"Bikini, beads, and feathers" at Trinidad carnival: the voice of the younger generation

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Raedene P. Copeland (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Nancy Hodges

Abstract: Trinidad Carnival is a multifaceted festival that emerged out of slavery as a form of rebellion against the oppressive European colonialism of Trinidad (Hill, 1962). Traditionally, masquerade costumes embodied socio-political characters meant to mock or critique the slave-holders. However, today the majority of costumes have shifted to a more global costume form consisting of "bikini, beads, and feathers" (Mason, 1998). This modern day costume reflects a shift to a predominantly younger masquerade population. The "bikini, beads, and feathers" style is also representative of tensions in Trinidad society about the nature of the Carnival celebration today. The focus is now on the younger generation, who are heavily influenced by global styles and fashion, reflected in their preference for a "Las Vegas Showgirl" style masquerade costume (Scher, 2002). Carnival and its costumes are being produced as part of the global economy, with outside influences helping to shape how Trinidad celebrates its Carnival. In this study, the "bikini, beads, and feathers" masquerade costume is positioned as central to the Carnival experience, and the focus is on understanding the voices of the younger generation, currently a gap in existing literature. To accomplish this goal, this study employs an ethnographic methodology to explore the lived experiences of a broad demographic of Carnival participants. A multi-method data collection approach, including depth interviews, participant observation, journals, and visual documentation, is used to ensure depth and scope of data. Thirty-four participants were chosen through a purposive sampling approach. Participants included males and females, aged 22 to 63, and were engaged in a range of Carnival activities, from masquerade to costume production. Data were analyzed for commonalities and differences that surfaced across participants' experiences, which were then used to structure a thematic interpretation. Four conceptual areas contextualize the issues impacting present day Carnival celebrations: Embodying the Culture of Trinidad, Aesthetics and the Carnival Experience, The Economics of Experience, and Experiences in Social Context. Each area serves to address the broader issues surfacing from participants' lived experiences. They also help to shed light on the impact of the younger generation on present day Carnival celebrations and in particular, masquerade costume. A second level of interpretation was then developed to theorize masquerade costume as key to understanding Carnival as lived experience. This study posits that the "bikini, beads, and feathers" style masquerade costume is essentially the voice of the younger generation. This style reflects how Trinidad society has changed and the extent to which Carnival has become a global product. Therefore, this study sheds light on the critical importance of dress to understanding the cultural phenomenon that is Carnival. Areas of potential further research, including implications of the "bikini, beads, and feathers" for the "authenticity" and internationalization of the Trinidad Carnival experience are discussed.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2010
Aesthetics, Bikini, Beads, Feathers, Culture, Masquerade Costume, Trinidad Carnival, Younger Generation
Carnival $z Trinidad and Tobago $x Economic aspects.
Carnival $z Trinidad and Tobago $x Social aspects.
Carnival $z Trinidad and Tobago $x History.
Clothing and dress $x Social aspects $z Spain.

Email this document to