Top 5 tips for Carnival costume

Having had a little time to think about it, I realised that the one thing I didn’t do in yesterday’s post is differentiate between blocos and the main procession thing that everyone thinks of when they hear “Carnival in Rio”. The big procession thing is called Desfile das Escolas de Samba (Procession of the Samba Schools). It’s the thing you see on the news each year, held in the Sambadrome – a big long street, lined with masses of tiered seating:


The main procession, as seen here in the film Rio


I haven’t been to this thing – tickets are really expensive and to be honest, I’m not that keen. Don’t get me wrong, it looks spectacular and I definitely want to see it one day, but just sitting there watching from the side seems a bit passive, you know? Maybe I’ll go in a few years when I’m older and richer.

So if you’re not at the Sambadrome, you should be at a bloco, and if you’re at a bloco then you should have an outfit!


SAARA gets busy before carnival. If you know London, then think of Oxford Street in late December…


I have just got back from shopping for my carnival outfits and I have to say, it rivals Christmas shopping in terms of unpleasantness. If you’re in the Rio, then the place to go is SAARA (Sociedade dos Amigos das Adjacências da Rua da Alfândega).  This network of pedestrianised streets, lined with all kinds of interesting shops, is a great place to visit at any time of year and there is a great Syrian/Lebanese restaurant (Sírio e Libanês) that I highly recommend.

A typical ‘fantasia’ shop. Stuffed full of fancy dress, stuffed full of people.


But in the run-up to carnival, this place transforms. It seems like every shop is stuffed full of carnival costume clothes and props (here they call carnival costume fantasia). And it also seems like half of Rio is trying to buy its costume at the same time as you – think people bumping into you and not saying sorry, looong queues to pay, everyone hustling and bustling around in a hurry. Everyone is on a deadline to get their fantasia before the start of carnival.

So, what are you going to dress up as? Here are my top tips:

1. Choose something lightweight. You are going to be wearing this thing all day, dancing, walking, drinking, dancing again. You are going to be exhausted anyway so don’t make it harder on yourself by dressing up in a realistic-looking rhinoceros costume. Like the rhinoceros, you probably won’t make it…

Yes. Lightweight and durable. I spotted this one today. I have to say, I’ve never seen anyone wearing anything quite this ‘carnival’. Impressive isn’t it? Normally it’s more like Robin that you can see in the background.


2. Choose something durable. You saw the pictures from yesterday right? Many blocos get very busy and from time to time you will find yourself having to squeeze through dense crowds. If you have a set of 2 metre wide dragonfly wings made out of wire and papier-mâché, they’re not going to last long.

3. Why not try to be original? OK, this is just my pet peeve – loads of people are super-lazy when it comes to dressing up for a bloco. They just buy a pirate set (eye patch, a hat, a cutlass) or a clown set (red nose, curly wig, spotty shirt) and then show up to find that everyone has done the same! A lot of people told me last year that it would be impossible to dress up like a cockroach, but I showed them! I made my own costume with wings and antennae and do you know what? I was the only cockroach there

And they said it couldn’t be done…


4. If you can’t be original, be topical. Last year, the film Black Swan had been showing in cinemas in the months before carnival and there were some great black swans.

Amazing Black Swan (the one on the left).


5. If all else fails, cross dress. I’m not sure if I have mentioned this before, but the average Brazilian male is a fairly macho kind of creature. Many Brazilian men (well, many heterosexual Brazilian men) seem to live in fear that someone, some day, will suspect them of being gay. Well, all that goes out the window during carnival! It’s like the shackles come off and they can finally express the inner ballerina or fairy that wants to come out!


I’m a lickle bumble bee!


4 replies
  1. Brasilicana
    Brasilicana says:

    Many Brazilian men (well, many heterosexual Brazilian men) seem to live in fear that someone, some day, will suspect them of being gay. Well, all that goes out the window during carnival!

    Yup! I hear the “Muquiranas” (the famous cross-dressing bloc in Salvador) is made up largely of policemen.

    You didn’t answer the main question – what are YOU going to be this year? I hear the fake pregnant lady costume is reeeeeeally popular :-p

  2. tomlemes
    tomlemes says:

    Ha ha ha! Ah, but that would be telling wouldn’t it? Let’s just say that there may be a slightly over-plump little bird flitting from bloco to bloco this year! :D

  3. The Gritty Poet
    The Gritty Poet says:

    The SAARA place reminds me of those images of what Rio looked like in her glory days. Well, an unkept and downgraded version of her glory days from what the picture tells; still, you can notice vestiges of architecture that was once awesome.
    I am trusting your good judgement and putting that restaurant on my Gritlist.
    Oh, and off topic, I thought you might enjoy this:

    Dude, what kind of cockroaches did you grow up with?

    Feliz Carnaval.

    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Yeah, it’s sad what happened to Rio over the course of second half of the 20th Century. SAARA is nice, but there should be so many more nice places like it downtown and a lot of it is a crumbling ghost town.

      Cockroaches – yeah, I used a bit of artistic licence. The real things just scare me way too much…


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