Mardi Gras festivities uphold time-honored customs across a range of merchandise categories
The day before Ash Wednesday is a big day, especially in New Orleans. Enormous crowds flock to the Big Easy for the annual Mardi Gras parades and festivities on Fat Tuesday.
Current-day celebrations follow traditions of the past and, although Mardi Gras’ origins are Christian-based, the event itself has morphed into a celebration for all people, no matter race, religion, culture or gender. Customs include a few key ingredients: color, costumes, parades, king cakes, lights, and of course beads.
“Its primarily a wearable holiday,” said Warren Berkowitz, manager for Forum Novelties. “There is not much decorating going on because the focus is on wearables, such as hats, headbands and light-up products.”
Forum Novelties has sold Mardi Gras related merchandise for over 20 years. Berkowitz noted merchants can sell related items for this product category, especially since it is a quiet time of year in the industry as it could augment sales. “It is a well-celebrated holiday, but unfortunately it is regional. Other parts of Biloxi, Mississippi and parts of Texas celebrate this tradition, but it hasn’t really reached places such as California or the northeast areas of the country. Wearables, necklaces, earrings, hats, tutus, and beads are products available to sell for this occasion,” he said.
For retailers looking to provide an appropriate merchandise mix for Mardi Gras there are some important elements to consider prior to stocking up on product.
Most merchandise surrounding this event adheres to a certain color palette: Purple, green and gold. Purple stands for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. All three play an important role in the U.S. as they were established as the universal colors in the 1892 Symbolism of Colors parade.
According to mardigrasneworleans.com, New Orleans is the biggest masked party in the continent and it is required by law that all parade float participants wear a mask. The most common style is a half-mask, which is sold throughout the country and online.
Customary apparel remains prominent at Mardi Gras, but can vary if a theme is selected by a group or individual krewes, which are private social organizations primarily comprised of affluent members that run a parade or ball for Carnival festivities.
“Apparel remains steadfast in terms of traditions — but if a krewe changes its theme, people may vary the costumes worn, but that doesn’t translate to a theme that carries outside of that one particular krewe or parade,” said Berkowitz.
“New Orleans is very proud of the Mardi Gras culture but no one in New Orleans sells that kind of merchandise,” said Desiree Ontiveros, owner of Bad Ass Balloons Co. in New Orleans. “There are no masquerade balls … at all. There are balls, which are black tie. And there are parades where riders wear a mask. And there is a Mardi Gras Day when everyone goes out during the day to show off their costumes, but the costumes have no rhyme or reason.”
Ontiveros explained a group of friends may select a theme for an event. “For instance, last year we celebrated 300 years in NOLA (New Orleans) and we all dressed like something you would find at a birthday party — I made a cotton candy costume,” she shared.
According to Berkowitz, there are some key attributes in wearables for parades. “The fleur de lis design is typically very popular, but feathers, sequins — anything shiny — wigs, and anything that lights up are all important in this category.”
The bead-throwing tradition began in the late 19th century when Carnival Kings would throw rings into the crowd. Decades later, parade marchers began throwing Czechoslovakian glass beads, and today that tradition has morphed into plastic beads. The plastic beads are common place and available in a variety of stores.
Stock Your Shop Accordingly
Mardi Gras is a time when retailers can offer shoppers décor and other party-related items; it provides a chance to beef up sales in this category. Tabletoppers, garland fringe drapes and more are available in the customary color scheme of the event and are a great way to entice consumers. Retailers across the country that wish to secure Mardi Gras merchandise sales revenue should purchase product by September, according to Berkowitz.
Mardi Gras is recognized as a state holiday and it truly celebrates tradition, customs, creativity and a time where all come together for the entertainment the festivities elicit.