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Kate Langbroek book extract: What to wear at Venice Carnival, Italy’s biggest party

Comedian and presenter Kate Langbroek moved her brood to Italy in 2019. After a year in Bologna, the pandemic hit, but she also found fun reasons to mask up.

I don’t understand people who don’t like to dress up. You know, those naysayers who turn up at a fancy dress or office Christmas party in T-shirt and trousers or a little black dress? This is not an issue for the festival of Carnevale when all of Venezia commits to colour and costume.

It’s much like medieval Halloween, and the prospect of being a part of this is irresistible for me and my husband, Peter – we’re united in our love of a fancy dress event. It’s so transformative and playful. It is fun.

After a year of living in Italy we’re fulfilling a promise to return to Venice, just the two of us. No children, no interruptions, no preparing of dinner, no resolving of squabbles or issuing of edicts for the evening ahead. We are two grown-ups getting ready – for what, we’re not exactly sure, but adventure awaits, and we’re both here for it.

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Kate Langbroek at Carnevale in Venice, Italy.

If there’s one regret I have, it’s that I don’t have a lady-in-waiting laying out my costume. Wriggling into my stockings and giant hooped skirt takes the better part of 10 minutes and, although I wanted to surprise Peter by suddenly appearing, transformed, I finally have to enlist his help. He has to lace up my corset, which ties at the back, Scarlett O’Hara style, and (eek!) requires some serious muscle to cinch in my well-fed waist. I need his assistance once more after I’ve squeezed into the bathroom and wedged my enormous bustle against the wall so I can use the toilet. Propping my hooped skirt up with one hand while reaching over myself in an elaborate pretzel-like twist to grab the toilet paper with the other – without knocking over bottles on the bathroom shelf behind me – is nigh on impossible. Peter, answering my plea for help, comes in and helpfully takes a photo of me. Mio dio, the past was impractical.

But how gloriously impractical. When we’re finally ready we stand in the middle of the room, my handsome, turquoise-clad officer and me, now a proper Venetian lady, with hair curled and a shimmering, peachy bosom. My husband executes a deep bow and offers me his arm. “Prego, signore,” I simper sweetly, attempting a return curtsy. Tucking my hand through the crook of his arm, I turn with him to sweep out of the hotel room, but our exultation is short-lived: we manage only a few steps before getting jammed in the narrow hallway – again because of the enormous girth of my skirt.

We finally wrestle free of each other enough that Peter can close the hotel door behind us while I tentatively descend the stone steps to the hotel reception. I cannot see my feet on the stairs so I have to shuffle down sideways like a toddler, one step at a time, hands clutching the banister for balance, while my feet blindly feel their way. It’s not the kind of elegant entrance I have imagined but nonetheless, as we approach the bottom of the stairs, the hotel night manager is moved enough to look up from his phone. His face registers his surprise and, smiling approvingly, he murmurs the ultimate Italian accolade: ‘Bellissimi!’ And he is right; we are beautiful.

Piazza San Marco is the place to be during Venice Carnival.
Picture: Getty

Piazza San Marco is the place to be during Venice Carnival.
Picture: Getty

Stepping out into the laneways of Venice for the 15-minute walk to our masked ball is simply thrilling. Along the way we pass groups of revellers outside bars and Italians enjoying their traditional passeggiata, the evening stroll that happens everywhere at dusk.

Tonight, rather than being mere spectators, we’re adding to the theatre of it. As we make our way through a wide piazza, men exaggeratedly bow and women murmur compliments. Tipsy strangers raise their glasses to us and, when we pass other costume-clad party-goers – harlequins, noblemen and veiled ladies clad in brocade – we acknowledge each other, our respective commitment and the beauty of our costumes, with a slight inclination of the head and a “Buon carnevale”. This promenade alone is nearly worth the effort. When we arrive at the address where the evening’s festivities will be held, we’re already on a high.

This is an extract from Ciao Bella! Six Take Italy by Kate Langbroek (Simon & Schuster Australia, $32.99), out now.

Ciao Bella! Six Take Italy by Kate Langbroek.

Ciao Bella! Six Take Italy by Kate Langbroek.

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