The original idea of Mardi Gras, which was established in 1718, has certainly changed over the course of three centuries — mostly for the better, and, a small portion, in my professional opinion, for the shoddier. Mardi Gras has always been, as it should be, about being over-the-top, indulgent, excessive, and full of pomp and circumstance. Thanks to efforts of political activist Dorothy Mae Taylor and her work to abolish exclusivity based on race and creed in carnival organizations, current-day Mardi Gras can truly embrace the masses and the classes.
I appreciate that anyone can legitimately be a Mardi Gras queen, even if by their own accord, and there is a marching group and a krewe that fits everyone’s desires and whimsy. From the Krewe of Chewbacchus to the archaic-yet-dubbed-traditional Proetus and Rex, there is a tribe for absolutely everyone. Mardi Gras 2019 is rightly about celebrating the idea of, “You do you!” No one looks at you sideways; in fact, we encourage and revel in the odd, the obscure and the fabulous. Yet where Mardi Gras has gone tawdry in recent years is actually where fashion has likewise gone astray: the elegance of formal dressing and formal events.
Mardi Gras’ ball attire, which I equate to walking the Hollywood red carpet, has guests in gowns that rival a bad Las Vegas show and are two pasties away from a New Orleans East strip club. Cheap, naked and tacky is not a good look. There is certainly a time and place for everything, but I miss the glamour of a striking woman in a gorgeous gown. I am not alone in my love for the grandeur of Mardi Gras and the hate of the distasteful dressing at its formal events.
Since I was a young lady, when I think of Mardi Gras attire and dressing for special events, Chatta Box Boutique would immediately come to mind. The retail shop, started by Brenda Romair, has been in business for almost 60 years. Romair originally started with her hair salon but began carrying clothing to appease her passion for fashion. Through the years, Romair and her daughters grew Chatta Box into the iconic boutique we know today. Chatta Box has decades of experience dressing New Orleans ladies, with everything from chic, casual wear to luxurious evening attire. Chatta Box Boutique spans three generations, and it is not uncommon to have three generations of women in the same family shopping all at once. “Chatta Box’s clientele has grown tremendously throughout the years,” says Rebecca Nordgren, co-owner of Chatta Box Boutique. “We have made dear friendships dressing our beautiful clients.”
During Mardi Gras, the women of New Orleans — as well as Baton Rouge, other parts of Louisiana and Mobile, Alabama — especially those involved in carnival organizations, might need multiple ensembles. Not only do women have balls to attend, but their social calendar will include luncheons, coronation ceremonies, debutante parties and appropriate attire for the parade viewing stands. Mardi Gras has grown immensely with the birth of new super krewes and marching groups; Chatta Box has to keep up with all of it. “The season keeps growing, and so does the need for more gowns and party clothes,” Nordgren says. Customers want immediate fashion gratification. “Because of social media and the obsession with celebrity pop-culture, clients want the hottest fashions yesterday,” Nordgren says. “What in the past used to trickle down from Paris over time, now everyone has access to it immediately.”
Throughout Mardi Gras, most want to make a statement with their attire, whether it is in costume on Mardi Gras day or a dress at the Krewe of Endymion’s Mardi Gras Extravaganza. The unfortunate direction though is not anymore about subtle sexiness and sophistication. The statement some ball guests choose to make might involve an old bridesmaid’s gown or something poorly constructed and completely scandalous worn on reality TV. “As a guest, it is imperative that you are respectful to the ball you might be attending,” Nordgren says. What one might wear to the Bacchus Bash is entirely different from what is expected at the presentation of the Rex Court. Both events can be chic, somewhat fun and amusing, and it is certainly possibly to dress in a gown that mimics that tone. “Chatta Box’s clients can trust that they will have beautiful, high-quality attire that can make a positive memorable impression at any carnival event.”
Mardi Gras should be about reveling with our people, but I still want us to look runway ready. Our city allots for glamour and grandeur; fashion during this season does not have to be cheap and disposable like fast food and reality TV. Mardi Gras is a moment when we can use style to showcase the whimsical and beautiful.
Happy Mardi Gras and happy shopping!
Chatta Box Boutique
4114 Veterans Blvd., Metairie