Gondolas are iconic in Venice and I must admit they really look cool. When I got home I Googled them and learned a lot of interesting stuff. They must be painted black (per a law passed hundreds of years ago). They are 35 feet long and weigh 1500 lbs. They are flat bottomed and slightly asymmetrical. A gondola is rowed (not punted) with a single oar. The strange curvy piece of wood next to the oar is the oarlock. The prow of a gondola is a standard shape. The curved top is said to represent a doge's cap and the six horizontal strips (like the teeth of a comb) represent the six districts of Venice.
There used to be thousands of gondolas in Venice; now there are only 400, used almost exclusively by tourists. Gondolieri are licensed by a guild and rates are fixed. The uniform of black pants and striped shirt is required. I think there is also a hat but I never saw anyone wearing one. Some gondolieri will talk during your ride but this depends on the person. Do they sing, as legend has it? Most don't but some do--we heard one. And he was very good, too!
Beyond the few requirements, gondolas can be decked out according to the owner's fancy. Gondolieri must undergo 400 hours of training, an apprenticeship, and a comprehensive exam on Venetian history and landmarks, and practical skill in handling the boat. I read that they can earn up to $150,000 a year. There were no women gondolieri until 2010.