Differences within Brazil Samba & Carnival Costumes

Since the launch of this Blog, about 3 years ago, many question me about the differences between samba and Brazilian carnival costumes. Many think a true samba dance costume is the same as a carnival parade costume, or vice versa. Others don´t understand what there is such a difference in the prices of carnival and samba costumes, and their purposes. The objective of this post is to explain basically 2 types of Brazilian Carnival costumes, the samba dance costumes, and the parade carnival costume. Foreigners may think Rio and Brazil carnival costumes “are all the same”, with the bikini look or “lots of feathers”. There are huge differences within these costumes, and the main reason for the difference is its use and purpose.

Below we see a true samba dancer costume, but because of its luxurious materials like pheasant feathers, Swarovski Crystals, it can also be used for shows. If this costume had less feathers and ornaments, it could be a became a simple "passista" costume.

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True samba dance costumes, are worn by the famous “passistas”, ( see definition in link) , professional samba dancers that devote their lives all year long for samba dancing profession. These in general are subdivided into two categories: lighter type samba costumes, made specifically for a parade, and the “show-girl” samba dancer costume, as the name implies, made for samba dance shows. The latter, the “show girl samba dancer” type, is supposed to be much more resistant, since they will be used over and over. Samba dance shows, just like a theater play, may be scheduled for a tour and go on for months. For this reason, this kind of samba dance costumes, must be resistant, normally with feathers, but overall comfortable so as to make sure the “passistas” use all their skills on the show.

The first kind, the lighter one we mentioned earlier, are normally used once or twice, during a specific event. These costumes may have less clothing, to make possible open air performances, and have a different kind of assembly. They are usually not made with materials made to last innumerous parades. This is not to say they are supposed to “fall apart” after a few performances, obviously. What both have in common, ( described above ) samba dancer costume, again, is that they have less clothing, where made to aid the samba dancing ( which is different then parading ) and therefore proportionally cheaper than full Carnival costumes, for the simples models without luxurious pheasant feathers, for example.

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Above you will see in an example of samba dance costume "show-girl type".

Now Rio or Brazil Carnival costumes make part of a whole new kind of category: These where made basically for “normal” revelers, members of a samba school. They were not made for dancers and the strict sense of the meaning. They were made to aid the Carnival Art Director, the Carnavalesco ( see definition ), build his plot for a parade. Normally, these kinds of costumes have even a name, since they are attached or part of a specific wing within a samba school parade. Generally, these costumes are larger, fancier, and heavier. These costumes normally have shoulder pads for example, called “esplendor” in Portuguese, many feathers all around the costume, and much more of clothing overall.

Now below, you see a typical "parade" Brazil carnival costume. Observe how the purpose and general outlook in completely different.


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These “parade costumes” also use prime materials, but are generally heavier than samba dance costumes. Revelers who use the traditional “parade costumes”, normally don´t dance at the parade, they “parade” within their wing, or have a special choreography determined by its Wing Director or Carnival Art Designer. Of course, prices within parade costumes can also vary dramatically: The more quality materials used like pheasant feathers, silk, embroidery (hand-made ) work, can make these costumes very expensive, but also built to last if treated with care.

Below, another example of a traditional samba-school wing parade costume, or Brazilian carnival costume. As you can see, here the reveler represents Cleopatra Costume in Egypt Style.


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We hope we could help you understand a little bit more of the nuances of the Brazilian Carnival costumes and samba wear. All the best!