The “Brazilian bikini” first appeared in my lexicon a few summers ago when an Argentine friend was urging me to buy a "better" bathing suit. “You Americans, your bathing suits are like diapers,” she scoffed as I surveyed a tiny black string bikini skeptically.
“It’s just not sexy,” she added of the amply cut bottoms found at typical swimwear retailers like Victoria's Secret, Target, and others.
Though Americans may not dress demurely in every sense of the word, bathing suit wearers around the world have long out-sexed us: topless sunbathing in France (well, much of Europe), cheeky Brazilian cut suits in South America, and even thongs for the particularly bold in some countries.
Last summer—in the middle of the “year of the butt,” H&M (yes, it is Swedish so that makes a difference) was selling a decent amount of Brazilian cut bottoms in its US stores.
And now, the mainstream of fashion here in the good-ole, Puritanical USA is following suit. Bring on the Brazilian bikinis because the skimpier cut is here in the U.S. When Victoria’s Secret PINK whips out these styles, it’s officially gone mainstream.
Brazilian born and now Boston-based swimwear designer Sinesia Karol defines the Brazilian bikini as, “the kind of bathing suit that puts the accent on women’s bodies,” she emails.
It is triangular in both the front and back, with a emphasis on the rear, exposing 2/3 of the backside and covering up just enough that it avoids the thong category. It sits low on the hips for maximum exposure. In Brazil, it reigns supreme and luckily for beach goers in Ipanema, there are women like Gisele who populate the beach.
Sabra Krock, creative director at nationwide boutique Everything But Water, says the smaller cut has been around for a while (true: Pamela Anderson in "Baywatch" wore some skimpy stuff), but she thinks the market is experiencing a rise in popularity.
"The fitness craze has given rise to this, as well as the Instagram and selfie voyeurism that's online," she says over the phone. "I definitely point to Instagram as a key reason for a desire to emulate celebrities."
Everything But Water has more than 80 stores across the country, all of which sell the Brazilian cut well, according to Krock. "It's all ages and all geographies. And to be honest, we haven't seen a spring break surge," she says, emphasizing consistent demand for teeny bathing suit bottoms.
Karol sees universal demand as well. "Believe it or not, we sell more in the northeast of the country, and of course Miami and LA sells a lot too." While Krock defines a true Brazilian cut as skimpy in the front and back (which, to an outsider they all look like this), the client at Everything But Water is buying a "cheeky, sporty rear" from brands like Vix, L*Space, Vitamin A, and more.
Will the Brazilian cut be too much booty for Americans after a season or two? Maybe. The fashion industry is certainly smitten this spring with anything high-waisted: 70s-cool flared denim at Gucci, sailor trousers at Chloe, and high bikini bottoms as well.
High-waisted, belly-button covering bottoms may be the reaction to the Brazilian cut, but for every conservative cut I saw while shopping, there were three or four skimpier, ass-baring styles.
Victoria’s Secret has always offered a range of bathing suit styles, including smaller cuts, but this season their selection has exploded. Search the style “Itsy,” and twenty or thirty varieties appear. The brand describes them online as: “All kinds of sexy, this teeny bikini combines a low rise and ruching at the back in a teeny-tiny Brazilian shape.”
Perhaps the most surprising part of the Victoria's Secret adoption of the style is the Brazilian bikini offering in their PINK division, which caters to a young crowd of teenagers (and likely some aspirational 11-12 year olds). One style lets the buyer adjust the cheekiness (quite literally how much of your ass do you want hanging out), with a ruching detail and adjustable string down the middle of the back.
Ipek Irgit says she has received a couple angry emails from mothers returning the bathing suit she designed.
"They say, 'There is no way my teenage daughter is wearing this,'" says the New York based designer behind Kiini, a hand-crocheted style that surfer girls and Vogue editors alike are snapping up. "It's a bikini I made for myself. I was so bored of everything out there. Everything was too granny or too sexy or too bling-bling," she explains.
She also agrees that Instagram has helped her young brand take off, but that the reason she thinks women like her suits because it's more flattering than the traditional cut found here in the States. "The American cut is way too big. I do believe that the more fabric there is on the bottom, it gives the illusion of a bigger bottom." And she does not mean ‘bigger’ in the positive sense.