Carnival Outfits: how it is and what to wear

No doubt the Brazilian Carnival celebration is the most ostentatious, bombastic, mind-blowing spectacle in the world, congregating millions of Brazilians and tourists in rapturous merriment over the 5 days preceding the Catholic season of Lent. 

The party happens every February or March, ending 40 days before Easter and commemorating the close of the long, hot Brazilian summer with a lavish, world-renowned Carnival parade in the Sambadrome, Rio de Janeiro. Carnival outfits are a huge trend in Brazil and, if you’re willing to attend the party, you should think in advance of what to dress. Popular itinerant street parties called blocos are also a must, and here we list everything you need to know in order to enjoy Carnival at its fullest!

The Carnival Parade at the Sambadrome 

Over two days in the Sambadrome (which fits up to 90,000 spectators), at nine hours a stretch, samba schools compete for the champion spot. Each brings an army of thousands, with an orchestra, multiple multistory floats and featured riders, and many required alas, or sections, including drummers, flag bearers, dancers and “whirling ladies,” each precisely arranged and dressed alike.

On each float comes a top performer, wearing the school’s featured costume, which might weigh up to100 pounds (45 kilograms), meaning this person sometimes is lifted to the perch via crane. Floats also feature more scantily clad beauties, feathered or glittering, some topless or G-stringed or wearing nothing but artful body paint (the ultimately Carnival outfit). Floats may have special effects, like light shows or massive bubble blowers, and many are still pushed along by members of the samba school.

The event is run and judged by Brazil’s official samba league, which sets a theme and watches carefully for any missteps — going over time limit, dancers falling out of sync or sections going off their mark. A winning school is announced on the last night of Carnival, and the top six schools perform again the following weekend in the winners’ parade, also at the Sambadrome.

Sambadrome outfits

If you’re attending to watch the parade, the rule is just to be as comfortable as possible in your Carnival Outfits. As you must know by now, the general temperature during Brazilian Carnival is QUITE hot, and it can get pretty humid especially with the number of people in the Sambadrome and on the streets. Choose light clothes such as sleeveless tops made of cotton, to allow air to cool your body. On your feet, wear sandals, or, better yet, flip-flops. There are already a lot of stylish versions of these slippers that you can actually proceed to parties immediately after the carnival parades.

But do you know you can participate in the performances? It means you can wear the fabulous costumes and walk through Marquês de Sapucaí Avenue (yes, the Sambadrome is an actual avenue) with revelers and musicians covered in feathers, multicolored layers and lots of glitter (much like de Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, but with the Brazilian Twist). Yes, it is possible! 

Locals and visitors alike can participate in the parades by contacting the Rio de Janeiro Independent Samba School League or each school individually. Tickets to watch the event can be purchased in person at the Sambadrome, or online (with a Brazilian ID), and cost from R$10 for the cheapest bleacher seats at the end of the parade route to over R$5,000 for luxury “suites” with open bar and staff. Prime seats in the central stands (really close to the revelers) go from R$110 to R$1,000, depending on the date and the parade you wish to see.

The street blocks

The blocos [street blocks] are the most important part of the festival even though they are events on the sidelines of the official carnival parades that take place at the Sambadrome. Every day during Carnival, semi-organized gatherings take place in the streets so that hundreds or even thousands of people can parade together to the beat of the same music. The blocos basically bring together people from the same samba school, from a neighborhood and are generally organized around a specific theme. The quality of these gatherings often depends on the group that will play the music for hours. If you know any Brazilians or expats there, don’t hesitate to ask them for advice on the coolest ones (normally that’s their main topic of conversation at this time) and their preferred Carnival outfits. Over the two weeks around Carnival, more than 500 blocos are organized in the city of Rio de Janeiro, so you can join one at any time of the day or night.

Costumes and outfits for street blocks

For two weeks, the entire city of Rio de Janeiro and many others in Brazil live day and night to the rhythm of Carnival. Especially in Rio, the atmosphere on the street is filled with energy and most people walk around in Carnival outfits, in full or partial disguise, with some funny accessories. To blend in, it is therefore necessary to plan your costume design either by taking things with you or purchasing some cool accessories on the spot, which is easily done since there are a lot of street vendors.

The blocos are characterized by the multiplicity of themes from the fantasies of the revelers. Each year, people are inspired by the latest television, movie and music trends, major events and the most talked about subjects on a local and global scale (in 2022, we will certainly see a multitude of variations on the theme of the pandemic, performed with lots of humor, as is the tradition in Brazil). Look for trending topics to create your own unique Carnival outfit.

A valuable tip is to replace your underwear with beachwear. in Rio, many blocks take place a few blocks from the sea and a dip to ward off the intense heat is always welcome. A word of advice, however, no matter how perfect your costume is, don’t pick up fragile deals because during street parades you will often be sprayed with water (or beer when things get really crazy!) and multicolored sequins. 

Golden tips for Carnival outfits

  • (Colorful!) clothes with light fabrics
  • Comfortable shoes
  • Lots of sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Hats (straw hats are a must)
  • Avoid Hawaiian shirts!
  • Accessorize your garments (feathers, masks, capes, lots of sequins and glitter, led spots, hats, head garments, and the list goes on…)
  • Clothes that can get dirty (and they will!)
  • Beware of your personal belongings
  • Water bottle (indispensable)

Come and experience the Brazilian Carnival with everything you are entitled to. We plan your trip in every detail.