Mar 17, 2014
Birthday Balls
Nita Crighton, Special to Party & Paper

Masquerade celebrations throughout the year

The mention of masquerade balls may conjure up images of costumed Mardi Gras affairs, but masked galas aren’t just for Fat Tuesday. Party stores that only offer masquerade merchandise during a single season are missing out on a year-round moneymaker.

Masked balls provide a great alternative for those looking to trade the pointy hats and streamers for a grown-up celebration. Birthday balls are also perfect for adding a touch of elegance and intrigue to milestone birthdays and other special events.

Past to Present

Masquerade balls date back to the 16th century Renaissance where members of the upper class hosted grand public affairs. The events were especially popular in Venice, Italy, where partygoers donned elaborate masks to disguise their true identities so they could celebrate freely.

Today’s masquerade balls are sophisticated affairs that can be tailored to almost any event. Period costumes or formal attire is suggested and adult parties often include an element of naughtiness with ball gowns featuring provocative decolletage.

Masked Enthusiasm

Party retailers across the country are recognizing the appeal of masquerade balls and catering to customers who are eager to crank birthday celebrations up a notch and party in style. The events are a hit with the young (think Sweet 16 celebrations) and the not so young alike.

Masquerade masks have been part of the inventory at Fantasy Costumes in Chicago for more than 30 years. Recently, they have increased the variety of masquerade supplies in the spacious store.

“We have a 20-by-15 foot wall of masks of all different styles and prices,” said Manager Chuck Giovenco. “We just expanded because masquerade balls are such a popular event for New Year’s Eve, birthdays, cotillions, proms and theme parties.”

Giovenco attributes the popularity of masquerade balls to the fact partygoers can wear their own ball gown, tuxedo or suit and use the mask as an accessory.

Masquerade balls are also perennial favorites in The Big Apple.

“The products are actually quite popular,” said Diana Varga of New York Costumes in the East Village. As the largest retailer of costumes, wigs, masks and props in New York City, they carry an extensive inventory of masquerade masks and supplies all year long. “Our Gothic Renaissance store next door handled a masquerade party for a group of 600 just last week.”

New York Costume also stocks the popular vampire masquerade ball merchandise. The trendy theme, which originated in Paris, has spread to the U.S. and continues to grow thanks to the release of numerous vampire movies.

“The vampire theme is always popular, but movies do fuel it,” said associate Melody Bleak. Vampire balls feature elaborate, traditional Venetian masquerade masks and costumes with a blood-sucking twist.

From Basic to Bedazzled

While formal attire at balls is sometimes optional, masks are a must-have. Ranging from simple to pricey custom-made creations, most masks are wearable, but some party retailers offer handheld masks on sticks as well.

“It really comes down to personal preference and the type of party you’re attending,” Varga explained. “Wearable masks are more practical since you don’t have to carry them. They allow you to keep your hands free for food and drinks and also help to keep things more mysterious.”

Masks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, starting with the basic domino style, a simple, rounded edge mask that covers only the eyes and nose. Available in an array of colors, the no-frills domino mask is a favorite for men.

“Some men don’t really even want to put on a mask, so when they do, they typically prefer a much simpler style,” Varga said. In addition to the domino, Phantom of the Opera and comedy tragedy masks are popular with New York Costume’s male customers. Long nose Venetian masks are another suitable option. More elaborate masks come with embellishments such as feathers, sequins, rhinestones, fur, glitter and jewels. Female shoppers in Giovenco’s Chicago-area store often look for masks with a little extra.

“Women like the masks with feathers or plumes, but they don’t usually go for the really crazy ones,” Giovenco said. “After spending money to have their hair done, they’re usually looking for a simpler mask to accent it.”

Another suitable option is couples masks featuring coordinating designs that offer a basic version for men paired with a flashier style female mask.

Display Design

The best way to sell masks is through an eye-catching display that allows customers to try them on for size.

“When you walk into our store, you see that a whole wall has been dedicated to masquerade and Mardi Gras,” Giovenco said. “The display is colorful and it’s there to been seen, touched and felt.”

Even if you can’t devote an entire wall to mask display, consider using freestanding grids or end-of-aisle bump outs to draw costumers. Group masks together or pair them with costumes but be sure to have samples customers can try.

From full face, to half face, to simple eye coverings, masquerade masks come in all prices. At Party City in Charleston, S.C., domino masks sell for under a dollar each, while their more elaborate peacock feathered masks go for around $20. The most popular price range at Fantasy Costumes is $10 to $40 but they also carry higher-end merchandise to meet the demands of ballgoers looking to dazzle. Their large, feathered showgirl-type masks with headpieces retail for $129.

Shoppers at New York Costumes can select from a variety of mask styles starting at around $6 to $7 and climbing to $300 to $400 for top of the line showstoppers. Some specialty masks available through the retailer are so intricate and artistic that costumers purchase the one-of-a-kind creations to wear for an event and later display them as art.

From big budget parties to small casual affairs, masquerade birthdays balls are a great way to recognize that special day. They’re also a fabulous way for party stores to translate a once a year event into year-round profit – and that’s something to celebrate.

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