The 12 Best International Festivals for Playing Dress Up

Article by: Tessla Venus Goodwin|@GlitterSpies

Fri July 31, 2015 | 00:00 AM

Ultimately, festivals are about stepping outside reality and pushing the boundaries of sound, light, art, design, culture and experience. Donning an elaborate ensemble or costume can help attendees immerse themselves in a new and exciting world where the rules of everyday life need not apply.

Whether everyone is dressed in a particular theme or anything goes, there is something about being in a crowd of costumed people that creates a unique and whimsical vibe like nothing else. It helps create a sense of togetherness and oneness. We are all in this strange place together, and it's okay! Whether you spend hundreds of dollars or scour the thrift stores, the best costumes are always the ones that are heartfelt and original. Dressing up is all about feeling your most fabulous!

We rounded up the best festivals around the world to play dress up. From historical cultural traditions to fairly new music festivals, costumes at these fests are almost a mandatory part of participation.

Rio Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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Carnival celebration in Rio de Janeiro is home to some of the most elaborate costumes in the world. Feathers, sequins, rhinestones and an inordinate amount of glamour creates these larger than life ensembles. This is truly the best place to strut your stuff and wear that rhinestone g-string you’ve had forever.

From over-the-top parades to street parties to luxurious balls, each occasion has a theme. This means that you can change outfits several times a day just to fit the bill. Some street parties are even color coordinated and require everyone to match. If you find yourself in the wrong hue, you might be stuck purchasing a t-shirt from a street vendor.

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Drag queens, transvestites and other gender-benders add a wonderful and exciting element to the parties. Themes for the The Copacabana Magic Ball (the most glamorous and exclusive), have ranged from butterflies to Arabian Nights.

It is best to plan your trip well in advance to ensure maximum time for outfit planning! And don't forget the other carnivals around the world, which are all prime opportunities for sequins, feathers, and sparkles: Mardi Gras, Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, and Carnevale di Venezia.

Burning Man, Black Rock City, Nevada

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Photo by: Galen Oakes

Every year, nearly 66,000 people gather in the desert of Black Rock City to live in a temporary city with a gifting economy and the most spectacular art installations, music, activities and people. While some participants choose to go naked, others dress up in the most outlandish and glorious costumes. We’ve seen everything from metallic dragons to giant teddy bears to 18th century courtesans. Here, people are truly walking pieces of art and against that white-washed dusty backdrop, your costume can really stand out.

Costumes have been a part of Burning Man since its inception. It is a place of total, unwavering personal freedom. Your costume can even dictate your experience in some ways. Case in point? There is a bar that you can only sit at if you are on stilts!

Burning Man Galen Oakes 2014

Photo by: Galen Oakes

One of the most important things to keep in mind while dressing for Burning Man is the probability of your costume creating MOOP (Matter Out of Place). For years, feathers were actually banned because of this reason, but the ban was lifted last year and Burning Man just asks people to be responsible. This means you have to be extra careful with glitter or any loose beads or sequins.

It is also important that you are able to ride a bike in some way, as getting your outfit caught in your spokes is unpleasant and dangerous. Hats, goggles, parasols and dust masks are also essential to the burner wardrobe to ward off the harsh sun and playa dust. The weather can be rash and unpredictable. Some years have seen temperatures as low as 40 degrees at night and as hot at 110 during the day with thunderstorms and white-outs (dust storms). Make sure to pack with these things in mind!

Junkanoo Parade, Nassau, Bahamas

Magnificent Costumes

Photo by: Michael Glass

Dating back to the 17th Century, Junkanoo Parade in the Bahamas is an incredible display or homemade costumes and regalia. It is said that slaves used to decorate themselves using whatever they could find, sewing paper and feathers onto their clothing and using flour paste as face paint. Now, the process is a fine art.

It begins with a pattern on cardboard and then crepe paper is glued onto the shapes in intricate designs. Then, beads, rhinestones, sequins and feathers are added. Some costumes are up to 15 feet high. Each group of people also creates a parade float made from aluminum rods, cardboard, wire, foam, crepe paper and a special cement.

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Photo by: Michael Glass

Everyone is invited to participate in the parade as long as she or he follows the National Junkanoo Association’s rules.

