How to dress for Mardi Gras in New Orleans

New Orleans, I love ya, but you’re a dirty city — especially in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras. In fact, I’ve ruined a couple pairs of pants thanks to the “drunken sludge” on Bourbon street (right). After my first few trips to Mardi Gras, I got smart and went on a shopping spree at the thrift store before heading down, and now it’s a tradition. Here’s my yearly shopping list:

A few pairs of old pants. I like to head for the slacks aisle and pick up a few pieces that look like they’re straight from the set of Three’s Company. The more obnoxious, the better. I’m not shooting strictly for style, however — it’s best to find a few pairs that are built not only for looking like Mr. Furley, but for their durability; you want something that offers a bit of warmth and will cut through the Bourbon street sludge without decomposing.

A jacket. This is perhaps the most important piece of your ensemble. You want something that’s not only going to provide you warmth on the chilly February nights, but also make you look like someone not to be messed with. I learned this trick from a guy named Eddie who wore a trench coat every year. “People never know what you’ve got under there,” he told me. Thing is, he would actually carry a machete under his.

A hat. Shoot for something dapper here — a Borsalino knock-off, perhaps, or maybe even a cowboy hat. It’s often rainy down in New Orleans, so you want something to keep your head warm and dry, while furthering your chaotic wardrobe choices.

Shoes. It’s tough to find a good fitting set of shoes at the thrift store, so usually I pick an old pair of my own from the back of the closet. The key here is comfort, as you’ll be doing a lot of walking. Keep in mind that anything white below the knees will be a muddy gray color after a few hours on Bourbon, so pick your shoes wisely.

The end result should make you look like a cross between a transient panhandler and Jack Tripper. I saw my efforts come to their ultimate fruition a few years back when I randomly bumped into an old high school pal. “Dude,” he said, checking out my wardrobe, “are you homeless?” At least I was warm.

Houma, Louisiana: Family style Mardi Gras

I was lucky enough to live in Southern Louisiana for a few years, and I had a blast at several Mardi Gras parades. But for those looking to bring the kids or get away from the debauchery in the French Quarter, consider heading one hour south of New Orleans to the town of Houma.

Houma is a smaller city, about one hour’s drive south of New Orleans [see map], in Terrebonne Parish. It also hosts one of the largest Mardi Gras Parade in Louisiana, second only to New Orleans. The crowds are still plenty rowdy, and they party in typical Mardi Gras style. However, this is a family event, and kids are welcome at the parades and often get the best “throws” (items such as beads and toys thrown from parade floats).

The parades are free and the hotels are generally cheaper than overbooked New Orleans. Great food can be found at Boudreau and Thibodeau’s Cajun Cooking or Big Al’s Seafood — all Cajun style, of course. Lastly, take a ride with Munson’s Swamp Tours for a really up-close look at the swamp life.

Houma offers a great alternative to the parking problems, public urination and expensive drinks of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. A lot more family friendly than the Quarter, and still enough Mardi Gras to make anybody have a good time! Mardi Gras Page