Traditional Fasnacht costumes
A large number of characters are on the move during Fasnacht. Five of them can look back on a long tradition. Some of them are based on Italy's Commedia dell'Arte, while others are inspired by local events.
At the Basel Fasnacht, active participants hide their true identity under a Masgge (full-body mask) according to the unwritten laws of Fasnacht. The head-mask is referred to as Larve; up to this day, most of them are still elaborately handcrafted. Many groups still design and create their own costumes and head-masks. One distinguishes between three types of costumes: parade costumes (which lend expression to a formation’s current sujet), classical costumes, and individual fantasy costumes.
Classical costumes include the Waggis (a parody of an Alsatian peasant), the Alti Dante (an “old aunt” from the Biedermeier period), the Blätzlibajass (modelled on the Bajazzo, the classical buffoon from the Comedia dell’ arte, with a costume made of hundreds of scraps of cloth), the Ueli (based on the figure of a medieval jester), and the Dummpeter (originally a trumpeter from the Rococo period).
The carnival figure Harlequin (originally known as Arlecchino) is a servant character originating from Italy’s Commedia dell’arte. Harlequin wears a distinctive chequered costume and a cape, ruff, pompoms and harem pants.
A caricature of an Alsatian peasant from the 19th century was the starting point of today's "Waggis". The people of Alsace used this name to denote a vagabond or day labourer. Even today, the character's boisterous behaviour is just as much a part of this figure as his typical costume. However, the costume has undergone major changes over the years. The nose has grown steadily larger, and the clothes have taken on different colours.
The Dummpeter Fasnacht figure almost died out in the pre-war years. However, he is now often seen again at Fasnacht. He has a childlike, dreamy expression and, because his mask features chubby cheeks, he lends himself to piccolo groups. His origins are not completely clear. According to one theory, his name was originally "Drummpeter" (trumpeter) but was modified to Dummpeter (literally "stupid Peter") over the years.
The figure of the "Alti Dante" (old dame) arose towards the end of the 19th century and was very popular in the early part of the 20th century. The Alti Dante is a caricature of a well-to-do older lady from Basel's upper class. Her clothes and accessories are often reminiscent of the Biedermeier period.
The Ueli harks back to the Mediaeval court jester, on whose outfit his costume is based. The top part and trousers are of two different colours, and he wears fabric horns on his head. Another typical feature are the many bells attached to the costume. It's difficult to overhear a Fasnacht participant disguised as an Ueli.
The "Blätzlibajass" is a combination of the words "Plätzli" and "Bajass". Bajass is the Basel dialect word for bajazzo, a clown in Italian Commedia dell'Arte. The term "Blätzli" refers to the hundreds or even thousands of pieces of fabric that adorn the costume.