From World Cup Fever to 'Brazil Core' Fashion: New Stereotypes?
In recent months, I have found that being Brazilian has never been more challenging. I discovered that the fashion industry and social media have turned my identity into a trendy ‘core’. It has been heartwarming to witness the affection Brazil is receiving, especially being Brazilian myself. However, I can’t help but reflect on the unintended consequences: the emergence of new stereotypes that, once again, I am unable to fulfil.
Around the World Cup last year I first experienced mass enthusiasm towards Brazilian culture as multiple videos of football fans went viral online as well as Neymar’s TikTok dancing to the song ‘Parado no Bailão’. With that, many other Brazilian funk songs began to trend on TikTok as dance battles between kids also went viral, especially the one with the song “tubarão te amo”. Suddenly, I was no longer getting questions about what it was like to live in the jungle, people were asking me if I knew the TikTok dances and if I could tell them what the songs meant. In my head this was all a result of the World Cup enthusiasm, seeing as Brazil is the country with the most wins and also a football powerhouse. I figured once the team got eliminated (please no comments about that - it still hurts) things would return to how it was before. So imagine my shock when spring came around and suddenly I started seeing countless people wearing yellow and green shirts, the staple colours of the Brazilian flag. I never thought I would walk into Bershka, a fast fashion staple, and see a shirt of “Belo Horizonte”, a city I am pretty sure not many foreigners are even familiar with. Soon (due to my social media addiction LOL) I discovered that it was part of a trend, it was the “Brazil core”.
What exactly does this 'core' entail?
The ‘Brazil core’ is a fashion trend popularised by social media platforms and celebrities. The aesthetic the trend refers to draws inspiration from the vibrant urban and street fashion found in the favelas of Rio and São Paulo. The aesthetic present in the country includes the staple green and yellow as well as the blue colours of the flag, the jerseys of Brazilian football teams, and the Y2k Oakleys, referred to as Juliette. Not to forget the ever-popular Brazilian flip-flops, the Havaianas, alongside thick golden chains for men and transparent heels for women. Abroad, the urban aesthetic has been interpreted as the use of the colours green, yellow and blue, the Brazilian jerseys, as well as the bikini styles, and ‘souvenir’ style T-shirts of Brazil and Brazilian cities.
Source: Screenshots of the Instagram posts by two Brazilian celebrities: to the left is a former RealityTV participant Brunna Gonçalves and on the right is a famous funk singer Mc Daniel
Behind the trend
The fashion popularised and worn by some international celebrities (Hailey Bieber, Dua Lipa and Rosalia for example) is also accompanied by imagery of poverty and the favelas, as exemplified by the post by Kali Uchis. It is not uncommon to find foreigners who go to Rio, go to the favelas, take pictures and post them, calling it the “Brazil” aesthetic. Historically, the elements present in the aesthetic have been part of the visual identity of communities living in urban poorer areas, especially in the favelas. When discriminating against residents of the favelas the elites singled them out through the aesthetics. Classist arguments then included a discriminatory attitude towards those wearing outfits that would include the ‘Juliette’, golden chains or transparent heels. Yet, once foreigners began to appreciate the aesthetic, it became a trend that expanded within Brazil.
Source: Screenshots of the Instagram post by the singer Kali Uchis
The idea of national culture becoming a trend once valued abroad is incredibly fascinating. Is this the gentrification of a complex culture? Perhaps it is indeed an attempt at elevating certain cultural aspects that were previously negatively perceived within society. It could also be a simple development, where what was once at the margins of society moves into the dominant culture. Could it be a form of exoticism and fetishization perpetuated by foreigners? It could be a continuation of the hypersexualisation of Brazilian women that has expanded into further fashion trends. Or, perhaps it is a genuine appreciation for a culture that was previously not as well known. Is it simply the fashion industry commodifying cultural aspects to constantly create new trends? Maybe it is all of it and maybe none of it.
