A time line of Rio Carnival costumes
The first carnival set in the magical city of Rio de Janeiro dates back as far as 1723, although there are earlier references of similar festivities. Throughout the 1800s the concept of carnival changed dramatically, and so too did the costumes, with many symbolising the political voices of the people. During this time celebrations were aimed towards the upper classes; organised parties for elite societies were popular and even attended by the Emperor of the time, along with aristocrats. Masquerade balls where attendees could show off their wealth through luxurious costumes and masks became popular in the 1840s with waltzes becoming the dance of carnival.
However, by the late 1800s it all changed; carnival became a festivity for the working class and samba became the chosen dance. People began to wear costumes that symbolised their displeasure with the government; during the year of military censorship, costumes were worn to represent political frustration and reflect the people's desire for freedom.
Throughout the 1900s to this day, the costumes have become more elaborate and the carnival has become a festivity that is celebrated by all, no matter your social stature. Below is a timeline shows how Rio Carnival costumes have changed through the decades:
The '20s was the decade of samba schools, with the first, Deixa Falar forming in 1926, before later becoming known as Estacio de Sa - the name they parade under to this day. Samba school Mangueria shortly followed suit, forming in 1928 Deixa Falar, wearing their colours red and white, paraded on Praca Onze for the first time in 1929, winning the contest for two consecutive years. Costumes throughout the '20s were elaborate and often took on the theme of death, Maharaja and Rajah, amongst others.
Since the '20s more samba schools were formed, which led to the first official parade of samba schools in 1932. The price of material and ornaments skyrocketed during the '30s, which had a significant impact on the costumes displayed at Rio carnival. Light coloured materials were often used for costumes to help combat the Rio heat.
Freedom of movement and showing off female form became a focus when it came to dressing for the Rio carnival. Slowly women began to show more skin and often opted to wear a two piece swimsuit. Men were also more inclined to go bare-chested during the festivities.
Oscar Niemeyer designed the Sambodromo which has been the centre stage for carnival parades since 1984
In true '80s form costumes became more colourful and bigger than ever, boasting sparking embellishments wherever possible. The Rio carnival was split into two days of celebrations in 1984. The Gay Costume Ball was introduced, allowing Rio's gay communities to cross-dress and show off their elaborate costumes that boasted feathers, sequins and bright colours.
Costumes were replaced with body paint, metal covers and pasties (patches that cover a woman's modesty). With less clothing worn at Rio carnival, masks abandoned and light coloured costumes discarded, it was made clear that full nudity was strictly forbidden; a rule that remains today - any offending performer may have their school disqualified.
Viviane Castro wore Rio carnival's smallest g-string in 2010. The model, who was completely naked bar a 4cm pasty, paid the price for breaking the rule “preventing the presentation of people displaying their genitalia, decorated and/or painted”, costing her samba school, Sao Clemente, vital points.
Helene Cooper is no stranger to the magic of South America, having explored Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Argentine, Chile, Brazil and Argentina. Rio Carnival is one of the biggest parties held in this glorious continent and something that Helene loves to talk about. Helene is currently working for adventure company, Dragoman.
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