Here’s the thing about bikinis: a few square inches of fabric can be the difference between total comfort and spending your day at the beach tugging at your bottoms to make sure they’re still where they’re supposed to be. Shopping for swimsuits online can also involve a bit of additional guesswork: What exactly is a “cheeky” bottom? Will it look like a thong on a non-model-sized ass? How much coverage is “full coverage,” exactly?
Our options for swimwear silhouettes have expanded significantly in recent years, from the default mid-rise brief to a bevy of styles both retro-inspired and more risqué; even Victoria’s Secret Swimwear (RIP), expanded its offerings to include an “itsy” style in 2014, signaling just how mass the skimpy Brazilian look has become. With so many choices, knowing what makes you look—and, more importantly, feel—your best has become a crucial step in the buying process, lest your new bathing suit get confined to the back-of-the-drawer graveyard or you have to deal with the hassle of returns.
Here, we’ve compiled a glossary of the terms you’re most likely to encounter while browsing for bikinis, along with shoppable options in case you want to test the waters with a new style.
If you live in the States, this is probably the style you encounter most often: slung fairly low on the hips, with a moderate amount of tush coverage. You're still baring a decent amount of skin, but you're unlikely to scandalize anyone on the beach.
Olivia Solid Bottom, $68; at Free People
Bo Swim Bottom, $40; at Unif
Mara Hoffman Basketweave Bikini Bottom, $122; at Madewell
Call them"minimal," "cheeky," or "itsy," these low-coverage bottoms have officially migrated north. Skimpier than a bikini but with a few more inches of fabric than a thong, they form a V from the suit's waistband down toward … well, you know. Evangelists praise their ability to make any butt look perkier, and American retailers are increasingly embracing the silhouette.
Frankie’s Bikinis Willow Bottom, $49.99; at Soleil Blue
Acacia Pikake Bottom, $115; at Bikini.com
Somedays Lovin Unity Braided Straps Skimpy Bikini Bottom, $49; at PacSun
The modern version of this retro style can hit anywhere from an inch or so below the belly button to midway up your rib cage, and coverage can be anything from cheeky to full in the back. The silhouette isn't without controversy (Dudes don't like it! they cry; Screw them! we say), but we don't see it going anywhere anytime soon.
Out From Under Solid High-Waist Bikini Bottom, $42; at Urban Outfitters
Rock Candy High-Waist Bikini Bottom, $48; at Nasty Gal
Rachel Comey Keena High-Waist Leopard Print Bikini Briefs, $128; at Matches Fashion
Does a thong really need explanation? If you're considering one of these, you're probably well aware that you'll be flashing your ass when you wear it. Realistically, though, it's only slightly more skin than the Brazilian—and your tan lines will be as minimal as they come.
The Sexy Little Thong, $12.99; at Victoria’s Secret
If you aren't comfortable with the whole bare-butt-on-the-beach thing, look for descriptors like "full coverage" or "brief" in the suit's product description. These generally have a slightly higher rise and a more generous amount of fabric to go around—and you can always find styles with cutout details on the sides if you want something a little sexier.
Bahama Twist Bikini Brief, $24; at Figleaves
Norma Kamali Bill Bottoms, $175; at Shopbop
Lucky Brand Midnight Paisley Bikini Bottom, $58; at Bloomingdale's
Ah, the string bikini—not great for any vigorous activity, but optimal for suntanning. Coverage can vary depending on the cut of the suit, but it's typically on the lower end of the scale.
Jet String Bikini Bottom, $62; at Cocodune
Lace-Up Detail Bikini Bottoms, $16.15; at Missguided
Modeled on men's briefs, this style is cut fairly straight across the legs, hugging the hips and offering fuller coverage in the rear. Its popularity is in a bit of a lull right now, so if you're a fan, you'll have to hunt a bit harder than your Brazilian-loving friends, but don't fret—they're out there!
Seafolly Block Party Boyshort Bikini Bottoms, $77; at Nordstrom
Bikini Boy Short, $46; at J.Crew