What is a Masquerade Ball, and Why Wear a Mask?

Updated on November 3, 2016

What Is a Masquerade Ball?

A masquerade ball is basically an occasion/event or party in which those attending appear in costume wearing a mask. Often these kinds of social gatherings, or carnivals as they were called in the day, were a part of 15th century life as elaborate and decadent pageants, or processions celebrating marriage, along with other major medieval social occasions of note.

Masquerade balls have been a part of costumed, public festivities in Italy throughout the 16th century. A must-attend event for members of the upper classes, these dances were held with great fanfare especially in Venice where the event known as the "Venetian Carnival" become as popular as they were notorious. With the fall of the Venetian Republic near the end of the 18th century, the use and tradition of masquerade balls gradually began to decline, until they basically disappeared altogether. Not until the early 1900s did they become popular again across Europe.

Why Do You Wear a Mask?

Masquerade balls were often turned into a game of "guess the guests" because the guests were supposed to conceal their identity with their masks. This would create a game that basically required guests to try to guess another guest’s identity. Often, the balls would turn into highly entertaining events, as guests would arrive in ever-increasing arrays of humorous and whimsical disguises.

In the late 1900s in North America, masquerade balls enjoyed a revival of sorts. Although for the most part, the formality of the ball and its dancing takes a back seat to creation of the party atmosphere itself these days.

Masquerades Today

Today, the masquerade ball still holds true to its roots with the promise of romantic allure and forbidden fruit. Prominently featured in romance novels, modern movies, and, of course, who could forget Phantom of the Opera. The masquerade ball and masquerade mask are finding their way into more than a few weddings and other social gatherings.

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