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History of Men's Swimwear

Just as women's suits have undergone a gradual evolution process, men's swim wear has undergone many changes since its inception. Designed from the beginning to be markedly different from the female's suit, the male swimsuit's characteristics of boxiness and solidity contrasted with the female's exaggerated curves.

In other words, the gender properties of the suits were clearly defined. During the 1880's, men's styles stuck close to the traditional skivvies. Improvements were made gradually. The first prototypes of the first "modern" swim trunks were cumbersome and made the action of swimming itself more difficult. The first Jantzen suit weighed 9 lb. when fully soaked, making them extremely heavy in water. They also had the unfortunate tendency of slipping down!

Modesty was an issue well into the 1920's. Under the "Bathing Suit Regulations" published in May 17, 1917, men's suits had to be worn with a skirt or have at least a skirt effect. The skirt had to be worn outside of the trunks. The other alternative was to wear a flannel knee pants with a vest and a fly front. During this time, the knitting mills were rapidly churning out many styles of suits, including the "speed suit," an one piece suit with deeply slashed armholes and closed leg trunks. The introduction of Lastex (synthetic rubber yarn) created a whole new era in men's swim wear.

With the popularity of the "nude" look during the 1930's providing the backdrop for beach-going attire, this "miracle fiber" made it possible to give the wearer control as well as the appearance of a fit form. Even chubby males had the chance to be "Mr. Muscles." Athletic supports, called "Sunaka" supports were sewn directly into the trunks, providing comfort and a trim appearance in front. Though men were getting the opportunity to look better, there was still the little matter of baring the chest. Quite simply, it was frowned upon. However, men continued to fight for their right to expose their chest and by the early 1933, the result was a convertible-style suit that allowed the top to be removed. The introduction of the "Men's Topper" introduced a new thrill in men's swim wear. This unprecedented belted, two-tone wool suit gave the wearer the option to go bare (or not to go bare...). The deeply scooped top was attached to the front of the trunks with the newly-invented zipper. Instead of being connected, the back of the suit featured a "y" arrangement of straps to secure the top to the chest. The top was removed by just unzipping the zipper. Unfortunately for many of those who did, this led to arrests for "indecent exposure." Thankfully, improvements were forthcoming.

In 1933, the B.V.D company used Olympic swimmer Johnny Weismuller to promote its swimsuit line. Due to his recommendations of extra low cut arm holes on tank tops, a natural waist, and an extra full seat, the final outcome was the first pair of bathing trunks -- which actually came out first in France while conservatives in America still insisted on the two-piece suit. In an attempt to gain more public acceptance, companies tried to streamline the trunks by giving them more of a "dressed" look. This was done by showing a simulated fly front and giving them a kind of belt or buckle effect. In 1937, men finally had the right to go topless, when only a year earlier in 1936, the "no- shirt" movement had generated much controversy, with reported cases of topless men being banned from Atlantic City beaches in New Jersey.

The public's concern with nudity eroded as time passed. Shorts were the typical swim wear for men, with men's swimsuits during the 1940's looking very similar to the narrow hips and smooth abdomen of the women's styles. Of course, those males with a little more modesty in mind could always opt for the "boxer-type" shorts. Successful swim wear campaigns were not intended for the timid. In 1947, the Jantzen company hired James Garner as their "Mr. Jantzen" to model their line of "savage swim trunks."

With women's suits becoming more flamboyant than ever during the 1950's and beyond, the male bathing costume was not to be outdone, resulting an explosion of color patterns and fancy detailing. "Cabana sets" consisting of matching boxer trunks and shirts with loud prints such as zebra stripes and pony prints enjoyed much popularity during this time.

Boxer trunks were here to stay -- becoming a sort of "screen" to project the men's hobbies and interests. While women's swim wear underwent almost constant transformation in style, men's swim wear was confined, for the most part, to the basic boxer and brief.

1910: The turn of the century ushered in the Marchine Age, and along with it came the introduction of athletic sportwear. But still men's swimwear still resemble the skivies.

1920: The beach was a favourite destination in the 20's . As opposed to underwear looks of the early 1910's, men swimwear become more body conscious and athleticaly inspired.

1930s: The more fitted and high waisted swimwear reflecting the influence of Art Deco movement.

