We are in beach wear heaven these days with a plethora of styles to choose from and, apart from what you might be instructed from those most conformist of ‘What You Need to be Wearing on the Beach this Summer!’ magazine spreads, largely most styles are a go.
So if you like to rock a 'Speedo' look (legally required in some locations, beaches and pools alike), surf-style shorts, a classic basic short, or the slightly more dressy - beach to bar style, you should find yourself largely in beach-wear splendour with the styles now on offer.
Now, being vested in the heritage of all things fine apparel we thought we would take a different slant to the beach-wear story with a twist away from the 'dress like you're in Point Break' or style like your 'Mr Ripley' editorials and give you the lowdown on how we came to be here in all this beach-wear glory.
For as you might probably guess, it's not always been so..
Starting with a trace of ancient history and possibly a healthier attitude to our own bodies, bathing and swimming was largely done at one with nature and therefore, in the buff!
Dinner party trivia number one: swimming can be traced back to stone drawings many thousands of years BC. Even as far back as 9000BC and the Egyptian era, with depictions of what can be even viewed as bathers doing the front crawl.
If we take a leap to water-based recreation of early modern history letting it all hang out remained pretty much de-riguer, either that or it was a semi strip down to the under-garments. About this time, as levels of conservatism had taken a-hold, pool-side wasn't so much guys watching girls, watching girls, watching guys go by.. but more generally segregated splashing. This would have varied by country and culture the world over, with only the most culturally relaxed societies allowing for anything different - such as integrated bathing.
To picture this think of classical era Roman Baths (Roman Empire 27BC-475AD), through the middle ages (5th-15th Century) of lakes and rivers, into the Renaissance era (14-17th Century). Interestingly, with the Renaissance, despite its advances in knowledge, the sciences and art, swimming became discouraged due largely to it being done almost always naked, which was contrary to religious doctrines and more conservative values that were present at that time.
This is a little head-scratching really when you consider the amount of Renaissance fresco and sculpture knocking around with everyone effectively sporting their assets all over the place. Equally, the fact that at this time - dinner party trivia number two: Leonardo Da Vinci invented what could probably be described as the first ever life-belt. Though the truth in this is it was probably intended more for fisherman who while spending a life on the waves couldn’t actually swim.
Largely unexplored as it was at this time, or undiscovered - at least for the inhabitants that weren’t already living there, the Western Hemisphere, or ‘New World’; here they could very well have been donning any kind of below the waist funky thread but the likelihood is it was also either a band of cloth, or indeed, how nature intended!
Surfing Giraffe's can be traced back to the 19th Century, with the western world colonisation of Hawaii and the shipping of livestock from the African continent to the New World. (Dinner party trivia non-truth.)
For the next couple of centuries not a lot changed really. Right the way up to the 19thCentury. Albeit that swimming and bathing by then had begun its return to the public consciousness it remained the case that men would either go fully exposed, or at the least get down to their undies! An exception being the public beaches subject to that of the British Victorian Empire, where you would be required to be virtually fully dressed.. Fun huh, those Victorians!
Another exception to the above is that by the mid to late 1800’s competitive swimming had grown in popularity around the world and in doing so begun to embrace a more dedicated kit for greater swim efficiency. Not without breaking down all the regions of the world to split out what each was doing and wearing, generally speaking we can say these swimming costumes can largely be seen as a long length swim short or an all-in-one bib-short. Depending on the country culture there would also be strong guidelines attached to not over-exposing the body. So often if the short was opted for, a long t-shirt would have been required to go over top and cover much of the short, and for the bib-short, sleeves were to be part of the outfit.
Roll on then to the early 20th century and possibly the two things that really began to mark the dawning of the swim short as we know it. These are the further development and wider interest of swimming as a competitive past-time and also the advent of not just bathing in the water, but also bathing in the sun!
From the 1910’s onwards and in a relatively short space of time men essentially started demanding the right to bare more body together with wearing a more form-fitting short.
And so, shorts got shorter and snug, and if without a bib, knitted tank tops were worn for cover up when needed.
By the 1930's-40's we really begin to see the advent of the bare-chest with swim short as we might recognise it today. With a complementary polo-shirt or bowling-style shirt on hand when decency was required.
Around this time the swim short, which was largely light wool - sometimes with a belt woven into the garment, evolved into cotton with an elasticated waste or with waist fasteners of some sort.
With this dedicated wear for beach, bathing and swimming now entering the modern consciousness so too would fashion begin to make a play with an accompanying band of brands and a myriad of images touting the swimwear summer styles of the day.
Onward to the 50's and unabashedly the beach body! Where shorts we designed to look neat while allowing for athleticism to show. The style of short at this time was close a tennis short, with a sporty style and good fit, designed for the beach but also relaxed socialising after.
This ran into the 60's with poolside chic and Riviera styling; while elsewhere, notably the West Coast of America and other Western Hemisphere locations, the Surfer short started to burst out of the waves, evolving from the snug style into one that was a little looser, a little longer and with more colourful design.
From there the roll call of beach short styles has been a mixed bag of mixed blessings really!
The 70's can be seen as a bit of a return to the 50's, twinned also with some of those especially tight boxer-brief styles designed to display whatever package you might be sporting! Together with an impressive tuft of chest hair.. (where has all the hair gone these days?).
For the 80's, succinctly, think sporty, flags and stripes, New York art scene, palm trees.
With the 90's it was a little more basic in style, or a little surfer style renaissance, worn with dubiously bleached permed hair.. Thanks Patrick Swayze.
From there it's safe to say that the turn of the century into the 2000's has covered most styles in varying degrees of fashion popularity.
City Cool Scootering meets Colourful Beach Style.
For us at Seaward & Stearn beach-wear is all about colour and personality. If you're a little more into pool-side posing then a more tailored short would suit you best. But if you like a little more abandon on the beach, with some football or volley ball action in the sand and some splashing in the sea, relaxed swim shorts are always the way to go! Then a quick change into some tailored shorts for happy hour!