Mens swimwear through the decades : Summertime Attire.

I sit here coming to you from my sun bed on the rooftop pool of my hotel, located in the southern most tip of Portugal, Lagos.

During the lead up to the holiday,  in the days that lead up to takeoff choices were made regarding clothing and what to pack. What seemed to take the most thought though, was the garment that related very closely to this very post.

By now, and if you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know I’m partial to outfitting myself out in predominantly vintage clothing. Something that did cross my mind was that for people who have this same interest as me, does the dedication for vintage end at the road-side or does it crossover to pool-side alike?…

Well for me – Yes it does, even at the shock of some of my friends and girlfriend in particular..

The swimwear I have are generally known as swim sets or cabana sets – The basic premiss of them is a swim short that has a matching shirt combination, generally in an abstract print of some sort. I currently have a handful of 60s pieces, including a few from Austin Reeds (Regent Street). Sported in a Harlequin print in bright green, yellow, pink & white. A candy-stripe towelling cloth material and finally a red & white fishy underwater ensemble. As shot 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4

You see, the issue I have with menswear pool attire for want of a better description, is that much of it today is lacking in any sort of style or thought. Generally a pair of old board shorts matched with a 10-year old washed out surf t-shirt finished off with a pair of abused flip flops is what I see on most chaps. Point made.

I’m not saying all gents present themselves in such manner but it does seem rather common place at the first sight of the sun in my expierience.

However, it wasn’t always like this as you’ll soon see below;

While these days, most swimsuits are made using water-friendly fabrics such as polyster or nylon, most “true vintage” pieces dating between the 1910s-1950s are made from not-so-water-friendly fabrics such as cotton, wool, and yarn (making them rather heavy and slow to dry).

So we start back at the turn of the 20th century…


All-white or black, flesh-coloured suits were discouraged as anatomical details were too clear. Nothing below the armpits could be shown on the chest. Men’s suits needed a skirt or skirt effect, worn outside the trunks. The leg could not be shorter than 4 inches from the knee and the skirt not shorter than two inches above the bottom of the trunks. These were the Bathing Suit Regulations by the American Association of Park Superintendents (circa. 1917).

Saying that the picture above shows a slight deviation from this code of dress and got them arrested shortly after the picture was taken…

Once the 1900s was into its teens it was starting to move forward from its rather rigid self. What were once cumbersome full-piece suits that would keep you almost fully covered, evolved into lighter, slouchier, more casual one-pieces made from yarn or wool.

By the 1930s and into the 40s, the slouchy looks of the 10s and 20s had been exchanged for tighter formfitting pieces. The one-piece had not yet been made redundant, but for the first time swimwear became available as a two piece set up, giving men the choice to go topless on the beach, causing quite the uproar.


Weave forward to the 50s and 60s where the swimwear business was in full swing. With the advent of man made fibres now becoming available, colour and style of these articles become a figment of the designers imagination.

The decades that followed had their own styles… The speedo, the wetsuit short and the mankini, all leading to the ‘overall’ demise of style by the sea.

Saying that, hope is not all lost, there have attempts to revive this section, a current brand is Orlebar Brown. UK based company, championing the male trunk and most known for the swimming trunks sported by the current Bond, Daniel Craig in the film Casino Royale.



Below’s a video of a decadent review of swimwear just incase you wanted a round up.

What they wore to the beach…

This entry was published on July 14, 2013 at 9:13 pm. It’s filed under Blog post and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “Mens swimwear through the decades : Summertime Attire.

  1. Nice post. I like the way you start and then conclude your thoughts. Thanks for this information .I really appreciate your work, keep it up .
    swimwear for men

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: