When I heard I needed a costume for carnaval, I instantly thought of the glittered masks of New Orleans Mardi Gras. My friend and I went on a shopping adventure, walked out with masks and feather boas, and showed up on the carnaval circuit all ready to go.

Excerpt we totally weren’t. We completely mis-understood what was meant by “fantasia” (the portuguese word for costume).

There are two types of costumes for carnaval in Salvador — abadá and fantasia. The two words are used somewhat interchangeably, as the end result is the same, but they mean slightly different things.

As with most large gatherings right now, the fate of Salvador's carnival 2022 is currently unknown. The mayor's office is trying to make it happen, but a lot of it is out of his hands.

I know, the waiting and the unknown is hard. I think once a week I check the news for an update. Nothin'.

But, there is no reason we should both be constantly checking the news.

Whether you are thinking about Salvador carnival in 2022 -- or beyond -- get our no-cost Salvador carnival quick guide and we'll share updates with you as we get them.

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What is an Abadá?

Man at carnival 2018
My husband in his abadá, 2018.

The word abadá comes from capoeira, where it refers to school-branded that capoeiristas wear for their school. In carnaval terms, it refers to the specifically-designed shirt that a carnaval reveler wears to be a part of a bloco or enter most camarotes.

When you buy your ticket to a bloco or a camarote, you will be given your abadá and you must wear it to enter the bloco or camarote. Click here to learn more about buying a ticket.

Many times the abadá is only good for one day, such as Saturday, and that day, along with the year, will be printed on the shirt. Be sure to verify before buying. In the photo, you can see “TERÇA” written on it — that means this abadá is only good for Tuesday (terça-feira).

What is Fantasia?

Man dressed in costume at Salvador carnival
Walking with Cortejo Afro, Barra-Ondina circuit, Monday of 2018.

Fantasia refers to a full-on costume, most commonly, but not exclusively, used by the afro blocos. Cortejo Afro, Ile Aiye, and Filhos de Gandy, are the most popular afro blocos that still use fantasia. As Muquiranas, a transvestite bloco with a 50+ year history,  is another very popular bloco that still uses use fantasia.

If you are buying a ticket to a bloco that uses fantasia, you will get your fantasia when you buy your ticket. Click here to learn more about buying a ticket.

As with abadá, you must wear your fantasia to get under the cords of your bloco.

To the best of my knowledge, fantasia for any bloco is good for all days of carnaval that year. However, the pattern or design changes from year to year to keep people from re-wearing their fantasia year over year.

Modifying your Abadá or Fantasia

People standing in a square drinking beer
Modified Vumbora abadá, 2018

The basic cut of abadá is the same for every single bloco or camarote. It’s a straight cut, sleeveless t-shirt made of an awful synthetic fabric. It is a terribly unflattering cut, and really warm in the Salvador heat. 

Because of that, an entire pop-up industry exists around carnaval for the sole purpose of making abadá look good. Tailoring shops (costureiras) pivot their business to customize abadás and women will put up stands (barracas) right off the main circuits to tailor your abadá on the spot. They might cut out the neckline, turn it into a crop top, make it into a camisole — the options are literally endless.

To help you rock you abadá, I have a Pinterest board of options for some inspiration. Even if you don’t speak Portuguese, grab one of these photos, find the nearest “reforma abadá” shop or stand, and show them the photo — they will be happy to help.

Woman dressed in Salvador carnival costume
Woman in modified fantasia walking with Cortejo Afro, 2018

Fantasia can also be modified, but the blocos do discourage it. As an example, Cortejo Afro sells their fantasia with a note not to tailor it because their fantasia is designed with a carefully considered visual aesthetic in mind.

Need Help Buying Your Abadá or Fantasia?

Are you in, but not quite sure what to do next? We can help you with everything from buying your abadá or fantasia to planning a memorable and safe customized trip. Learn about our concierge service.

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