What Is the Difference Between American & Brazilian Swimwear Styles?

By Stacey Howell

Swimwear styles in fashion have become less modest since the beginning of the 20th century, and over time the two-piece bikini has evolved to become the preferred swimwear choice around the world. Both Americans and Brazilians have made modifications to their swimsuit styles over time, with Brazilians becoming known internationally for their risqué, exposing cuts.

Three women in bikinis splashing in surf
credit: Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images
Swimsuit styles for women have become more comfortable and less modest over time.

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History of American Swimwear

Traditionally, swimwear for women in the Western world was very full coverage, with little leg or arm, much less mid-drift, exposed. Knitted wool swimsuits exposing the legs and arms were introduced to the market in the mid-1930s in Hollywood, and were first worn by stars like Joan Crawford, Loretta Young and Jean Harlow. The bikini was introduced in 1946 when designer Louis Reard invented the design. At the time, the piece was considered to be highly controversial, and some beaches in more conservative countries in Europe even banned women from wearing bikinis on their beaches. In the 1950s, two-piece body styles slowly became accepted among more people, and the bikini was highly popularized by Bridget Bardot after she wore the style when visiting the French Riviera. By the 1960s, the bikini had become the standard swimwear of choice for American women and teens.

American Swimwear for Women

Today, bikini bottoms for American women can be purchased in a variety of different styles and cuts. The standard American bikini bottom cut is a full coverage cut, which covers the entire area much like standard women's underwear. The full coverage cut has fabric from cheek to cheek, and although it was once considered to be a revealing style, it is now perceived as a modest cut for women who want to wear a bikini but like to show less skin. Moderate coverage bottoms have slightly smaller areas of fabric and are considered to be the more coveted luxury style. Finally, Brazilian cuts can be purchased, which have the smallest amount of coverage next to a thong.

History of Brazilian Swimwear

Although bikinis were invented in other parts of the world, the swimsuit style came to the forefront of Brazilian style after three girls wore bikinis on the beach in Rio Sul. Because of the climate and beach-centric culture, the look grew in popularity among the Brazilian people, and they eagerly embraced the style. Over time, the lower part of the Brazilian bikini was further reduced in size and by the 1970s, the Brazilian thong had been invented. The Brazilian thong contained so little material that only a thin strip of fabric remained, which essentially disappears into the behind. In Brazil, this area of the body was a focus and was especially emphasized. By the late 1980s, this Brazilian style of swimwear had made its way into the Western world, and both the thong and the G-string became widely available styles of swimwear bottoms.

Brazilian Swimwear for Women

Modern day Brazilian swimwear still embraces the old Brazilian innovations. Brazilian swimwear bottoms today are frequently cut in a triangular or V-shaped style. These bikinis are usually 2 to 3 inches smaller in every direction than most standard bikinis. The bikini bottoms on these styles show one-half to three-fourths of the cheeks, providing only narrow coverage. Because of the popularity of these cuts in Brazil, this style is referred to as a "Brazilian cut" around the world. However, the styles worn on Brazilian beaches are still notably different than those worn around the rest of the world. While most American still wear full-coverage bottoms, the beaches in Brazil are filled with women wearing significantly smaller swimsuits than their American counterparts. In Brazil, people are less likely to regulate what kind of swimsuit they wear due to their body type, and even larger and older women will wear small bikinis.