Electric Daisy Carnival, Las Vegas, Nevada

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Photo by: Art Gimbel

Insomniac’s largest event Electric Daisy Carnival (aka EDC) is a true raver’s delight. There is no shortage of glitter, glow paint, LED costumes, rainbow hues, metallic shine, and full animal costumes. The bigger and brighter, the better. Electric Daisy is full of wonder and excitement.

When a “normal” outfit for girls consists of metallic booty shorts, sequin bra with beads and flowers, colored furry boot covers and an arm full of rainbow kandi bracelets, that really sets the standard. People often don animal onesies, hoods, and elaborate masks. Cartoon characters and playful creatures all come out to dance their way into the sunrise.

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Photo by: Art Gimbel

True rave culture is about acceptance. It doesn't matter where you come from or where you're going, because you are part of a community that practices PLUR (Peace, Love, Unity, Respect). That means you have complete freedom to dress however you want and be celebrated for it, not judged.

Rainbow Serpent Festival, Lexton, Australia

Rainbow Serpent Rebecca Metamorphograph

True to its name, the attendees of Australia's most colorful festival go all out for Rainbow Serpent, a three-day arts and music fest boasting 24-hour electronic music, circus performers, live art and installations, and much more. Donning colored wigs, mixing prints and flowing headdresses, participants take this as an opportunity to live out their costume fantasies.

The Aussies take festival fashion so seriously, they even have a pre-festival shopping event to ensure their attendees have a chance to get completely decked out by the vendors before the fest even starts. Can’t make the pre-sale? No worries, Rainbow Serpent also hosts a large market village with incredible handmade clothing and accessories that span over a half-mile.

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Too much is never enough at this festival. Pile on every color and texture, paint your face or wear outlandish makeup, and make sure to smile!

Walpurgisnacht, Mount Broken, Germany

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What better way to celebrate the coming of spring than erecting a bonfire, dancing wildly, and dressing like a witch?

Every April in Germany, thousands do just that. Walpurgisnacht, which is exactly six months before Halloween, is historically the night when witches gather at the Hexentanzplatz (witches' dance) and fly up Mount Brocken, where they convene with the devil. In the past, people believed that the witches were the masters of evil ghosts trying to prevent the coming of spring.


Although the dancing and traditional celebration was to ward off the witches, these days, people re-enact the witches' ceremony in full regalia.

Expect to see a lot of long, flowing capes and robes, broom sticks, velvet, and corsets. People even go all out with facepaint and prosthetic noses! For those wanting to step outside the witch box, dressing as the devil is also a great option.

Comic-Con International, San Diego, California

San Diego Comic Con 2014 Alan Hess Batman

Photo by: Alan Hess

Comic-Con might be the ultimate costume party. Some people spend all year planning and creating the perfect outfit to emulate their favorite pop culture characters from comic books, anime, graphic novels, movies, video games, and TV shows.

The time and effort people put into their outfits is unmatched and truly awe-inspiring. Beyond just costumes, a lot of people become their characters completely. This is a festival where ordinary people can become bonafide celebrities for the weekend. Sometimes all it takes is an outfit and spot-on impression to recreate a beloved character IRL. Check out this video of the real Peter Griffin hitting New York Comic-Con.

San Diego Comic Con 2014 Alan Hess Voltron

Photo by: Alan Hess

One of the coolest things about Comic-Con is the community behind it. Dedicated fans share costume tips and tricks, and have fun nerding out on their favorite things. Even if you’re not into comic books or video games, dressing up for Comic-Con should be on every costume-lover’s bucket list.

The Village Halloween Parade, New York City, New York

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If Halloween is your favorite holiday – which it tends to be for most costume lovers – the Village Halloween Parade in New York is an absolute must. This year, the parade is back after Hurricane Sandy and is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Over 50,000 people dress in their most impressive garb to enjoy hundreds of giant puppets, over 50 various musical acts, as well as dancers and artists.

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Photo by: Art Gimbel

It is said that you can feel the beating heart of the city as you transform yourself into a creature of the night and celebrate with thousands of strangers. No costume is too basic or involved. Just as long as you are dressed up, you are welcome to march in the parade. Silly, sexy, dark or playful, anything goes on this night of revelry.

