Since posting the original question, I have discovered a technique for doing this in edit mode that is different for the one proposed by Gandalf3.
When elements are selected and then hidden with the H key, those elements stay selected. When you unhide them using the key combination, ALT - H, all of the hidden elements are unhidden, and they are all still selected. But if after each group of elements to be hidden are selected, they can be assigned to a new vertex group, before being hidden. Now, when the hidden vertex groups are unhidden, they will still be selected, but any of the selected vertex groups can be deselected by using the deselect button associated that vertex group, and the remaining selected vertex groups can be rehidden by pressing the H key.
This can be a particularly useful alternative to the mask modifier, particularly when the modifier stack is already large.