Beach fashions and advances in textile technology have influenced men’s swimwear throughout the decades
Who can forget that image of a glistening, perfectly toned Daniel Craig as 007 emerging from the sea in his blue swimming trunks in 2006’s Casino Royale? When you create your own Bond moment at the beach, be thankful that those wool costumes of yore are no longer in fashion.
We’ve been taking to the water since time immemorial, but the two-century history of bathing and swimwear has involved several revolutions in style, fit and fabric. For centuries, swimming was a male-only preserve and the first swimmers thought nothing of jumping in the water as nature intended.
In the late 19th century, male swimmers would don cumbersome, boxy woollen garments, but by the 1920s water-clogged woven flannel swimsuits had become a sodden memory. The fashion for suntans meant both men and women wanted more revealing, tighter-fitting costumes, and so American swimwear company Jantzen developed unisex knitted wool costumes; they became the suits that changed bathing into swimming. The Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller famously sported one of the first pairs of trunks in the ’30s and by the end of the decade, men swam away from the one-piece silhouette.
Textile innovations led to the invention of tiny nylon and spandex briefs by US swimwear label Speedo in the late ’50s, while in the ’90s the same company led the emergence of super-fast full and half-length body suits. A red trunk-clad David Hasselhoff stomping around babe-filled Los Angeles beaches in Baywatch helped to make trunks a must-have swimwear item for men worldwide in the ’90s, but at the same time, the surfer revolution ushered in the knee-length, loose board shorts that are one of the most common silhouettes on the world’s beaches today.
Recent textile innovations have played a crucial role in smashing Olympic records, as well as resisting chlorine damage and providing protection against harmful UV rays. What further seismic changes will the world of swimwear fashions deliver? Ask your local scientist.
Image: John Springer Collection/ corbis historical via Getty Images
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