Journal
Sunga
The story behind the swim trunk that's synonymous with Brazil.

Walk along the vivacious beachfront of Rio de Janeiro and you’ll be sure to spot men of all ages, statures and walks of life sporting a pair of Sungas. A swim short that’s synonymous with Brazil, Rio and it’s Cariocas, it is often deemed as a signifier of body confidence and a devil-may-care quality of living, and it’s for sure a reflection of the Carioca carefree perspective of life.

But, the Sunga has a far more intricate tenor.

Portuguese for ‘swimming trunk,’ the Sunga is a broad departure from the origins of men’s swimwear.

The first ‘swimsuit for men,’ created in 1869, was a one piece that covered the body from the chest to below the knee. Modesty was indistinguishable with practicality of wear as it was deemed improper to expose the chest and thigh, and form-fitting silhouettes were thought to expose too much of one’s contours.

As the years progressed as did swimwear styles. Hemlines were elevated, silhouettes were closer to the skin, and an increasing amount of flesh was visible. Men were allowed to bare their chest with the legalisation of toplessness by the pool and beach during World War II; a time of which fabric shortages engendered the conception of form-fitting styles and modern fast-drying fabrics, along with the emergence of the tan as a symbol of wealth and worldliness.

Portuguese for ‘swimming trunk,’ the Sunga is a broad departure from the origins of men’s swimwear.

Based on the styles worn by professional swimmers worn in the 1970s, the Sungas petite form pays homage to the Speedo (a style associated with athletes and Europeans), whilst appropriating qualities of boxer-briefs for a flattering, fuller coverage. The flat front, fitted leg and slightly looser waist of the style imparts both comfort and limberness, whilst the abundance of skin exhibited allows its wearer to fulfil the illustrious Brazilian tan.

Heralded for their blithe and unprescriptive attitude to the display of skin, Cariocas naturally adopted the Sunga. Baring the equivalence to the bikini (of which the Brazilian kind displays more skin than many others) the Sunga is undoubtedly a piece for the body confident, a trait that is widespread and well established within Brazilian culture; impart due to the country possessing one of the world’s largest health and fitness industry, and partially due to the Brazilian ideology around experiencing life buoyantly.

The Sunga has not gained popularity in Rio de Janeiro solely for aesthetics, the fit allows for ease of movement and a sense of emancipation that isn’t attained with other styles of swimwear.
The Sunga bestows the Carioca with the flexibility and comfort to indulge in a competitive game of frescobol or football at the beach, and then dive into the pearlescent ocean for the spirited swim, before basking in the sun and obtaining a tan (responsibly of course) that won’t leave one with two-toned thighs once it’s settled in.

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