Take a walk along the vivacious beach front of Rio de Janeiro and you’ll be sure to spot them: men of all ages, statures and walks of life, proudly sporting a pair of Sungas. Synonymous with Rio and the famously beautiful bodies of its residents, the Sunga is a signifier of the confidence and carefree attitude of the Carioca, but the Sunga’s history is a rather more intricate one.
Though its name is taken from the Portuguese for swimming trunk, the Sunga’s styling offers a broad departure from the origins of men’s swimwear.
The first suit designed for men in 1869 was comprised of a one-piece body suit that covered its wearer from chest to calf. At the time, modesty was a chief concern and so the longer length and looser fit sought to hide indecent exposure at the expense of practicality for the swimmer.
As the years progressed so too did swimwear styles. Hemlines gradually elevated and silhouettes moved closer to the skin for a more streamlined cut. Fabric shortages during the Second World War led to the creation of increasingly form fitting and fast drying fabrics, whilst the legalisation of toplessness for men at the beach and by the pool resulted in bare chests becoming de riguer. The adoption of the tan as a symbol of wealth and worldliness class saw further innovation, with swimmers getting smaller to allow for an all over bronze for the gentleman of leisure.
Based on the 70s stylings of professional swimmers, the petite form of the modern day Sunga perhaps plays closest homage to the Speedos traditionally favoured by athletes and Europeans. The Brazilians offer their own take on this shape, however, with the flattering and (marginally) fuller coverage of a boxer brief fit, complete with a flat front, fitted leg and looser waistline, allowing for a characteristically Carioca sense of ease- and of course an abundance of skin.
Much like the popularity of the ‘itsy-bitsy’ bikini for Brazilian women, the Sunga is of course reflective of the famed Brazilian body confidence, a widespread and well established tenant of the nation’s love of life- and above all the beach. The sense of easy movement and emancipation of self awarded by the Sunga is simply not possible in any other swim style – no other pair will take you quite so effortlessly from a spirited swim to a quick game of Frescobol to a late afternoon topping up of an all over tan. For the brave, the Sunga is perhaps the truest embrace of the Carioca spirit, offering a fun-loving freedom that is sure to transport you to Rio, no matter how or where you wear them.