Hosting a masquerade party is a fantastic idea that will give you the opportunity to show your guests an event like they've never seen before. Unlike a costume party, which focuses on familiar faces in funny outfits, the masquerade is all about mystery. Playing on the decadence of disguise, guests wear full face masks, fitted with fixed expressions, that allow all to mingle, flirt and forge new relationships as strangers, whether they are close friends or new acquaintances. A true masquerade party encourages guests to conceal their identities from one another until the final dance at midnight which ends in the unmasking.
According to legend-tinged history, it seems that the origins of the masquerade ball can be traced back to the Carnival in Venice, Italy, which began in the 12th century. Due to the sensuous behavior secretly engaged in by mask-wearers and the clandestine co-mingling of social classes, the carnival was considered to be a subversive event which lawmakers and religious leaders attempted unsuccessfully to regulate. In the late 18th century, carnival was banned in Venice until 1979, when the city brought the event back.
Although forbidden in the City of Water, Carnival traditions had already been imported into English society in 1708 when a Swiss Count by the name of John James Heidegger held the first masquerade ball at the Haymarket Opera House. The freedom allowed through secrecy helped the masquerade gain in popularity throughout Great Britain, Europe and into the U.S. Over time, masquerade balls devolved into costume parties that fell out of fashion in most cases, with the exception of Halloween.
To host a proper modern masquerade, the guest list needs to be long enough so that attendees can truly blend into a crowd with the hope of remaining unrecognized until the midnight unmasking. Take a cue from the history of the Venice Carnival and send out invitations to individuals from all walks of life. The varying opinions held by vastly different people will guarantee lively discussions regardless of the topic of conversation.
As the guest list grows, a venue must be selected that can accommodate all of the attendees. Choose an opulent Venetian- or Victorian-style ballroom for an event designed keep with the origins of the masquerade. More modern accommodations, such as a warehouse or an Art Deco themed event space, might also work for a masquerade venue; however, the decorations, entertainment and costumes should then be modified to fit with the surroundings.
Historic masquerades relied on formal dancing to assist in keeping identities secret throughout the event. Quadrilles and country dances kept guests moving apart and promenading on the dance floor, which limited the opportunity for conversation.
While it is acceptable, there is no need to play classical music or stage formal dances a modern masquerade. However, music and a dance floor are a must, to keep guests busy and entertained instead of attempting to guess the identities of other party goers.
Drinks are also a must for a modern masquerade, as costumes and masks tend to leave guests sweaty. However, drinking from glasses is a tricky accomplishment for guests in full masks, and may result in an accidental unmasking. Be sure to supply plenty of drinking straws that will slip easily beneath masks.
Since costumes and masks are the main event at the basic masquerade party, decorations can be minimal, such as simple floral centerpieces on tables and twinkling lights above the dance floor. However, any masquerade event that has a specific theme should have decorations to match. For example, a masquerade party that is intended to be a miniature version of the Venice Carnival might incorporate miniature Venetian masks into table centerpieces, whereas a Mardi Gras-themed masquerade would incorporate beads, glitter and vibrant colors.
Without formal dancing to keep guests distracted from discussing each other’s identities, one might consider hiring some form of entertainment that is in line with the decadence and audacity of the event. Hire an actor to appear as a harlequin, as he acts out foolish pantomimes in a diamond-patterned costume, or opt for something slightly more dangerous, such as a fire juggler or a trapeze dancer.
It is important for event invitations to make the distinction between costume parties and masquerade parties. Be sure to spell out for your guests that the intent is to fully disguise their identities, rather than simply dressing up as a character. Inform guests that the intent is not to guess each other’s identities before the midnight unmasking, but to engage in candid conversations and intimate exchanges with the freedom provided by anonymity.
Invitations should also include costume suggestions, such as elaborate, fancy dress costumes and full-faced Venetian masks. Provide guests with website links to images of the costumes you would prefer guests wear, that take into account the party theme if one is in place. Also include information on simplified costumes such as the classic domino, which is a loose cloak worn with a half-mask.
The invitation should also give some enticing background on masquerades to get guests excited about the masked secrecy. Be sure the invitation gives a clear mandate that a mask must be worn and remain in place throughout the event or the guest will be ejected. This mandate encourages reluctant guests to get into the spirit of the masquerade or stay home.
Create a series of decorative posters and table menus that spell out specific masquerade etiquette you wish attendees to abide by. For example, include instructions for guests to refrain from guessing the identities of others. Encourage guests to modify their voices or speaking patterns to avoid giving off verbal cues to their identities. Suggest impersonal conversation topics about which guests can speak passionately, such as infidelity or abstinence. Remind guests to move on from individuals they recognize by accident so that they are not tempted to engage in personal conversations that will give away one another’s identities to listeners. Encourage illicit assignations and flirtatious behavior, but remind guests not to do anything that might permanently damage relationships. Make sure to include a masquerade etiquette pamphlet in the invitations so guests come prepared.
As midnight approaches, encourage attendees to locate the guests with which they have had the most stimulating conversation, or whose true identity is most intriguing. For masquerade parties at which dancing has been popular, ask guests to pair up for a final dance. As the song ends and the clock strikes twelve, signal all guests to remove their masks and reveal who they really are.