Pirates Week Festival, George Town, Cayman Islands

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Calling all swashbucklers, scallywags, and wenches! For a truly immersive costumed experience, look no further than Pirates Week Festival in the Cayman Islands. Spanning eleven days in November, this family-friendly fest encourages everyone to don eye patches and feathered hats.

You can take part in a mock pirate invasion and enjoy a slew of parades and festivities. This is a really fun chance to take on full character and become someone else completely.

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Long sleeve dresses with corsets and head scarves are great for women. Men prefer long black coats and white ruffled shirts. Tall black boots are great for both genders. Stand out from the crowd by customizing your hat with pins and feathers. Make sure to stock up on beads, bangles, coins, and various adornments to complete your look!

This is a great time to experience the culture of the islands as well. There are seven different Heritage days that highlight the different aspects of each region including the history, food and local attractions. Pirates Week Festival is the perfect dress-up opportunity, festival and cultural experience all rolled into one.

Fantasy Fest, Key West, Florida

Fantasy Fest Andy Newman Florida Keys News Bureau

Hedonists and rampant party personalities unite for ten days every year in Key West to enjoy one of the United States' most insane celebrations. The alcohol flows freely as freaks and cliques from around the world show off their most impressive costumes. From a homemade bikini contest to intricate body painting, a huge amount of the celebration is hinged on dressing up.

A few of the annual events include the Tuesday Headdress Ball, the Wednesday Pet Masquerade and Parade, the outrageous Thursday Pretenders in Paradise costume contest, the Masquerade March, and Sloppy Joe’s Bar’s toga party, where bed sheets and laurel wreaths are required attire.

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Cross-dressing, drag queens, and overall gender-bending are celebrated here. The trick to dressing at Fantasy Fest is to wear as much as possible while still remaining as naked as possible. Body painting is the best way to accomplish that, so make sure you add that to your plan!

King’s Day (Koningsdag), Amsterdam, Netherlands

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Photo by: I Amsterdam

Known as the wildest 24 hours in the world’s wildest city, King’s Day is a not-to-miss treat for anyone of the global festival tribe. Celebrating the current monarch’s birthday and welcoming warmer weather, this fest demands you don your best orange getup (the color of royalty in The Netherlands) and hit the streets for an incredible time.

Sometimes themes that are the most limiting are the most liberating and inspiring because you have to be creative to think inside a small box. With orange as the theme, the sky is the limit for what you can put together.

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Photo by: I Amsterdam

The Dutch are so dedicated to this day, some even dye their hair orange just for the occasion. Tutus, wigs, giant ties and wacky sunglasses abound. Don’t forget you can turn any article of clothing a fluorescent shade of orange by an easy spray-paint job!

Whether you have slept or not, on the morning of April 30th the streets come alive with a massive flea market, or vrijmarkt. It's the only day of the year that anyone can sell things on the street without a permit, and today, anything goes. The police are also forbidden to intervene so it’s truly anything goes. Put on your best party dress, grab a crew of friends and hop in a boat to cruise the canals in style.

Secret Garden Party, Abbots Ripton, England

Secret Garden Party 2013 Danny Norths

Every summer in Abbots Ripton, England an Alice in Wonderland-esque adult playground springs up in a lush garden by a lake. True to its name, Secret Garden Party is all about discovering the secrets of the festival both big and small. It is known as the UK’s most raw and wild festival, featuring a “pool of naked liberation,” gypsy electronic music, glorious art installations, “action camps” with a multitude of activities and of course a pet costume parade.

Inspired in part by Burning Man, attendees display a similar commitment to ensembles. Anything from going naked and covered in paint to floral suits to wings and masks are welcome here. The most important part of Secret Garden Party is being able to romp around in complete abandon and let your worries fall by the wayside. So make sure your outfit lets you do that!

Secret Garden Party Jenna Foxton Dog Show

There is also a strong chance of rain so make sure to come prepared for muddy conditions with wellies and rainproof camping gear. This leaves a great opportunity to wear an outlandish rain poncho or coat and decorate your rain boots with a wild style.

Here, carnival characters and mythical creatures unite for a wondrous adventure under the sun and stars. Look to surrealism, psychedelia, legends and dreamscapes to inspire your costumes during this adventure to truly step through the looking glass. The best way to make an ensemble top is to add headwear. Intricate floral and feather headpieces, fanciful top hats, and animal ears can take your outfit to the next level.