Portugal is a country well known for its beaches, so swimwear is important. Women’s swimwear styles are always changing - trendy cuts and colours, one-piece or two, etc., and we watch for ‘what’s in style’ each year.

But what about men’s stuff? It appears there is little change over the years, maybe colours and designs come and go, but swim trunks are still swim trunks, the exception being those for competitive swimmers or divers.

Men’s Swimwear History

During Roman times, men going for a dip went naked, that much we know from murals and classical paintings.
Over time, different cultures had different standards - some saying that bathers and swimmers should wear a suitable garment, which could be anything to cover the bare essentials. The loincloth was popular, as seen later in the Japanese male fundoshi, a length of cloth wound around the body and up between the legs (think sumo wrestler style).

In 1737 there is evidence that nude bathing was prohibited for males over the age of 10, and by 1860 nude bathing was totally banned, in the UK at least. The first specific menswear were called caleçons (drawers), as a means to cover up the ‘naughty bits’, but even then, there were many who protested, and still wanted to remain naked.

Since then, men's swimwear has undergone many changes, designed to highlight masculinity with a no-frills approach and a solid, square look, while female costumes changed dramatically to accentuate the female curves.

In the 18th century, a swimmer was regarded as of doubtful morality, and had to be justified on health grounds! Men’s swimwear styles during the 1880’s were actually rather unflattering, sporting tops with straps or sleeves and mimicking traditional undergarments that left little to the imagination, but gradually more thought went into the designs, and ‘improvements’ were made, with the creation of awful garments made from knitted wool that at least had stretchy properties. Although these woolly monstrosities absorbed less water than cotton would, they weren’t streamlined and made swimming difficult, with the wearer vulnerable to exposure if the suit slipped off under its own weight!

By the 1930s, men's two-piece swimsuits were losing popularity, and men were removing the top and wearing the bottoms only, especially in Europe, where modesty wasn't as serious as it was in other countries. By the end of the decade, retailers were catching on to the trend and began selling swim briefs without tops.

Modern Swimwear

Nowadays, when shopping for men’s swim trunks, guys have a lot to consider. There are obviously important factors, like fit, length, structure, and silhouette. There are cosmetic details, like colours and patterns - classic and understated or bright and vibrant? And then there’s the ever-important question about the customary lining usually found in swim trunks. The lining has a purpose and it’s not just an added layer to make dressing and undressing difficult!

Credits: Unsplash; Author: @nixcreative;

The primary purpose of the mesh lining is to enhance the coverage factor - you know, to protect modesty and prevent any danger of awkwardly revealing ‘your bits’ while either swimming or lounging around, and prevents the swimwear from sticking to the skin. The lightweight mesh liner is designed with comfort in mind, adding a soft texture to prevent rougher fabric irritating the skin. The liners, typically made with polyester, are lightweight so that they won’t add any unnecessary bulk or volume to the trunks. Designed with holes, they encourage efficient drainage while you’re splashing around and swimming, and promote superior airflow and circulation for constant comfort when you aren’t in the water.

But all shorts are not created equal

Those designed for surfers are longer and sometimes don’t have mesh, and the major reason for the extra length is to protect the wearer's legs from wax on the board. Surfboards are covered with a layer of sticky wax, which allows the surfer to stand on the board without slipping off. Competitive swimmers and divers wear so-called ‘budgie smugglers’ – snug trunks allowing ease of movement without additional bulk or volume, and are as light and as sleek as modesty will allow!


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan