Rio de Janeiro's Carnival Costumes Throughout the Years

PHOTO: A reveller of Mocidade samba school dances during the first night of carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro on February 20, 2012.

We all associate Rio de Janeiro's Carnival with teeny weeny bikinis covered in sparkles, but was it always like this?

The tradition of Carnival was first introduced by the Portuguese. By the 1850's socialites used it as a way to dress up in masks and costumes and parade through the town among the commoners.

Fast forward to today and the festivity, which this year takes place February 9 to February 11, has evolved into one of the biggest parties in the world. A lot of samba dancing, a lot of beer drinking, a lot of tourists trying to speak Portuguese and a country that stops for almost a week to enjoy it all.

Which brings us back to those outfits. They didn't start out like that, and what they've morphed into over the years is both jaw dropping and incredibly ornate. Here's how they ended up that way.

PHOTO: On February 28, 1933 In Rio De Janeiro, Young Girls And Children In Costumes During The Carnival.
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The Heat of the Early 1930's

Prior to 1930s costumes were really elaborate but because the price of materials went up, masks and ornaments started to decline in 1930. What people did manage to afford was generally made in light colors to fight the insane summer heat. Two years later, in 1932 the first official parade took place in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTO: Rio De Janeiro'S Carnival In The 1950S.
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1950's Led to 'Less is More"'

Slowly (but surely) costumes began to grow skimpier. Men started going bare chested and women began to wear lighter costumes until finally adopting two-piece bikinis.

PHOTO: Rio Carnival in full swing. Brazilians and Brazil, in their festive costumes, dance to the rhythm of Samba.
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In the '70s the Sambodromo is built

In 1970 the sambodromo – a parade area--was built and officially designated as the setting for the main Carnival party. Other parties and parades, also known as 'blocos', take place on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, but none compare in magnitude to what happens in the sambdromo. It was during this period that samba schools got organized and became the sophisticated industry they are today. That industry certainly helped dictate the amount of money and the ornate nature of many costumes.

PHOTO: Carnival of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 1989.
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The '80s Brought Some Change

The eighties were the eighties everywhere in the world. Rio's costumes were big, colorful and full of sparkle. This decade also marked the change of address for the sambodromo to where it is now located at Av Marquez de Sapucai. In 1984 the parade was also split into two days so party goers could keep up with the samba dancing and watch all the samba schools. Even today the Carnival takes place on Sunday and Monday.

PHOTO: Two samba dancers perform 09 February 1994 during a pre-carnival ball at a Rio de Janeiro night club, Brazil. Up to 100,000 tourists are expected to come to Rio for the annual carnival which will be officially inaugurated 10 February.
Who Said Men Can't Show Skin?

The glitz and glamour is not just for women. At this moment in the event's history it became openly acceptable for men to dress however they wanted, and that included cross dressing just for fun. As they say in Las Vegas: What happens at Carnival, stays at Carnival.

PHOTO: A Brazilian samba dancer performs in the Grande Rio samba school
Breaking Boundaries

Today Carnival goers are not surprised to see bare breasts and miniscule thongs on beautiful dancing women. But someone had to do it first. By this point, gone were the masks and light-colored outfits worn to the parade. They were replaced with pasties, body paint and panty-like metal covers.

PHOTO: Women put the finishing touches on costumes for the upcoming Carnival
Andre Felipe/Getty Images
The Industry Behind Carnival

About 700,000 people visit Rio de Janeiro during Carnival, which generates an estimated $500 million in revenue and employs more than 600,000 people. The country essentially comes to a grinding halt during the week of Carnival except for hotels and samba schools which work until the last minute to have the best costumes.

PHOTO: A reveller of Mocidade samba school dances during the first night of carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro on February 20, 2012.
The Bigger, The Better

As costumes got smaller, floats got bigger. Approximately 4,000 people partake in each 'escola' or samba group. This number does not include those putting together costumes, organizers (seen wearing white in the image), or committees. Both floats and people that take part in the parade have about two and a half hours to show off their samba moves.

PHOTO: Revellers of Grande Rio samba school perform during the second night of carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro
Sexy Does Not Mean Naked

Although costumes have been getting smaller and more revealing with each decade, there is still a rule against full nudity. Those who don't comply – and it happens – get their samba school in trouble and might even be disqualified.

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