Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Boardies, Budgie Smugglers and Euro-Togs

. . . A Brief Survey of Aussie Male Swimwear

Summer in Australia invariably sees a resurgence of the (often humorous) debate about the best type of swimwear for men. Is it boardies or Speedos?

In 2009 the debate received national attention when photos of a Speedos-clad Tony Abbott, leader of the opposition party in Australian federal politics, were widely brandied around and discussed. With Mr. Abbott being well known for his staunch Roman Catholicism, the images briefly earned him the nickname “Mad Monk Hunk.” By and large, however, he – and his Speedos – were ridiculed.

In response to all the hubbub, Melbourne’s Herald Sun
conducted a survey and declared that “the verdict from the girls is in – board shorts win for modesty.”

Yes, it would seem that Speedos have definitely fallen out of favour. This is unfortunate, in my opinion, as some guys definitely look, well, good in them.

And maybe for a lot of people, that’s the issue.

After all, in our still largely patriarchal society, it's acceptable to view and admire women as objects of beauty and desire, but less so when it comes to men. Why is this?

I think it's got something to do with what Ramsey Burt
talks about in his book The Male Dancer: Bodies, Spectacle, Sexualities. Maybe the “spectacle” of a good-looking guy in a pair of Speedos is similar to that of a well-toned and graceful male dancer. Both, in their beauty, strength and vulnerability, have the potential to challenge, undermine and/or redefine patriarchal notions of masculinity.

I once read that the key to wearing Speedos is to have them tight around the back and loose in the front. Unfortunately, most guys get it the wrong way around. The result is a saggy bottom at back and a case of "too much information" up front! Of course, even when worn "correctly," there's always no doubt that it's a male body inside a pair of Speedos. That must be a problem for a lot of people, given the popularity of the Speedos' derogatory nickname of “budgie smugglers.”

For my non-Australian readers the following illustration by John Hunter humorously shows what a “budgie” or budgerigar is, and why such a colourful little bird gets caught up in the whole "boardies versus Speedos" debate.

The history of the Speedo is quite interesting. According to Tim Hunter, who made Packed Lunch, a documentary film about the much-maligned Speedos, “the classic swimming brief was designed by Peter Travis, a gay man now in his 70s and living in Sydney, who was approached by Speedo in 1960 to produce a range of men’s leisure and swimwear.”

“Travis,” says Hunter, “started with the hips as the body’s stable point, not the waist, and reasoned aesthetically that anything worn on the hips couldn’t be more than three inches (7.6 centimetres) wide. Thus, the Speedo brief was born.”

Hunter argues that the Speedo is “acceptable as a functional garment, worn when you’re swimming laps at the pool or competing in a triathlon or under your boardies at the beach. They're even acceptable as a fashionable garment, within reason.”

This question of "within reason" is humorously highlighted in, of all things, the following advertisement from New Zealand for Trumpet ice creams!

Interestingly, I'd doubt you'd see a guy as young as the actor in this ad wearing a pair of Speedos. On Australian beaches it's generally older (and, er, less-in-shape) guys who don the Speedo. So how does Tim Hunter account for the widespread negativity towards the Speedo? He writes that:

The Speedos Cringe is . . . born of embarrassment. After all, we're talking about a piece of clothing that leaves very little of a man's assets to the imagination. That's why there are myriad slang nicknames for them: budgie-smugglers, sluggos, dick togs, lollybags . . . the list goes on.

Yet as the photo at right, er, clearly shows, revealing swimwear for men existed long before the advert of the Speedo. I wonder if these bathing suits from the 1930s were ever disparaging referred to as "dick togs"? Or were people less prone to sexualizing or turning into a fetish every glimpse of the male penis? What's wrong with observing, even admiring, and then moving on?

Speaking of which, there’s one group of people who rarely fail to admire the Speedo, especially when worn well: gay men. I put this down to a certain gay male aesthetic. It’s not possessed by all gay men, to be sure, but by a significant number of us I would contend. It’s an aesthetic that is drawn to affirming and creating beauty in all manner of forms – from literature to music, from
liturgies to, well . . . swimwear.

Which brings me to the latest news in the development of Australian male swimwear. According to a story in last weekend’s Sunday Telegraph, a new type of swimwear that’s “halfway between the boardie and budgie smugglers” is gaining popularity with Aussie men.

“The popularity of trunks, or Euro-togs,” writes Briana Domjen, “is growing, allowing wearers to flaunt more skin than board shorts but leave more to the imagination than Speedos.”

Domjen quotes Sydney’s Channel Seven’s style advisor Kai Aiyub as saying that “[Euro-] togs [are] the best of both worlds,” the “love child” of the board shorts and the Speedo.

I guess I'll have to wait until next time I'm in Australia to see just how popular the Euro-tog becomes. Somehow I think boardies have won the day and will continue to reign supreme on Australian beaches.

Oh, and for the record, I wear boardies and Speedos – both at the same time! You see, like a lot of guys, I wear Speedos under my boardies.

But who knows. Maybe next summer I'll be looking like this . . .

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Shards of Summer
The Trouble with the Male Dancer
A Fresh Take on Masculinity
Ian Thorpe's Difficult Decision
Making a Splash
Openly Gay Diver Wins Olympic Gold
The Inherent Sensuality of Roman Catholicism

Recommended Off-site Links:
In Defense of the Speedo – Spokane Al (Spokane Al, December 11, 2010).
Male Nudity: Do Women Like to Watch? – Emma Jane (The Punch, January 31, 2011).
The "Sheer Magnificence" of Ricky Berens' "Pretty Good Show" The Leveret (August 15, 2009).
Why (Most) Men (in the US) Don't (Won't) Wear Speedos – David Sebringsil (Sebringsil's Papers on Male Sexuality, 2007).

