The Brazilian Bikini

Sorry, guys, there'll be no bikini-clad young beauties on this page. This is serious research (please notice tongue-firmly planted-in-cheek) on how creative people can be with a little bit of lycra! The French may have invented the bikini—believe or not, in July of 1946—but the Brazilians keep recreating it each summer, coming up with more fabulous designs and hot new styles, as new materials become available. Here are a few  pictures of Brazilian bikinis for fashion-minded cyberchicks.)

On a trip to Rio and what immediately follows—a walk on the beach—anyone with an eye for fashion can't help but be utterly fascinated by the teeny-weeny, colorful, and beautifully-designed beachwear on the golden bodies of the women from Ipanema. There is such a variety of shapes, cuts, gorgeous prints and details, that you ask yourself: how do they do it? How can they keep coming up with something different all the time, when all they have to work with is a few inches of fabric? It helps, of course, to have a source of inspiration in some of the most magnificent scenery on the planet, year-round warm weather and a large consumer base, considering that no woman seems to be too old or too chunky to wear a bikini in Rio. Middle-aged mothers, pregnant young women with swollen bellies, even wrinkled little old ladies, walk and bathe in their small suits right next to some lithesome goddesses, and no one seems to notice; in fact, no one cares. The important thing is to get a tan, exercise, and socialize with your friends and neighbors.

The Brazilian bikini has changed over the years, of course; it has covered more (in the 70's) and less—the tanga and the fio dental (Portuguese for "dental floss", a good example of the wicked sense of humor of Brazilians) in the 80's. As far as present-day sizes are concerned, we did some scientific research—that is, we went to the mall here in the U.S., armed with a Brazilian bikini and a measuring tape—and found out that, as a rule, Brazilian bikinis are 2-3 inches smaller than their American counterparts in every direction. In any case, even when the American bikini is small, the top or bra will always be considerably bigger. The other significant difference is that the bottom part is cut much higher in the back in the American bikini (Brazilian women have the same complaint about panties in the U.S.)

My favorite style is what Brazilians call a sunkini, a larger version of the bikini for the more conservative shopper. So, when shopping for a bikini in Rio, you may want to look at sunkinis first, size M or G (that's Portuguese for L). Then, as your tan deepens, and you embrace the local beach culture, go back and try what THEY call a bikini!

Maria-Brazil has a favorite manufacturer, Salinas, with stores in Ipanema, the Shopping Center Rio-Sul, Rio Design Leblon Shopping Center, and other locations. Theirs are the most stylish, durable, and gorgeous bikinis, sunkinis and one-piece suits we've ever seen, anywhere in the world (pictured above). Every time we go to Rio, we make a beeline from the airport to Salinas and come out the proud owner of the hottest, latest designs, ready to hit the beach! They have also become quite expensive, so for bikinis for our younger family members we now shop at Banco de Areia in Ipanema (see our Little Black Book for more information).

Before we forget, check out the wonderful beach wraps called "cangas." They are incredibly colorful and come in an infinite number of designs, including the sidewalks of Copacabana and Ipanema, the Brazilian flag, and our favorite, Biscoito Globo (those airy, doughnut-shaped biscuits made with manioc starch that are sold on the beach). Ask the girls in the shops to teach you some ways of wrapping them around your body. They are always eager to help! (The name comes from Africa and was originally spelled kanga.) For selection and price, nothing beats the beach vendors.

Little Black Book