Playing Mas: Style Lessons at Jamaica Carnival 2017

Months before Carnival arrived, I knew I had to get fit for the road. Jamaica Carnival is the showdown event on the island, where the ladies step out in well-designed scantily costumes, and show off wonderful bods, while the men get to wine pon women from all over the world in free fun, but it’s a little deeper than that.


Carnival was introduced in the 18th century by French settlers on islands (most notably Trinidad and Tobago) as a time of “mas” where festivities take place through balls before taking on the lenten season. Slaves were not allowed to participate in playing mas, so they formed their own versions and costumes in backyards and on streets masquerading and often mocking their masters, creating music through drums, singing and chanting, ultimately designing their own free form parties.


The music made on the streets, often related to as Canboulay became the foundation of Calypso and Soca music. The backyard parties where the slaves danced in the street and threw paint became the base of J’ouvert. The result of dressing in masquerade and costume for a night to cover your identity and celebrate freely is still the root of Carnival road march and after Trinidad’s emancipation in 1834, all of this came to forefront allowing slaves to join the official mas parties which merged all the different forms of dress and celebration together.

Carnival is said to have first come to Jamaica in the 1940s, brought by Trinidadian students attending the University of the West Indies campus in Kingston. By the 199os, Carnival in Jamaica had become a well-established tradition.

Today, carnival wear has since evolved but remains close to its roots. Since the emancipation and joining of all parties there has been emphasis on dress from the Black diaspora which started when capturers allowed the enslaved to display ancestral heritage visually through the arts of ritual performance and dress. Early accounts recall slaves donning feathered headdresses, tribal painted faces and bodies, horned masks, and shredded strips of animal cloth and fabric just as they did in their homeland.


Today, with still a heavy accent on feathers, masks and tribal paint, carnival involves other fun particles of dress including beads, bedazzled jewels, sequins, and ribbons. Carnival bands in many places have turned this into a competition where a group of revelers will get together in a band and sport the same costume, practice routines and own the road in competition with others for a grand prize.

While Jamaica doesn’t actually grant a prize, competition of costume and band experience was very heavy this year in particular as there was a known competition between four Carnival bands that held separate road marches for the first time in the history of country. Xaymaca International, Bacchanal Jamaica, Jamaica Carnival and Xodus Carnival all went to head producing various themed costumes for revelers to choose from and join their Carnival route and road experience.

After much consideration, I decided to jump with Xaymaca International for one of the best carnival experience to date.

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The Costumes:


Xaymaca International offered 9 different themed costumes to choose from including a t-shirt option package for last minute revelers. The costume of choice for me Provocateur, designed by Sandra Hordatt came with a sweet rose gold sequined wire bra, bejeweled tiara, backpack feathers in pink, peach, orange and mint colors, leg pieces, arm pieces and gold bangles. This costume came in four variations, one being the frontline line wire bra costume I donned, another frontline monokini base, a backline full bra option and a male costume including shorts, waistband, chest piece, arm pieces, headband. The fit was extremely comfortable and made for easy wining and grinding on the road however the bad tan lines still lurk on me today.




The Beauty:


Carnival revelers wake up at the crack of dawn to start makeup preparation for the day and nights events. Often times big makeup artist on the island set up stations on location where they already have a full scheduled client list and a team to help achieve the looks. During Carnival time, it’s normal for there to be a delegate artist for face base and foundation, someone else for eyebrows, another for eye makeup and another delegate for decked out face jewels which is very popular for the event. Everyone wants to be seen on the road in dazzling jewels so it’s a big affair.

Brows: Benefit Cosmetics Goof Proof Brow Pencil Easy Shape & Fill, ($24,

See Also

Face: Mary Kay TimeWise Matte-Wear Liquid Foundation ($22,

Eye: BH Cosmetics Foil Eyes – 28 Color Eyeshadow Palette ($12.50,

Lips: Chanel Rouge Allure Intense Long-Wear Lip Colour 168 ROUGE INGÉNUE ($37, with gold glitter on top

Jewels: Self-adhesive jewel assortments ($9,

Makeup artist: Dexter Pottinger

The Experience:


Xaymaca International set up camp at the Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston for everyone in their road march to have breakfast, drinks of choice for the road, makeup touch ups and costume help. For the first time, ever there was an air conditioned indoor space for revelers to chill and eat before hitting the road, for lunch and after feting for the first time which was a Xaymaca International only experience. Xaymaca also made sure to deck their revelers out with geared promo cups, a goody bag with chocolate, personal patron and vodka bottles, sample KeraCare shampoos and conditioners, stickers and pins.

The road itself was nonstop energy as the dj’s and performers kept the crown hyped all day and evening with nonstop soca hits. Since this was Xaymaca international first go at carnival with such an amazing turnout we can lonely expect an even better 2018 Carnival experience to come.

Noel Cymone Walker is EBONY’s Assistant Fashion & Beauty Editor. She loves editorial fashion and lives by the motto “Greater Still.” Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @thefurstnoel.



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