For most of human history, recreational swimming has been done naked. (The non-recreational swim was done in whatever you wore when you fell into it because it overcame drowning.)
Purpose-built swimwear started as modest wear first and business dress second. Early swimwear was made of knitted wool and, in the case of women’s swimwear, included long skirts weighted at the hem to prevent water from raising them.
Suits were stricter in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when law and custom prohibited men and women from appearing topless in public. One-piece suits with sleeves and cut-out legs were a popular style.
In the 1950s and 1960s, men organized protests to demand the right to wear topless. As a result, many public obscenities were cited until the laws finally changed. (Women are now experiencing a very similar struggle.)
From that point on, swimwear was more about functionality than modesty. Specialized suits began to develop in the 1960s and beyond, which led to today’s world of wetsuits, dry wear, racing wear, training drag suits, and more.
Stylish swimsuits can serve both decorative and practical functions. Most of them strive for both. Swimsuits are usually classified by the length and looseness of their cut:
- Trunks are the most commoner swimwear in North America. They are similar to shorts worn as clothing on the floor but are made of light, quick-drying materials (usually nylon or polyester) and feature a tight lining inside the shorts. More extended versions that go above the knee are sometimes called shorts.
- Swimming Briefs are often called “Speedo,” which is a trademark registered trademark that has been popular for many years. They are tight body-hugging swimsuits with a V-shaped front that exposes the thighs. In addition, leisure swim trunks usually feature an inner lining.
- Square shorts are a body-hugging style that covers the wearer from the waist to the top of the thigh. The leg openings are cut straight across the thighs for a boxy look that’s less obvious than the slant swim trunks.
- Jammers are tight, knee-length suits used by competitive swimmers and others involved in water sports to reduce drag. They look like bike shorts, but without the padded crotch and seat.
- Racing suits are tight-fitting, designed to reduce drag by streamlining the body and skin. They come in several cuts, folds, or cover varying amounts of an arm and a leg. Modern marketing usually refers to them as “leathers,” i.e., the skin of the body, the skin of the legs, the skin of the knees, etc.
- Wetsuits and dry suits are insulated suits designed for prolonged diving, usually in the context of snorkeling or board sports. It fits perfectly.
- Rash guards are a more flexible form of full-body swimwear than a wetsuit and are generally used by those involved in water sports, such as surfers, kayakers, and paddle boarders. Most are made of UV-reflective fabric with a UPF rating.
- Swim shirts are an upper-body-only version of a rash guard and are gaining popularity as a choice for sun protection and surfing for casual showers.
- Thongs are tiny briefs designed to expose the buttocks. Many cultures traditionally use thongs for men, such as Japanese fundoshi, but in contemporary Western culture, thongs are primarily marketed toward women. However, men can wear it.
- All the above styles can come in almost any color or pattern imaginable, provided one is willing to shop long enough. Traditional male colors and patterns include dark blue, blue and white stripes, and floral or Hawaiian-style prints.
A few key steps:
How intense are your activities in your swimwear?
The hotel pool swimwear now and then does not have a lot of technical requirements. Another thing you go surfing for hours on end is something else.
Consider the following as you weigh your swimwear options:
- How much leg movement will you do? The loose-fitting fabric, when wet, can irritate you very quickly, so the loose-fitting style of shorts isn’t great if you plan to walk around in your suit or use your legs for a workout. (Despite the “short” name, professional surfers usually wear tight, comfortable swimwear these days.)
- How much actual swimming (as opposed to wading and splashing) would you do? Of course, you’ll want to reduce drag if you’re already pushing yourself through the water for any time, making the best tighter fit.
- How much sun protection do you need? For prolonged exposure to the sun, it is worth considering something that covers the upper part of the body as well as the lower part.