Image 1: Subjects and photographer unknown.
Image 2: My friend Raph – looking good in a pair of boardies! Photo: Michael Bayly, 2010.
Image 3: Subjects and photographer unknown.
Image 4: Canadian diver Alexandre Despatie.
Image 5: Model Gui (DNA Magazine).
Image 6: John Hunter.
Image 7: Subjects and photographer unknown.
Image 8: Subjects and photographer unknown.
Image 9: Patrick Horne and Claudine Gibson. (Photo: Sunday Telegraph).
Image 10: Subject and photographer unknown.
Image 11: Models Heath Meldrum and James O'Halloran. Photo: David Caird (Herald Sun).


Mick said...

Go speedos (er, Togs???)!!! But like any piece of clothing, it has to be right for you. Anyone with a body fat index of 50% should not be wearing them. (I opt for the diving bell, as it compliments by figure best).

MarkNDenver said...

Thanks Michael for a wonderful way to wake up this morning. Enjoyed the info on the battle of the swimwear - but the attached pix were a real warm up. It is -15 this morning in Denver.

Brian R said...

I remember way back in the late 50's when I was a young teenager and bought a swimming costume that, from memory, was very like these eurotogs. My mother made me take them back as you could see my navel :-) How things have changed.

Mareczku said...

Thanks for this Michael. This surely lightened my mood. I liked the pictures. Another crappy day here. It started off pretty enough with 5 inches of new snow but then it turned to rain. Rain at 22 degrees (F not C) is not fun. We have an ice storm headed our way at the moment. So this is a welcome relief. That is cool that you wear speedos under your boardies.

Mareczku said...

I actually read the article about Tony Abbott. The speedos look nice on him but he could use a shirt. Just my personal opinion.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Or maybe Mr. Abbott should shave his chest?!

Mareczku said...

I suppose it depends on what Mrs. Abbott likes.

Anonymous said...

Well, respectfully, from the nudist community, any style of bathing trunks are a bit ridiculous. If God wanted us to wear clothes when we went swimming, we would have been worn with them. I say chuck all the trunks and swim free!

Annaliese said...

A bit on the pretentious side, but good for a giggle. I doubt the so-called patriarchy (if such a thing exists) has much to do with it. Ancient Greece and Renaissance Europe both glorified the male nude, and both these societies were more macho than the modern West. If anything, it's our highly feminist culture which make us fear and abhor male sexuality.

Xaan said...

Great blog! I agree the vitriol towards Speedos is purely down to embarassment. Both women and men do not know how to react when confronted with the site of a man....not wearing very much! For some reason, male underwear and swimwear, just cannot be mentioned without embarassment and joking - hence the silly names: Budgie smugglers, banana hammock etc.

There was a time when everyone wore speedos and it was no big deal. Today somehow men are very uncomfortable seeing other men in a state of undress - which begs the question, how do these men cope in the male locker room - seeing other men actually naked???

Aussie swimmer said...

I only wear the iconic Aussie cossie. It really irks me to see how people have adopted American attitudes towards the cossie. Stand up for an Aussie icon - I reckon!

BobCO said...

Thanks for this great post! Certainly a lot of this issue has to due with the genital revealingness of Speedos, but I think there's more to it. The male dress code prohibits guys from showing anything above the knee, yet it's fine for them to be completely naked above the waist. Hmm. Why is it that many guys are loathe to show any thigh at all, whereas women in micro-short-shorts are completely acceptable? Has the thigh somehow become feminized? if so, how and why?

Rodolfo Piskorski said...

In Brazil it's kind of mixed. I remember when I was a kid it was kind of normal for men to wear Speedos. But from my teenage years on (I'm 26), it was boardies all around. But that depends on region. Beach boys from Rio de Janeiro are famous for wearing speedos, even straight guys, and they all (think they) look very manly. They do have very very well-tended bodies in Rio de Janeiro, though.

KL said...


I supposed these women who talk about modesty are abstaining from two piece swimswear?

Once more a prime example of how Western men are being emasculated.

Anonymous said...

The ghetto inspired oversized basket ball shorts in the US started this trend of maximum coverage for men. What is their problem of showing a thigh or heaven forbid a swimsuit that doesn't hide the fact that the wearer is male? I don't care what the self appointed textile police say, I will always wear a speedo style suit on the beach.

mick said...

I love the debate but it is old hat. I love my speedo's and so do most of the young girls who give positive comments or just giggle murmmur or whisper to their mates. I get laughter and whistles . I think it is a crowd pleasing event. girls are wearing thongs now and we see more buttock than ever . I love the speedo if you 've got it flaunt it I say. old school speedo is nylon elastane and it hugs the lunch box and bronze coloured go a little see through . no one ever died of emmbarrassment did they. so much fuss. I think some guys are jealous. we are seen as obscene and unless we are young well hung buff guys or proffessionals we should all wear baggy soaked shorts. I have chatted to hundreds of girls at the beach while just hanging out and they come up and talk. so I guess I can only ascertian that for soem at least it is a way of window shopping I call it advertising your goods. but remember guys in speedos there is no where to hide. so try not to get a boner oh also the speedos while holding you firm will also allow people to see if you hang to the left or right .