A lot of people are familiar with sparkly and bright Brazilian carnival outfits, but these are far not the only garments traditionally worn in this country. There are many different folk clothing pieces used by the locals on a daily basis. These garments may be less eye-catching and scandalous-looking, but they are being used in Brazil for centuries and still are among the comfiest articles of clothes today. The local people adapted the clothing styles brought by the colonizers from Europe to Brazilian climate perfectly.
For over 300 years (16th-19th century), Brazil was a Portuguese colony. And the colonizers brought their fashion trends to the continent and, particularly, to Brazil. This historical period influenced the local national costume a lot. Basically, the folk dress here is Portuguese-style garments adapted to the hotter and more humid local climate.
Before the colonization, most of the indigenous groups in Brazil traditionally wore tunics, garments made from grass and other plant fibers, wrap-around skirts, beaded jewelry, and intricate headdresses similar to the Native American warbonnets.
After the colonization, their clothes changed to baggy pants, lace blouses, wide and full skirts, turbans, and other garments considered typically South American today. It’s a wild mix of European and South American fashion, with characteristic features formed by the local climate and weather conditions. Although, we must mention that there is no single national costume in Brazil because various geographical regions, ethnic groups, and ancestors’ cultural influences created a wide diversity of folk outfits throughout the country.
Typical Brazilian folk garments
The most popular traditional pieces of clothes in Brazil are bombachas pants, baiana dress, poncho, Carmen Miranda costume, and cowboy hat.
The bombachas are baggy pants often worn by gauchos – South American cowboys. They are comfortable for riding and look charming. Usually, bombachas are made from cotton. These traditionally are men’s trousers, but women can also wear them.
The traditional Brazilian male outfit can look like this: bombachas, a white shirt, a poncho, a wide-brimmed straw hat, and high leather boots. This is a typical look of a gaucho. Though, cowboys from northern Brazil wear leather chaps, a white shirt, a felt hat, and a coat.
The baiana dress is female attire, and a rather opulent and richly decorated one. It consists of a light blouse (often made from or adorned with lace), a long flowing skirt made from light and airy fabric, a long colorful shawl, a turban, and some beaded jewelry. The fabric used to make the baiana dress is embellished with the traditional embroidery called “bordado”. This costume is breathy, light, and, at the same time, modest. Such fabrics, light as lace or actual lace, appeared in Brazil because of the Portuguese influence.
By the way, traditionally light flowing fabrics were popular in those parts of Brazil where the climate is hot and humid, while in mountainous areas, people wore heavier and warmer clothing that could protect them from the cold and rain. Of course, outfits used for working were coarser, more durable, and practical, while festive clothes were more delicate, richly adorned, and lighter.
Brazilian poncho is called either “poncho” or “pala”. In general, it looks the same as any other South American poncho, only the patterns are different, typical for this particular culture and tradition. Poncho is outerwear, it is a rectangular piece of woven fabric with an opening at the center, used for the head. A traditional poncho doesn’t have sleeves or any openings for the arms. But it is a perfect outer garment for mountainous regions, for riding, and for some other activities.
The Carmen Miranda costume is a variation of a baiana dress. It was popularized by the local samba singer and actress Carmen Miranda. This attire is colorful, the skirt has a long slit showing the left leg of a woman, an ornate turban is adorned with feathers, flowers, and other decorations. This folk dress is a rather contemporary outfit – it became popular in the mid-20th century. Still, it is widely used by Brazilian women inside and far outside the country.