1940s: The creation of the Athletic Model Guild of the late 40s showcased sexy nude men and a growing interest in bodybuilding and the male physique.

1950s: The explosion of the middle class in 50s created a huge demand for leisurwear. Terry-lined cabana sets in popular Hawaiin prints were perfect for backyard barbecues and pool parties.

1960s: The 60s saw a revolution in fashion. Along with new innovation in fabrics. Rudi Gernrich change the face of swimwear with his radical design. The thong for men and topless swimsuit for women were the precursor in the modern day bikini. He is perhaps most notorious for inventing the first topless swimsuit, or monokini, as well as the pubikini (a bikini with a window in front to reveal the woman's pubic hair) and later the thong swimsuit. He was also known as the first designer to use vinyl and plastic in clothes, and he designed the Moonbase Alpha uniforms on the television series Space: 1999.

1970s: The hippie movement brought the cutoff shorts and pooka shells.

1980s: The flashy style and return obsession to physical fitness and body building were the cause of popularity of Lycra briefs suit.

1990s: The popularity of Calvin Klien’s boxer brief in the 90s became the prototype of a lot slick athletic swimwear. Also the rise of surfer culture made the board short a prominent suit to a lot of men.

2000s: The Brazilian invasion in fashion brought the “sungas” suit to a many beaches around the world.

Today, men’s swimsuits come in wide varieties. There are, of course, the incredibly popular swim trunks, which one sees men wearing nearly every day at the beach and at the pool. Swim trunks, with their baggy, knee-length coverage, offer men a more generous amount of coverage than they would have received in the 1940s. Tighter, brief-like swimsuits do retain some popularity, however, and many men wear this type of swimsuit for its facilitation of speed and smoothness when swimming.

Genre Magazine : Swimwear- A Century of Style.


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Anonymous said…
In the evolution of style in swim wear and its habit of crossing over to fashion trends of passing decades, the men's bathing suit is no exception. From its beginnings as an article remarkably similar to the males' undergarments, male swim wear from the onset was an uphill battle to separate itself from underwear and become accepted as a form in itself.

Today, swim trunks has become the staple for men's recreational activities in the water. To reflect men's tastes, hobbies, and preferences, prints have ranged from wild animal prints to polka dots to bright red hearts in celebration of a professed love. While men's swim wear has been restricted to the basic boxer and the brief, cultural allusions have been drawn upon in recent decades to stimulate more interest than mere function.

The popularity of swimming as a sport and as a recreation has not been lost on the changing form of the male bathing costume. With Speedo introducing its skintight Lycra suits for women and men, men's briefs have gotten briefer in the interests of the competitive swimmer -- who is constantly in the need of a skintight suit that would shave the precious seconds off.

In the past, men's swim wear has always closely followed and matched women's styles accordingly. What has emerged in the present is a distinct line that follows the male's body and tastes and has distinguished itself from the female version of the swimsuit.
Anonymous said…
I am just happy men seem to be moving back to styles that show off their bodies and away from the giant truncks that cover everything
Unknown said…
Wow men's swimwear has really come a long way. I want to see a picture of the suit with a skirt!
Michael David said…
Love the way men's swimwear is getting sexier all the time. I love to show my body and I love seeing other men in skimpy suits
GeorgeTSLC said…
The "Bathing Suit Regulations" published in May 17, 1917, as cited here and on another site, were, according to from the American Association of Park Superintendents
astro-dance said…
from the late'60's to about '90 most all guys wore very short swim wear. there could be more images here to convey that fully. also, in the u.s. (especially) there has been the trap of reactionary puritanical and homophobic thigh-covering for about 25 yrs now! the images do not convey this very clearly. the reagan era of the 80's ended w the u.s. public in reactionary mode and w religious fundamentalism high, so the rise of gay rights and then the aids epidemic sent fashion into dividing the sexes and w guys trapped in covering thighs when in shorts, and even at the freakin beach ("pastey-white-thigh-syndrome"! sad. hopefully it will free-up again for guys. (tighter pants r a good sign.)
Unknown said…
I just love the historical knowledge that o=you have shared.I am really glad to read this.
Unknown said…
Such a nice swimwear you are wearing and the pictures you took from the fashion show are amazing.
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