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A masquerade ball is one of the most fun occasions to dress up for. Think glitz and glam, with an air of mystery. Women don't usually wear full costumes at a semi-formal masquerade ball; they wear nice dresses. The key word is "elegance" -- scrap that furry werewolf mask; you want to look chic and stunning.
A cocktail dress and a longer gown are both acceptable, in fabrics like chiffon, satin, silk and velvet. Longer gowns look more formal, but if high boots are part of your costume, it's fine to go knee-length. Big, puffy skirts are usually a bit much, unless they're a crucial part of your getup. Wear a cape or a cloak to add a sense of mystery. It might look out of place at a normal ball, but strangeness is expected at a masquerade ball.
Traditional masquerade-style masks usually cover the area around your eyes. If a mask covers the whole face, it usually looks like a human face with fancy designs painted on it. Some masks attach to your head with a band. You hold others with a stick, which is really handy if you're worried about messing up your hair or makeup, or you want to show off your peepers. Some have a sexy tuft of feathers set off to one side, while others have feathers covering the whole mask, or lots of plumage at the top. Some masks have a pretty butterfly shape. Others have the nose or mouth of an animal, like a bird's beak or an elephant's trunk, in case you feel like getting wild. Mask shapes can get really ornate, too. Model Tyra Banks has been spotted in a creative mask made from a piece of fishnet fabric pulled over her head.
You definitely don't need to dress like any specific character -- you're not a trick-or-treater. But you could. If you want to play Alice in Wonderland or a female Mad Hatter, go for it. Or choose your favorite Disney princess, and put your own spin on her look. Play Marie Antoinette if you've got the hair for it or can find a rockin' wig. Go as Cat Woman to bring out your sexy inner superhero, with a dark dress, tail and mask with cat ears.
Make your theme more subtle and more sophisticated by turning yourself into a Victorian lady, with loads of ruffles and lace. Be an ethereal fairy with wings and pointy ears. Go with a gypsy theme, adding lots of bangle jewelry and a dark wig if your hair is light. Or become a bandit with a full black ensemble, including a dress, gloves and mask that goes in a band around your head. Play the lady in red with a vivid gown and lipstick, and a dark mask to add some mystery. Go as a rocker chic with big wavy hair and a flashy getup. Or wear a medieval-style dress and tuck some flowers into your hair for a romantic look.