Feathers and Fun!
by Yennifer Padilla
Every year millions of people from all over the world go to Brazil and experience a week-long celebration known as Carnaval. Looking to immerse themselves in the rich culture of music, dancing, lavish floats, and intricate costumes.
Over 70 samba schools participate and the top Rio de Janeiro samba schools compete in Carnaval, parading and looking forward to being recognized as the best. But what does it take to be the best? First, each school is responsible for choosing a theme, then the school creates the storyline, composes the music, creates the choreography, floats, and costumes. At the competition, schools are judged in 10 categories and each category is rated from 7-10. It is a PROCESS (elaborate holiday) that takes months of planning, hard work, and commitment. Two of the 10 categories include “Allegories and Props” and “Vanguard Commission.” In both these categories, the extravagant costumes and how well they fit into the storyline of the theme are an essential part.
The transformation of costumes overtime should be noted. Originally, only socialites would dress in luxurious costumes and masks that covered nearly every part of the body while commoners watched as a sign of wealth and status. Over time more and more people began to join in the celebration but with the heat in Brazil during the month of Carnaval, being completely clothed was not comfortable or practical. As people joined the festivities, the costumes became fun, colorful and creative making them more accessible and inexpensive. Eventually, things took a different turn and by the 1950’s women began wearing colorful bikinis. Today we see men and women covered in gems, feathers and body paint and of course, showing more skin.
With the growing popularity of Carnaval and the competition itself, samba schools have hundreds, even thousands of participants. The floats and costumes are given life by a Carnaval designer. The designer must consider all aspects and how they will fit together. Once the vision has been approved by the samba school, costume prototypes are sent to production lines and made in mass. Visitors and people within the community can join in the fun of dressing up and parading. Participants must buy costumes in advance and choose between the ground of float costume. Ground costume attire is unisex and people parade down the street. Each school can have between 6 to 7 floats. Selected members wear the most elaborate costumes, for example, the flag bearer and her escort not only wear richly designed costumes but are also one of the categories judged for the competition in terms of presentation, dance, interaction, and symbolic protection of the samba school banner.
Once the party is done what happens with all the costumes that are valued at hundreds even thousands of dollars? Few keep them as souvenirs but for those who will not be competing in the parade of champions, they shed their beautifully colored layers and toss them away… then looking forward, wait and see what the following year brings with more feathers and fun.