Getting beads for Mardi Gras is one of the long-standing and most popular traditions that revelers have come to expect when celebrating this yearly event. One of the best parts of the parades and parties, particularly in New Orleans, is when participants and members of groups riding on their specially designed floats pass out beads, toys, doubloons, and other trinkets to the crowd.
The tradition of giving beads for Mardi Gras is known as "tossing the beads" and began in the late 1800s in New Orleans. It’s based on the old English custom when the aristocracy dispensed glass beads to crowds of citizens lining parade routes. When the custom began in New Orleans, it was altered so that local citizens could mock the nobility by dressing in costumes for Mardi Gras as aristocrats and then dispensing stringed beaded necklaces to the crowds.
The beads come in the official Mardi colors of purple, green, and gold, as well as other standard colors, and there are different varieties of sizes as well. The smaller beads are roughly the size of pearls, while others have extra large beads the size of golf balls or have miniature Mardi Gras masks and charms hanging from the necklaces.
In the past, colored glass was the material used to construct the beaded necklaces. Today, while glass beads are still a part of the celebration, to cut down on costs, the majority of beads are manufactured using plastic or metallic material allowing Krewes to purchase and disperse larger quantities of beaded necklaces on parade day.
The history of Mardi Gras dates back to Medieval times with new traditions added along the way that included not only the tossing of beads but the incorporation of parades, extravagant masks, trinkets, fake gold or wooden doubloons with individual Krewe insignias, and extravagant costumes for Mardi Gras.
People attending the celebrations often wear decorative facemasks or full head masks adorned with feathers and sequins along with strings of colorful beads to highlight individual costumes. Dressing in costume is an exciting part of the celebrations, and making your own costume is one of the best ways to show off your creativity, whether you’re entering Mardi Gras costume contests or just trying to complement your own style and the beautiful beads for Mardi Gras.
The theme for many of the traditional costumes goes back to Medieval Europe, with many people dressing in costumes mocking educators, clergy, and nobility from that period. Costumes may be as simple as a design of pants and a top in the official colors of Mardi Gras of purple, gold, green, or as elaborate as handmade gowns with multicolored pieces, decorated with fringe, sequins, or other adornments.
Designing more elaborate costumes using a combination of colors, fabrics, and designs along with masks to hide a revelers identity and the traditional tall, pointed, cone-shaped hat known as a capuchon, is all part of Mardi Gras tradition. The more individualistic and creative each costume is the more opportunity patrons have to show off their original creations and win at one of the Mardi Gras costume contests.
Costumes judged in Mardi Gras costume contests are not limited to traditional designs depicting medieval times. Costumes encompass a variety of themes including movies, musicals, characters from books, a time in history, politicians, sports figures, and celebrities. In addition, the style of the country where you’re celebrating will often affect the costumes as well—the Venice Carnival has a very different tone from what you’ll see at the Rio Carnival or the Russian Maslenitsa, for instance.