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A brief history of men’s swimwear: prison stripes to board shorts

Many people will be surprised to read how far men’s swimwear has changed over the years. With new fashion such as Thomas Royall Swimming Shorts dominating beaches across the world, and having done so since the 90’s, it’s hard to imagine a world without board short style swim wear for men. As a matter of fact, it has actually changed quite dramatically, and throughout history, there wasn’t a pair of board-shorts in sight.

One Piece Bathing Suits

In the early 1900s one piece suits and nautical designs seemed to dominate the beaches. Prison-style stripes and button up tops attached to bottoms that resembled long-johns were all the range. Although this didn’t appear to be remotely functional or fashionable, at the time that was what was worn, and bare-chests just weren’t seen.

Two-Piece Bathing Suits

The mid-19th century saw men wearing two-piece bathing suits in order to remain decent on the beaches. These two-piece bathing suits were exponentially popular at this time, and were a slight upgrade from the one-piece suits. They appeared to be a little more movable than their predecessors, but still not quite the style that you expect to see by the pool or on the beach today.

1940's male swimwear

Small Trunks

There seemed to be a huge jump from covering up to revealing all when the first swimming trunks were revealed and became commercially available in the 20th century. These are popular with European’s to this day, but are not quite the most flattering pair that are available. However, there are a lot of trunks still available, and although they might not cover a lot downstairs, they certainly gave a shirtless option to men who wanted to move away from the bathing suit styles.

Larger Trunks

In the late 20th century, the trunk style began to take a little bit more shape, with high waisted options becoming available. Although they started to cover a little bit more, they definitely saw a great movement towards the board-shorts that are popular today – but at about a quarter of the size.

Tom Ford’s Thong

In 1997, Tom Ford revealed the swim thong as a part of the Gucci line. This led to a rise in the popularity of the brand Speedo, and it appears that the conservative dress code of the early 20th century quickly was forgotten.


The brand Speedo very quickly took off, after being established in Australia since 1914. Although some countries are reluctant to almost bare all in these revealing swimming options, Brazil, Austria, Germany and Spain are just a few mentions where there is a huge acceptance of the brand. This remains to this day, and it is not uncommon to see men from these countries in particular standing on the beach or relaxing by the pool in a pair of Speedos.

Board Shorts

There seemed to have been a quick jump in terms of revealing to covering back up again in the age of men’s swimwear, and board shorts began to take a rise in popularity. Board shorts are still popular and utilitarian, and they offer both roominess while still remaining fashionably tight. The addition of pockets in future designs also took off quite quickly, and in many Western countries in particular, you are very likely to see some form of board shorts. The perfect balance appears to be tight but not too tight, and long but not too long.

Thomas Royall board shorts

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