How to Design Caribbean Carnival Costumes

Written by terry walcott | 13/05/2017
How to Design Caribbean Carnival Costumes
How you feeling? Hot, hot, hot! (carnaval de nothing hill image by Jerome Dancette from

Carnival celebrations are important annual cultural events in countries throughout the Caribbean. The list of countries with annual Carnivals includes Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda, Jamaica, Grenada, Dominica, Haiti, Cuba, Dominican Republic, St. Thomas, St. Marten, St Vincent and the Grenadines and St Lucia. In addition, large cities in Canada (Toronto) and the United States (Brooklyn and Miami) with large Caribbean migrant populations have annual Carnival celebrations. Each Carnival culminates with a parade of "bands" made up of large numbers of dancers or masqueraders dressed in colourful costumes. These bands compete and are judged based on a number of different criteria, including best costumes. As a result, costume design is a major aspect of Carnival preparation and planning in the Caribbean.

Come up with a theme or overall concept for your parade band. Common themes range from important contemporary, historical and cultural events to insects and animals. Sketch preliminary costumes around your chosen theme that incorporate bright colours. You will need to design at least three costumes -- a large one for the band leader, and smaller costumes for male and female band members. Keep in mind that the large costume will have to be able to manoeuvre across stages and streets without falling apart, and all costumes may be rained on during the Carnival parade.

Purchase the required materials to make samples based the costumes you designed. Depending on the size of the costume design, you may need fabric, sequins, glue, feathers, shells, beads, foil paper, glitter, wire, netting, foam, papier mache or paint.

Make illustrative samples of costumes for the band leader and dancers based upon your preliminary designs. Have dancers try on these costumes for functionality and fit and make design changes as necessary.

Make costumes based upon your final designs. Have all dancers fitted with their costumes and make any necessary adjustments in advance of the Carnival parade day.

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