Beads, Beads, Beads!
of all colors, shapes and sizes can be found in New Orleans year-round, with the peak of
the bead action occurring during the Carnival season. Beads are usually tossed from
parade floats or bartered for various personal services on Bourbon Street. Beads
come in all different sizes and motifs, with the best being those which are long, unique
and original in appearance. Most of the beads you'll catch from parade floats are
single-color and small; however you could luck up and catch some
"keepers." Below, I've included some bead information and tips learned
over my many trips to Mardi Gras and other events in New Orleans. If you'd like to
submit some more information or tips, feel free to E-mail me.
do I get beads?
I knew that would
probably be your first question. There are three ways to get beads: Buying,
bartering, and catching them in parades. I'll discuss each of these throughout this
is "Bead bartering?"
for beads involves performing some type of personal act for the person who has the beads,
in hopes that they will toss the beads to you. The personal acts can involve
anything from a nice smile to spending the entire holiday with the person - and everything
in-between. This is best left up to the imagination and is always a matter of
Where can I buy beads?
I've found the best overall prices at the French
Market. Since a good number of merchants sell their beads there, the competition is
fierce and forces the law of economics to come into play. Because of the competition
among side-by-side merchants selling basically the same product, margin becomes pretty
much irrelevant compared to sales volume, and you in turn have considerable bargaining
power (remember, the merchant who goes home with the most money wins). Walk around
to each of the merchants and check QUANTITY prices and special deals before buying your
beads. Then, using the knowledge you've just obtained, negotiate with the
"better" merchants and buy from the one(s) who give you the best overall
deal. There is one serious downside to buying beads at the French Market or other
places around New Orleans: the closer it is to Mardi Gras, the less your choices
will be. Over time, people come in and pick over the beads, buying the very best
ones. Think of it like St. Valentine's Day - if you go to the store to buy your
sweetheart a card just the night before, chances are that you'll see very few cards left,
and those are the ones nobody else saw fit to buy. Always check the French Market,
but don't depend entirely on it - especially if you don't roll into town until the Monday
before Fat Tuesday!
Can I get good quality beads by bartering?
Yes, bartering is where you can get the best quality beads
without having to spend any money. But, just because a barter takes place doesn't in
and of itself mean you're going to get some nice beads. It has to be a fair swap -
plain and simple. And, some bead tossers are more stingy than others!
How can I make sure I get the most out of bartering
There are several ways. First of all, make sure your
beads have something to offer that the others don't - even if you have to pre-order them
and do some customizing. Also, the longer and shinier the beads, the better.
Wear a wide assortment of beads at all times so potential customers can "shop
around." And last but not least, the best-kept bead-bartering secret:
Regardless of whether you are the one with the beads or just wanting some beads, you will
do considerably better if the other person is drunk. The nicest beads I ever saw
were tossed by a drunk who mistook a long-haired fat guy for a fat woman!
Can I purchase beads on-line?
Certainly! In fact, the most serious of Mardi Gras
revelers will have purchased the bulk of their beads on-line a couple of months in advance
of their trip. Buying beads on-line generally gives you access to a wider assortment
of high-quality beads, and gives you the opportunity to wear some beads while enroute to
Mardi Gras. I've seen very few on-line prices lower than those in the French Market,
so I would consider pricing as one of the downsides to buying beads on-line.
Remember when buying beads on-line: don't wait until the last minute! It
probably isn't a good feeling to come home from Mardi Gras and find a $200 package of
beads sitting on your doorstep - knowing that the particular style probably won't be
"in style" during the next Mardi Gras.
Here are some links to places you can buy beads on-line:
Check these sites out - you'll find a nice selection of
beads, masks, and other Mardi Gras musts!
What can I expect from parades?
Parades are a good source of beads, however you probably
won't get the quality of beads you would get if buying or bartering. I've found that
20 feet back from the parade is the best place to catch beads, and the taller you are (or
if you're on a ladder), the better. For specifics on parades, visit our Parades page.
What types of beads are supposed to be
"hot" at Mardi Gras 2000?
Word is that "millenium" and "glow in the
dark" beads will be hot this year. Personally, I think "millenium"
beads will make for great MGY2K souvenirs, but beyond that, they have no significance.
I think the "glow in the dark" beads will end up being nothing more than
toys for people to bring home to their kids. My advice: Go with what's
traditional, original, and of the finest quality.