Our Predictions for Rio de Janeiro's Secret Samba Costumes in 2018

Sam Peet / © Culture Trip
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Updated: 7 February 2018
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One of the largest festivals in the world, the Rio de Janeiro Carnival returns to the city in February, bringing with it all of its infectious sounds and colourful sights. The parades, which sees Rio’s samba schools exhibit elaborate performances with frenzied dancing and jaw-dropping costumes, are one of the most highly anticipated Carnival attractions and all eyes are on the dancers and the Carnival Queens, and, in particular, their attire.

The samba schools base their performances on a theme that is decided at the beginning of the year, and influences everything from the percussion and choreography to the music lyrics and the costumes. While the theme and music are publicly announced during the year, the costumes are a fiercely guarded secret and are revealed only when the parades begin. The question on everyone’s lips is: what will the samba costumes look like? We take a look at the themes for this year’s top performing samba schools – known as the Grupo Especial (‘special group’) – and make our predictions for Rio’s 2018 samba costumes.


Beija-Flor’s theme will make a social, political, and religious critique by comparing Brazil’s current situation to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which will be celebrating its 200th anniversary in 2018. One of the theme’s major focuses will be on criticizing the mistrust, lack of respect, and lack of love for those who are different. Perhaps the costumes will have a distinctive Brazilian style, with strong references to the famous monster.

Grande Rio

Grande Rio’s theme, “Will You Go to the Throne or Not?” will pay tribute to Abelardo Barbosa, a famous Brazilian TV and radio comedian who was better known as Chacrinha and would have been 100 years old in 2018, if he were still alive. ‘Will you go to the throne or not?’ was one of his many comical expressions. He was also famed for his colorful and gaudy costumes, a characteristic that will likely feature in Grande Rio’s parades.

Imperatriz Leopoldinense

Imperatriz Leopoldinense’s theme, “A Royal Night in the National Museum,” pays tribute to the National Museum of Brazil, which will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2018. The building was a former palace of the royal family before it became a science institution and the largest museum of natural history and anthropology in Latin America. Through the costumes, music, and dance, Imperatriz will walk spectators through this passage of time, from when the building was the home of kings and queens to its role in science today. It’s likely some of the costumes will have a royal style, with jewels, crowns, and flowing capes.

Imperio Serrano

The theme for Imperio Serrano is, “The Samba Empire on the Road to China,” and will take spectators on a journey through culture, traditions, inventions, and the intriguing mysteries of ancient China, conjuring images of Carnival costumes with an oriental influence.

Sam Peet /
© Culture Trip


Mangueira have gone for a humorous critique this year with their theme, “With Money or Without Money, I Play,” which references those who tried to use the economic crisis in Brazil to bring an end to Carnival. Although the exact origin of this theme hasn’t been communicated, spectators will probably remember when Marcelo Crivella, the mayor of Rio, threatened to cancel Rio’s Carnival because of financial issues. The theme will revolve around the importance of Carnival in Brazil and its role in popular culture, as well as all the things associated with these celebrations, such as the blocos (street parties), the masked balls, and Carnival’s influence on society. The costumes could be designed in what’s considered a classic Carnival style, with jeweled bikinis and extravagant headpieces, as well as masks and long gloves to represent the masked balls.

Mocidade Independente de Padre Miguel

This year’s theme from Mocidade Independente is, “Namastê… The Essence That Inhabits Me Greets the One That Exists in You.” The message aims to reconcile Brazil and its indigenous population, showing that much of Brazil’s historical identity originates from its indigenous tribes and lands. The costumes are likely to be tribal-themed, perhaps with references to other significant parts of Brazil’s history, such as the Portuguese colonization.

Paraíso do Tuiuti

Paraíso do Tuiuti’s theme takes a hard look at social issues with the title, “My God, My God, Is Slavery Extinct?” The theme looks back at the time when the law abolishing slavery was signed, 130 years ago, yet very little was done to prepare for the integration of freed slaves into their new society, leading to modern-day issues of inequality for former slaves. The school will also touch on slavery in North Africa. Some costumes may be brightly colored with geometric prints to represent Africa; others may be made of simple materials to represent slaves, and others may be more formal and uniform to represent colonization and the beginning of slavery.


Portela’s theme for 2018 is, “Suddenly From There to Here and Suddenly from Here to There,” which tells the story of immigrants searching for freedom and peace, focusing on how the Jews fled from Europe in the 17th century and played a fundamental role in shaping New York City. The costumes may mix traditional Jewish attire with vibrant colors to represent the “bright lights” of New York.


Salgueiro’s theme, “Women of the World’s Womb,” will highlight the importance and strength of black women, a theme that is very topical in the news and social media right now. The parade will celebrate several great female personalities, such as the Queen of Sheba, Egyptian goddesses, Hypatia of Alexandria, and famous black Brazilian matriarchs. The main focus of the theme connects to Brazil’s African heritage and is likely to feature tribal prints and animal patterns, in addition to costumes that represent famous women throughout history.

Sam Peet /
© Culture Trip

São Clemente

São Clemente will pay homage to another important institution in Brazil – the School of Fine Arts – with their theme, “Academically Popular,” which aims to show the union of classic and popular art and culture. It will tell the history of art in Brazil from the 1800s up to when the samba schools arrived in Rio. Perhaps the classic art will be represented by traditional attire, which will contrast with fashions from today’s popular culture.

União da Ilha do Governador

União da Ilha do Governador’s theme this year is, “Brazil Bom de Boca,” which roughly translates as someone who eats a lot. The theme will invite spectators to enjoy the history of the national cuisine, with plenty of history, flavors, colors, cultures, and sounds that will help explain Brazil’s food and how it has been influenced by the country’s cultural diversity. Brazil is culturally heterogenous, thanks to immigration from Japan, German, Italy, and Africa. The costumes may represent these different cultures using stereotypical costumes from each country; or perhaps the costumes will show the different foods in Brazil by linking them to their origins, such as costumes of farmers to represent the fruits and vegetables that are grown on Brazilian farms.

Unidos da Tijuca

The theme for Unidos da Tijuca is, “An Urban Heart: Miguel, the Archangel of the Arts, People’s Health, and Requests for Passage,” which pays tribute to the actor, author, and director Miguel Falabella, who played an important role in Carnival. Not only did he join in the parades several times, he was the carnavalesco (the person who helps design the costumes and floats for the parades) for Império da Tijuca for four years and was the author of the theme “Zé Carioca’s Fantastic Trip to Disney” for Rocinha Academicos when they were in the Special Group in 1997.

Unidos da Tijuca’s theme will tell the story of almost 30 years of the artist’s life, with plenty of color, samba music, and dancing. Due to Miguel’s role in Carnival parades, the costumes will probably incorporate some classic Carnival costumes, maybe in the colors of Império da Tijuca and Rocinha Academicos – green and white, and blue, green, and white respectively – to show some of the major schools he worked with.

Vila Isabel

This year’s theme is, “Run, the Future is Coming,” which shows the history of everything that was created by humankind and that has contributed to the advances in our society. There will be tributes to great geniuses and contributors such as Santos Dumont, Albert Einstein, Graham Bell, and Thomas Edson. The parade will take spectators on a walk through the discoveries and inventions that have brought humankind to this moment in time, and how this can take us even further. Costumes could be anything from futuristic style to space-age style, or costumes that highlight important inventions such as computers, airplanes, and electricity.

Sam Peet /
© Culture Trip

Check out the ultimate local’s guide to Rio Carnival.

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