How to create the dress and mask of a lady of the eighteenth century for Carnival in Naples?

 The 18th century was a century rich in pomp and social change that also saw its highest expression in the particularly rich clothing of the nobility. When we think about how to make a costume for a lady of the eighteenth century, it is essential to take this sumptuousness into account. 

In order to be the queens of the carnival celebrations and to be sure to bewitch those around us, let's play it safe, aiming for the winning costume: the Neapolitan lady!

Elegance, beauty and wealth are just some of the adjectives that best describe the women of the eighteenth century. If you had the opportunity to take part in the prestigious "eighteenth century Neapolitan Carnival", held every year in Naples, you will surely have seen some wonderful 18th century women with unique dresses and masks. The checkers masks are one of the many symbols of the city of Naples, at the time capital of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies.

How to create the Neapolitan lady's dress for Carnival

Let's start immediately by saying that it won't be an easy job and in Naples there are very authoritative ateliers specializing in 18th century clothes, among them the Artinà atelier of Monica Fiorito, Italian excellence. Why this premise? Because to make the Neapolitan lady's costume you need to be an expert in cooking or receive help from those who have more manual skills. Moreover, apart from some decorations and details that can be added by hand, to sew large quantities of fabric it will be good to have at least one sewing machine available.
What does not allow us to take our eyes off the Neapolitan Lady, is just the workmanship of her dress, very elaborate, studied in every lace and in every corner of fabric, so the more worked it will be, the more you will arouse admiration.

The Neapolitan Checkers Costume must be composed of:
  • Vapor skirt
  • Wraparound corset
  • Mask and hat

Fabric for Neapolitan lady's dress

To make the 18th century lady's dress we will have to choose carefully the fabric to use. The choice must fall on a very worked and decorated fabric, perhaps to be enriched with some lace, feathers and golden inserts.
Velvet is always the most suitable thanks to its shine, elegance and the heaviness of the fabric that in winter is also very useful to protect us from the cold. If we want to save a little on the cost of the fabric, other valid substitutes are the upholsterer's satin or damask, easily available also in the markets.
Once we have chosen the fabric, we can keep some clippings, in case we want to use them to decorate the Neapolitan lady's mask of the '700 and find decorative hems and lace that match our fabric.

Making a Naples' 18th century lady's corset

Another fundamental element is the corset that represented, for the lady of the '700, "bitter sweet".
We can buy it ready made in underwear shops with light sticks and then cover it with the fabric of the dress, or we can insert and sew plastic sticks (easily available in hardware stores) directly on the inside of the fabric, overlapping another fabric.

Finally, a simple and cheap system, but also less effective, is to use a bodice made with stretch fabric, so that it is comfortable to wear and does not hinder your movements. What is essential is that the corset has a wide neckline that can be heart-shaped, V-shaped or square-shaped.

To make your Neapolitan lady' costume flawless, you can create a point at the bottom of the corset, which can fall on the skirt, making you more slender and giving the idea of a whole dress. Don't forget the golden inserts or feathers to enrich your 18th century Neapolitan lady' carnival costume.

Sleeves of the 18th century lady's costume

Continuing on, the sleeves of the bodice must be tightened on the shoulders, to then widen on the elbow, puffing, to end up in very wide and very light tissue to match your costume, which will flutter at every slightest movement. 

And then lace, innumerable and precious laces, ornamental fabrics and why not, very often even feathers to be placed as you like along the whole dress, to make it even richer and more fluffy.

Depending on the lady you want to represent, you can choose long narrow sleeves, rather than long puffed ones, the important thing is that they resume the style of the dress. Some, complete the sleeves with small gloves that give a touch of elegance.

How to make the Neapolitan lady's masks

Proceeding in our preparation we have to take care of the important white wig, or very blonde, usual to these refined ladies, usually so tall and elaborate as to be a real artistic composition, absolutely essential in this beautiful costume. Above the beautiful hairstyle you can also add hats, veils and various veils, certainly combined with the color of the dress, to give even more a touch of richness and abundance to the figure of the beautiful lady.

Finally, don't forget that this Neapolitan Lady bewitches us thanks to the mystery of her elusive look, so hide behind the typical masks, so dear to the Neapolitans, which hide the face of those who wear them.

Colorful, golden masks, embellished with beautiful embroideries or white statuesque, it doesn't matter; what matters is that, adding to the elegant and noble proceeding of the Lady, they make her the most fascinating and mysterious figure of the entire Carnival.

18th century Neapolitan lady's mask

To make our mask we will need a base, a carnival mask that covers the eyes or the whole face that we are going to decorate in coordination with our carnival dress. Either, we could build it with cardboard or if you are an expert in DIY, we could create the mask with chalk, thanks to the moulds available on the market.

Once created our base or if you have purchased a white mask made of plastic or cardboard, we can proceed with the custom decoration, we just need to have:
  • Acrylic chlorine or metallic spray cans
  • Hotmelt or vinyl glue
  • Lace, feathers and rhinestones
  • Elastic a wooden or plastic stick

How to decorate the Neapolitan mask

If you have leftover of the fabric of your dress, you can line your mask entirely, to make pendant with your lady' dress. Or you can color the mask with acrylic or tempera colors or even better, metallic colors.

Afterwards, you can decorate the mask according to your taste, adding the laces that pick up your costume. In addition, large white or colored feathers, added on one side of the mask will give you even more prominence, especially if combined with an elegant fan of feathers.

If you have the mask with elastic band, just hide it in your hair once worn or with a hat or wig.
If, on the other hand, you want to create a mask with a stick, you can decorate your handle with the same colours or find a golden stick to fix firmly to the side or centre of your mask.