots of musical collections available to help you recreate the sounds of a specific decade or musical style. You may also be able to find a period film with a great score that brings, say, the roaring '20s to life for your guests.

Pay attention to the lighting -- A masquerade party is all about creating an illusion. Don't let bright lights and glaring white walls spoil the fun. Choose soft lighting or even colored lights. Christmas lights strung along banisters and on a patio or deck are a good idea, too. Where lighting is concerned, keep things romantically muted.

Provide a place to change -- Some guests may prefer changing into costume after they arrive. Make it easy for them by providing a quiet place to get into character. It's also a good idea to have some emergency extras around like safety pins and a sewing kit.

Pick a punch -- Whether you're serving alcoholic beverages or not, having a specialty punch prepared for the occasion is always nice. Serve it in a glass or crystal punch bowl for a festive touch that will make your table look special -- particularly if the color of the punch reflects your decorating theme.

Keep the menu simple -- Like a cocktail party, the appeal of a masquerade party is in getting people to mingle. If you're serving refreshments, keep it simple, though. That way, there'll be fewer pasta sauce mishaps.

Masquerade Costume and Makeup Ideas

You can certainly enjoy some fun with your masks, too!
You can certainly enjoy some fun with your masks, too!
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Themes offer a lot of potential when it comes to developing costume and makeup ideas. If you're having trouble, though, these suggestions will get you started:

  • Focus on the mask. If your guests are lukewarm about wearing full costumes, make it a mask-only party instead of a full costume affair. Masks are easy to find or make, and your party will have the requisite mystery with less fuss all around.
  • Wear a hat. It's amazing how a hat can typify a period or theme. From sombreros to motorcycle helmets, hats add authenticity to costumes -- or make great costumes all by themselves.
  • Decorate a T-shirt. For an informal party, have guests decorate T-shirts with party themes. Dripping blood, musical notes, Mardi Gras colors and quotes from famous people all work as quick costume solutions for the right themed party.
  • Buy your costume. That gorilla or Snow White costume may not be as expensive as you think. Halloween is now the second most popular holiday in the U.S. That means the costume business is booming -- and hungry for customers in the off season. Costumes and other related merchandise are competitively priced online, and quality in the $50 price range is typically fair. For around $200, you can buy a Queen of Hearts costume complete with petticoat, hoop, choker and tiara. For local shoppers, costumes are sometimes sold in party outlet stores, and there are more dedicated costume shops in metropolitan markets these days, too. With so much to choose from, you may be able to find a costume that reflects your inner storm trooper at a price you can afford.
  • Paint your mask right on. If the idea of wearing a hot, scratchy mask all evening leaves you cold, you could mount your mask on a wooden stick or holder -- or just paint the mask right on your face with a combination of face paint and makeup. Of course, it's probably easier to create a painted mask that looks like your favorite feline than it is to channel Cleopatra in all her gilded glory, but makeup and paint are still great costume enhancement tools.

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