A capuchon is a tall, pointed party hat. Capuchons are cone-shaped and traditionally worn during Mardi Gras, the celebration before the first day of Lent during the Catholic Easter holiday season. The hat is brightly colored and decorated and often worn with a mask as part of a costume. The capuchon was worn in the earliest Mardi Gras celebrations in the French countryside. They were made to ridicule the tall coned hats worn by women of the aristocracy.
The name capuchon comes from cappa, the Latin word for a cape's hood. In 13th century Europe, a hood attached to a short cape that covered the shoulders was called a capuchon. It is part of the uniform worn by the Capuchin monks who bear its name. The head covering was later elongated and created out of stiffer fabric for the upper classes.
In southwestern Louisiana, the descendants of French Canadian immigrants, called Cajuns, wear capuchons and costumes called pretty suits for Courir de Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday Run. It is an event similar to the American version of Halloween where people dress in masks and costumes to hide their identities, beg for candy and play practical jokes. In addition, the men ride on horses and stop to receive chickens, rice and okra to make a stew called gumbo for a later feast.
The Cajun capuchon hats and costumes are typically red, yellow or green. In New Orleans, Louisiana, Mardi Gras participants typically wear capuchons of purple, green and gold, the traditional colors of the city's carnival celebration. In both festivals, the capuchon usually has a fringe of a contrasting color wound diagonally around the cone and small bells attached that jingle as the wearer moves.
The capuchons worn by Cajun revelers are often homemade. To make a capuchon, lay a piece of lightweight poster board on a flat surface. Roll it into a cone shape starting at the lower right hand corner, and test to see if it fits the wearer's head. Then tape the seam, or secure it with a rubber band. Trim the bottom of the cone so it will sit evenly, and then staple or glue the cone's edges together.
Choose fabric and roll it around the cone. Make sure the fabric is smooth, and then glue it to the poster board. Tuck the ends of the fabric under the hat's rim. Adorn the capuchon with fringed fabric along the brim and up the sides to the top. Sequins, pom-poms or any other colorful decorations may also be added.