The enduring mystery of the Masquerade

Defined as “A covering for all or part of the face, worn as a disguise, or to amuse or frighten others”, masks have been used for rituals and ceremonies for thousands of years – the oldest discovered mask dating way back to 7000 BC.

Though we rarely use them for such practices in the West, masks have been prevalent in European culture for several centuries in the form of masquerade balls. A formal version of the modern costume party, these balls originated in France, according to, and were an excuse to celebrate and be entertained.

Though masks were intended to create an air of mystery, they weren’t quite as mysterious as first suggested. Utilising different colours and styles, party attendees could convey their thoughts and emotions to anyone savvy enough to discern them. The only thing holding attendees back was their imagination, and you can bet their costumes were equally as lavish. As such, styling a masked ball for a British period drama is the ultimate wardrobe department’s dream, so it’s no surprise they go all-out when the opportunity presents itself.

But it’s not just period series’ in which masks appear. Masquerade has long been a staple in film and television, with perhaps none more recognisable than the 1925 classic Phantom of the Opera, in which a young soprano becomes the obsession of a disfigured and murderous musical genius living beneath the Paris Opera House.

Then there’s Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 thriller Eyes Wide Shut. Starring Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, as can be seen at, the masks here are used to disguise high society’s dirty deeds, which themselves have a ritualistic quality. Many of film’s most memorable characters have used masks throughout the years, though with differing motives. The mask sported by Leatherface – made of real human skin – is used to evoke pure horror; poor Frank Sidebottom is just shy; Zorro, well, he just wants to look cool for the ladies.

But it’s not just on the silver screen you can enjoy masquerade. Until recently the domain of the elite, today it’s fashionable to throw masquerade-themed parties, giving guests the opportunity to get creative and produce their own unique design. Masquerade weddings, meanwhile, are a growing trend and sure to give guests something to remember – just make sure you end up tying the knot with the right person…!

The masquerade theme is clearly growing in popularity as can be seen in the examples above and this has led to it being used in other areas such as online casinos. Themed games are common on these sites as they offer something different to the users, with the Masquerade game being an example of this on

Many of us, at times, have wished we could take off the mask and truly be ourselves. On other occasions, we simply wish we could be someone else altogether – and in the age of social media where we’re constantly admiring other people’ lives, this desire to emulate shows no signs of abating. Though it may be nothing more than a simple accessory, masks appeal on a psychological level – and because of this, their appeal is unlikely to waver anytime soon.