By Mary Bolling Blackiston, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In order to fit in on the beaches of Rio, it is important to remember one thing: when it comes to Brazilian swimwear, for women and men, less is always more. For women, the only swimsuit that is socially acceptable in Rio is a bikini with low-cut, revealing bottoms – no matter one’s age or size.
Wearing bottoms that cover the entire bum will immediately give away one’s gringo (foreigner) status – and likely only garner snickers and stares. For those who are less inclined to bare all, there are more conservative styles, although the bottoms of most are generally only about half the size of those of the typical American or European bikini.
Others, who want to flaunt what they’ve got, might prefer the famous “fio dental” (thong), which is not for everyone. While it may take some adjustment at first, many gringas actually come to prefer the Brazilian bikini. Linda Orozco, a Californian who has been coming to Rio since 2000, finds that the skimpy cut of the Brazilian bikini “is much more flattering to the curve of a woman… [and] it is more comfortable.”
As for what is à la mode this season, one Carioca (and bikini fan), Valeria Goulart, claims that, “I think that the fio dental looks nice on those who wear it… but it’s no longer in-style in Rio. This summer, it’s all about color, ethnic patterns, animal print and the continuation of strapless tops. Also, fringe is making headway on the beaches.”
For men, the swimwear of choice is either board shorts (generally reserved for surfers) or sunga (a slightly looser, squarer version of the ‘speedo’). Benjamin Middlemiss, another Californian who has been in Rio for a little over two months, never wore the sunga before coming to Rio, but has now “hundred percent converted.”
Middlemiss finds that it “allows for optimal range of motion” when playing futevolei on the beach. He also believes that “the sunga is not something that I would have a chance to wear in the states often, so [wearing it is] just another way of embracing the social culture of Rio.”
If one needs to trade in that gringo swimsuit for something more Brazilian, Rio is a good place to be, with swimwear options to match every budget. For those with thicker wallets, Lenny Niemeyer is a high-end shop that offers colorful and unique nature-inspired designs. Salinas, which boasts celebrity fans such as Gisele Bundchen, Christy Turlington and Adriana Lima, has prints to suit nearly all tastes.
While Lenny and Salinas cater more (if not all) to women, Rosa Chá and Blue Man, also top-notch brands, have large male clienteles, as well. At Rosa Chá, sungas can be customized. Blue Man, popular for its board shorts and sunga, is also known for its provocative bikinis of exuberant designs (often of the beach).
Maria Doria of Blue Man states that the brand is “…always exploring the tropical DNA of [Brazil], with its vibrant colors and rich fauna and flora. [Blue Man’s] style is irreverent, bold, relaxed, humorous, adventurous, creative and above all, Carioca.”
For those on smaller budgets, Lojas Renner is a bit more affordable than the legendary shops mentioned above.
And for even cheaper options, head to the Mercado Popular Uruguaiana (Popular Uruguayan Market) in Centro, where bikinis run as cheap as R$10. Orozco prefers the Santa Clara 33 building in Copacabana, which is composed of a number of swimwear shops that range in both quality and price.
Once the perfect swimsuit has been purchased, make a beach visit complete with a pair of Havaiana flip flops and a canga (sarong), the Brazilian version of a towel. And for a gringo to really blend in with the crowd, according to Goulart, “just be laid-back, wear Havaiana sandals and dress scantily on the beach.” The last part is probably the most important.