Playing dress-up: Eccentric costume festivals for grown-ups

Story highlights

  • The Scarborough Faire Renaissance Festival attracts nearly 250,000 period fans.
  • The festival has it's fair share of couple who wed dressed as Robin Hood and Maid Marian.
  • Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland, Colorado is dedicated to the frozen corpse of its oldest resident.
  • Attendees participate in coffin races and hearse parades.

As Paris Fashion Week demonstrates, adults love playing dress up just as much as children. The only difference between junior and senior would-be masters-of-disguise is that kids don't need an excuse to don a costume; grown-ups, however, seem to feel more comfortable when there's a theme involved. In the market for an outfit to match your fetish? With Halloween on the horizon, we've rounded up some of the craziest costumed events out there.

Getting geeky with it

Self-proclaimed (and a few closeted) nerds will find no shortage of events catering to the dweebiest of whims. Though it faces some stiff competition (the Roswell UFO Festival, which encourages participants to dress as their favorite alien, could give it a run for its money), Comic-Con is arguably the dorkiest event on the calendar. The San Diego variant is not only the original, it is also the biggest comic-related convention. Last year heralded in over 130,000 visitors, with costumes ranging from Stark Trek characters to comic super heroes and even the odd Disney princess. As it has become an 'it' event for any Hollywood franchise wishing to build a cult-following (and there's a lot of them), Comic-Con has even managed to make the geek a little bit chic over the years, with A-list celebs showing up in costume too.

Eyes Wide Shut

Fans of Stanley Kubrick should head to Italy to take part in one of the largest masked festivals on Earth. During Venice Carnevale, the "city without streets" takes on an especially surreal vibe as thousands of tourists join the locals in donning elaborate masks and gowns for ten days of celebrations. Though Carnevale's roots date back to the Middle Ages, the modern version has only been active since the '70s (blame Napoleon, who put an end to the fun when he invaded in 1797).

The city's Piazza San Marco becomes mobbed with tourists and photographers, who snap pics of professionals strutting their stuff in ornate robes and those creepy, bird-like masks the city is famous for.

Time travelers delight

At the Scarborough Faire Renaissance Festival, which runs every weekend throughout April and May, the 242,000 annual visitors are prone to dress in period outfits. The festival is set in 1533, the year Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn.

General manager Coy Sevier says that historically, during a royal wedding,the king and queen would tour all the villages in their realm. He notes that such an event makes a handy motif for a gathering dedicated to outrageous costumes.

"Of course, anytime the king comes to town, it's a good time to spruce up, put on your finest, and put on a good show," he says. Though the professional performers are held to a high standard, with costume guards making sure no detail is out of place, for everyone else, it's a free for all.

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"We have guests that come in as Dr. Who. We have a whole selection of musketeers. Even though they're a couple hundred years off, they're more than welcome," he says.

The Vikings are coming!

The Shetland Islands in the UK is home to the world's largest fire festival, Up Helly Aa, which also happens to be a holdover from Viking times. As such, the event is celebrated with a procession of 1,000 "guizers", or men in Viking costume, making their way through the town of Lerwick until they reach the Valhalla, where they then toss lit torches into a Viking long ship.

Though dressing up is mainly reserved for locals, anyone is invited to witness the event. Last year, 5,000 onlookers cheered the helmeted mass as they readied themselves to take down another ship.

Unleash the dark

Lovers of the macabre will do well to visit Leipzing, Germany during the annual Wave-Gotik-Treffen, aka, the Wave and Goth Festival. The costumes are remarkably diverse; futuristic robots are as much the norm as darkly-clad, Byron-esque romantics. The one thing that seems to unify the 20,000 participants, however, is an affection for Goth culture (which just happens to be very varied).

"In the last few years, new music styles have developed within the scene. In many cases, fashion is connected to that specialist taste, which is why there's such a range," explains Cornelius Brach, the festival organizer.

Won't you join the (blue) ball?

In 1995, the small town of Nederland, Colorado (population 1,470) became an unintentional symbol for cryogenics. A few years earlier, the body of Norwegian citizen Bredo Morstøl was shipped out to the town to live stored in a frozen state in the home of his daughter, Aud Morstøl. When she was evicted for living in a house without electricity or plumbing, she went to the local press in the hopes of salvaging her father's remains.

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Today, "Grandpa Bredo" (as he's known locally) is stored in a shed, packed with 1,600 pounds of dry ice delivered by a team of volunteers. In 2002, the town decided to commemorate the event with Frozen Dead Guy Days, an annual three-day homage to corpses and cold.

"We're a very small mountain town, and it's hard to eke out a living. The Chamber of Commerce was like, 'well, we're known as the town with the frozen dead guy, so let's have a festival,'" explains Amanda MacDonald, the event organizer.

Highlights of the fete include a coffin race, hearse parade, costume polar plunge and the Frozen Blue Ball -- a necro-themed costume party. Though anything goes in terms of costumes, the theme tends to revolve around cold things. Penguins, says McDonald, are popular.