I’ve often thought it odd that while dress codes exist all over the world for all manner of occasions – black-tie, weddings, day-to-day office attire – no such instruction applies to that place where the most heinous sartorial sins are committed. I’m talking, of course, about the beach and what one should wear on it.
The truth is that dull, or even nerdy, is better than showy. There’s nothing worse than a man who has the audacity to reveal his bare butt cheeks separated by a piece of string. How dare he? Still, the said thong is not quite as bad as those over-the-shoulder Japanese “mankinis” worn by fictitious Kazak news reporter Borat. You know, the ones that look like a pair of braces, cover one’s nipples and cup one’s man-baggage. I once saw a gent on a Turkish beach wearing one of those. I almost vomited in the sea.
Best wear a trunk that is neither miniscule nor skate boarder-style. The former suggests you have ideas above your station regarding the size of your manhood, while the latter implies that you would rather be 13 years old. Add a backwards baseball cap and a T-shirt with a logo on it and the job is done. Even the tight Speedo-style swim briefs look awful these days as they suggest a high degree of narcissism, conceit and arrogance.
In France shorts are banned from public swimming pools and campsite pools in favour of said Speedo “budgie smugglers”. I rest my case.
Swimsuits for men are a relatively modern concept. In the West, naked bathing wasn’t outlawed in the UK’s sea, rivers and lakes until 1860, which prompted the all-in-one ‘skivvy’ style swimwear. In America on May 17, 1917, the Bathing Suit Regulations were published, which demanded that men’s suits had to be worn with a skirt. The other alternative was to wear a flannel knee pant with a waistcoat. Even in the 1930s, in the US baring one’s chest was frowned upon and it wasn’t until 1933 that the invention of a convertible-style belted suit, the Men’s Topper, allowed the top to be removed. But it still led to arrests for “indecent exposure.” Men finally had the right to go topless in America in 1937.
With the rise of the American middle class in the 1950s, the popularity of holidays and thus swimwear rose. Hideously kitsch Cabana sets – matching shirt and high-on-the-waist trunks – became popular. Meanwhile in Australia, to coincide with the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Speedo launched the first ultra-tight swim briefs made of nylon. Somehow the company has yet to be convicted for this crime, though its notoriety lingers to this day.
And so things continued. The 1970s brought in other abominations – cut-off jeans and hippies – while the 1980s, with its obsession with physical fitness and bodybuilding, saw an escalation in the popularity of Lycra, resulting in hideous displays of indecorum on the beach.
During the following decade, US surf culture made its only useful contribution to the world in that it popularised the longer short and saved us from the buttock-fest of previous eras. But then came the Brazilians and their Sungas. In theory these briefs, based on the old-school square-leg trunk, should have won on all fronts, but bad taste prevailed until the item shrank to the width of an envelope, often exposing the gentleman’s foliage and builder’s bottom. Sorry, but that is so not on.
As for yours truly, I favour a plain black boxer-style trunk (known in Australia as board shorts) that come to just short of mid-thigh, and a plain white short-sleeved or 1950s-styled shirt with a ribbed singlet underneath.
As for eyewear I keep it classic. The Ray-Ban Clubmaster or Aviator are perfect, as are the Randolph Aviator and the Persol 714, all of which have not changed in decades. If in doubt, always go with the iconic. Hats are useful on the beach. Again, it’s classic all the way and there’s nothing better than the short-brimmed Trinidad or Castor trilbies in natural straw. The rule is to keep the brim short and avoid the Panama.
As for footwear, sandals are obviously the best option but avoid the Birkenstock and those quasi-trainer types with all the buckles, otherwise you run the risk of looking like a gap-year backpacker. Not clever. Equally vile are those plastic open-toed sandals, which often employ Velcro fastenings, or an unsightly sports brand logo. And lest we forget, never wear anything by Crocs. I go for the Greek-style, open-toed black leather sandal, as they look good, whether on the beach or out at night. Otherwise at a push I will do a flip-flop. I choose Havaianas Brazil or Traditional in plain black. Maybe the only other shoe that is fit for the beach is the classic espadrille, while the slip-on leather or suede deck shoe is hideous and completely unacceptable.
Finally, I think keeping it tidy a la plage is essential. No right-thinking man should expose his nether regions, and at least most UAE residents err on the side of the conservative when it comes to skin exposure, which is more than can be said for some parts of Europe.
Call me old-fashioned, but I firmly believe it’s better to be ignored by ladies than laughed at.