There are even more reasons why this trend came as a surprise to me, especially considering my personal experiences as a Brazilian woman living in Europe for the past six years. During this time, I have navigated various cultural adjustments and grappled with my own sense of identity as a Brazilian woman. Simultaneously, I have had to contend with the perceptions others hold about my country and, by extension, me. One prominent aspect of these perceptions is the hypersexualization of Brazilian women, accompanied by harmful stereotypes like being exceptional dancers or having pronounced physical attributes. Countless times, I have heard the sentence, "OMG, you don't look Brazilian at all” because of not fulfilling such preconceptions. If not met with such comments, other responses include people's behaviour toward me changing, either assuming I am overly promiscuous or objectifying me in an uncomfortable and predatory manner. Given these experiences, I found it puzzling why some women willingly choose to wear Brazilian shirts, possibly announcing their Brazilian identity, thereby subjecting themselves to potential stereotyping and objectification.
I also happened to live through a turbulent political period filled with violence and division within the country. In the years following 2016, especially in the elections in 2018 and 2022, the colours of the Brazilian jersey were associated with supporters of the extreme right president Bolsonaro. He claimed to bring pride back to the country and called for his supporters to wear the jersey. Due to the use of the colour yellow, they were even nicknamed ‘Bolsominions’. In that sense, the meaning of the colours had taken a very strong negative political connotation. Many Brazilians began purchasing and wearing the blue jersey as the left attempted to create a counter-hegemonic meaning to the jersey. It is fascinating to observe how the foreign appreciation of the colours and the jersey helped reshape the symbolism of the iconic yellow and green, restoring its original meaning as the 'Amarelinha' (little yellow) — a symbol of pride for our rich culture, free from the influence of right-wing politics.
Even though it may seem like I only see the downsides of the trend I also think it has its positives. Gramsci defined cultural hegemony as the accepted values, beliefs and practices which are reinforced with a certain purpose through mediums such as education, media and religion. Applying this understanding to the case of ‘Brazil core’, it seems that a certain cultural hegemony existed both abroad and inside the country. Abroad there were certain stereotypes and pieces of knowledge about the country which were predominant. Within Brazil, there was also a cultural hegemony which ostracised and discriminated against those sporting a style linked to the aesthetics of the favela. In both cases, when the often marginalised aesthetics of the favelas entered the fashion sphere, they underwent a process of demarginalization in the international sphere that can also be seen reflected within Brazilian society. The cultural hegemony has been challenged and there has been further appreciation for cultural aspects that were ostracised. The old stereotypes have been challenged on multiple levels.
Foreigners now know another side of Brazil besides that of the Amazon Forest (I know it seems crazy but I have in fact been asked MULTIPLE times what it was like to live in the Amazon Forest - mind you, I am from São Paulo, a GIGANTIC city so not close to the Forest) and samba (at least what people think samba is, i.e. half-naked women in carnival). Now, there is knowledge spread about funk, the music genre that has fought for decades to be decriminalised, demarginalized and taken seriously. Now, there is a different view of the favelas, it is not only dangerous or filled with violence and crime. There has even been a diminished correlation between the yellow jersey and Bolsonaro supporters. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if there is another stereotype being created as a result of the trend and the popularisation of Brazilian culture through social media. Brazil isn’t just funk, it isn’t just the favelas in Rio and São Paulo. There are twenty-seven culturally diverse states within the country, with varying music genres and aesthetics that are overlooked by the trend.
All of this came to mind as I went shopping at Waterlooplein this past weekend and came across a vintage Brazilian jersey. It was a 2010 jersey by one of my favourite players, Kaká, and I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to try and adhere to the trend. I lingered around the market for about half an hour as I internally debated how I felt about the trend. Am I contributing positively or negatively to the portrayal of my country? Am I succumbing to fashion’s obsession with commodifying everything? Or am I simply a football fan who was happy to find a vintage shirt with the name of a player they like on the back? I could not make up my mind, so I called my roommate (your one and only head of Marketing) because maybe she held the answers to my existential crisis. She told me first to ask the price. I did: it cost 15 euros and I only had 10 euros in cash. Ultimately, my financial situation chose for me and I walked away still unable to make up my mind.