It’s that time of year again: Carnival season in the Caribbean is well underway. Every year, these beautiful islands become host to a sea of revelers and bacchanalists from around the world who are looking to experience the spectacular cultural event.
The first ever Carnival in the Caribbean is thought to have taken place in Trinidad in 1833, to celebrate the emancipation and liberation of the formerly enslaved. So while it's definitely a time to let loose and party, it's also important to remember that this centuries-old practice holds a lot of cultural significance for Caribbean people.
The big parade is typically the main event at Carnival. Here, those playing mas are decked out in elaborate and dazzling costumes, ready to chip down de road to the sweet sounds of soca and calypso, and for carnivals and celebrations outside of Trinidad, you'll often hear music native to the country (dancehall and reggae in Jamaica, basement soca in Barbados, etc.). But in the days leading up to the parade, there are tons of get-togethers, j'ouverts, and hours-long fêtes to attend.
To get you ready if you're planning to partake in the revelry this year (or in the future), Bustle spoke with four experienced carnival chasers and bloggers to help you figure out exactly what to wear to three of Carnival's most popular events.
Fêtes are Caribbean-style parties that occur all throughout the year, but are most frequently held around Carnival time. They can take place during the day or at night; some include unlimited alcoholic drinks, while others are BYOB (these are called "cooler fêtes"). But regardless of the type of fête you attend, there will always be good vibes and dancing — and sometimes even live performances by popular soca or dancehall artists.
For these events, Toronto-based Adeja Morrison, who is a self-proclaimed Carnival chaser — meaning she regularly attends Carnival in each Caribbean nation — suggests keeping things simple when it comes to your fête look. “Casual chic is overall the best way to go for most fêtes and day parties," she tells Bustle, since you'll want to be comfortable. She adds that these kinds of events are all about having fun, and not dressing to the nines.
Marissa Charles, founder of the Global Carnivalist, a blog exploring the Carnival experience from a masquerader's point of view, agrees. Since fêtes can get pretty hot temperature-wise — whether they're held inside or outside — light, breathable clothing is your best bet, she says. As for style, she says florals and bright colors will be particularly popular this year. Some pieces she's eyeing are these Black Neon Side Panel Cycling Shorts from Missguided, the Striped Biker Shorts from Forever 21, the Lace Up Front Beach Maxi Dress from ASOS, and the Double Layer Beach Maxi Dress, also from ASOS.
As for accessories, minimalism is key, according to Cris Strachan, founder of the style, fitness, and carnival blog Bahamianista. At fêtes, "I usually have a tendency to jump, and it’s no fun getting slapped with a heavy statement necklace," she says. But Strachan shares that there are still ways to spice up your outfit. She recommends rocking a bright lip, like the True Love Matte shade from Lime Crime, and pairing that with more subtle accessories like a flag bandana to rep the country you're from — Strachan is a fan of the ones from Cool Face Life. She also likes the Eyes on the Prize Oversized Cat-Eye Sunglasses from Nasty Gal, and "swears by" SoJourner's Holographic Rave Fanny Pack to keep her personal belongings safe.
A j’ouvert is an all-night street party (though it can also happen indoors) that takes place two days before the main parade — meaning you’ll be awake drinking, dancing, and chippin' until sunrise. So, you'll most likely want to wear comfortable clothing. But be warned: There will be paint and there will be powder that people will be flinging around, so you may want to avoid getting new clothes for these specific parties.
Nadelle Lewis, creator of the size-inclusive movement #everyBODYplayahmas that celebrates body diversity at Caribbean Carnivals, tells Bustle that for these events, it's ideal to wear old clothes you're not afraid of getting messy in. It's also important to make sure they'll keep you cool and comfy, with Lewis noting that she particularly loves "hot shorts, tights, and combat boots." Her advice: "Get creative!"
Charles adds that while j’ouvert definitely isn't a fashion-forward event, you can still rock an accessory like an affordable hat or visor to spice up your outfit. Her favorite is the Tennis Beach visor from Nicky Bigs Novelties on Amazon.
But since j'ouverts can get messy with all that paint and powder being flung around, Strachan stresses the importance of prepping your skin — especially for first-time j'ouvert-goers — so you won't have to spend hours in the shower afterward. “Rub Vaseline or baby oil [on all exposed parts of your body] so [none of the paint] will stick onto your skin for the next few days," she says. As for hair, she recommends wearing a scarf or beanie to protect your strands. "I usually prefer to keep my hair intact, so I’ll put a plastic bag or shower cap under the wrap because liquids seep through fabric," she says.
Strachan also says that if you plan to bring your phone with you, you should seriously consider buying a waterproof pouch that can also be used to store your hotel card, ID, and money.
Day Before Carnival
Monday Mas takes place the day before Carnival, and vibe-wise, it's a prelude for what's to come at the big parade. On this day, revelers are out on the road, marching to their favorite chunes, while they let their personal style take centerstage.
Style-wise, “Carnival Monday gives you free reign to be as creative as you want to be," Morrison explains. "There are so many options." For example, you could choose to wear a simple bikini with a cute cover-up, or wear something a bit more elaborate that features rhinestones and feathers.
If you want to splurge on your outfit, Morrison recommends checking out shops and designers like Ginger Wire Bras, Shop Evolve, and Marie Colette, who all specialize in making Monday wear. However, if you'd like to create your own look — which can also be a more cost-effective option — she says all you'll need is a bathing suit, a glue gun, and some embellishments. "Quick, easy, and you will still look fabulous," she says.
To add even more flare to your Monday wear, Strachan says you can pair your look with accessories like body chains and arm bands. Her picks are the Mini Jewel Body Chain from ASOS, as well as a gold band from Amazon store RechicGu.
For footwear, Strachan stresses that comfort is key — but that doesn't mean your shoes need to be subtle. She recommends looking at sites like Carnival Kicks to find a variety of sneakers and breathable boots that will allow you to comfortably wine up to the sweet sounds of soca all day long.
And of course, some say no Monday look is complete without makeup. Many revelers choose to really glam it up at this event with bold, elaborate looks, which can feature bright eyeshadows and lipsticks, rhinestones, and fluttery false lashes. And while some opt to get their makeup done professionally, Lewis says you can save some cash by purchasing your own products and using a Carnival makeup YouTube tutorial to guide you through the process.
There's no time quite like Carnival season in the Caribbean, and whether this will be your first time attending, or you're a veteran reveler, it will surely be an experience you won't ever forget.