Should Irishmen wear Speedos?
Will the Irish male never get used to the sun? As summer makes its belated appearance, prepare to be amazed as the bog-standard togs of our beached countrymen are again brought into the light, writes BRIAN O’CONNELL.
THE CONTINUED GOOD weather over the past while has meant an extended outing for that most uncompromising and fashionably ignorant piece of Irish clothing – I’m talking, of course, about male swimming shorts. While bronzed Europeans might confidently tuck their tackle into a flimsy bit of Spandex or parade around Mediterranean beaches in their finest Borat offerings, here in Ireland the male of the species has his own take on acceptable beach attire. It involves whatever happens to be lying at the bottom of the drawer, with the least amount of cobwebs and the maximum amount of cover.
Despite the increasing multiculturalism of Irish society and the more frequent international wanderings of the Irish male, our beachwear shows no signs of joining the 21st century any time soon. Generally, Irish swimwear can be broken into four main groupings: Bermuda shorts, Speedos, cut jeans and GAA or rugby shorts. Every year, milky-white Irish pins reluctantly cling to one of the above anti-fashion statements, like vegans to a Texas steakhouse menu, as the Irish male briefly enters the sea at home or abroad. Even when Baywatch, landed on our TV screens, the Irish male resolutely stuck to his bog-standard beachwear, blindly ignoring whatever the Hoff might have been sporting down below.
Or perhaps that is all behind us. There are signs that the Irish male is getting his beach act together. Leone Amon, a fashion stylist who moved to Ireland in 2000, certainly believes so, saying that the liberalisation of Irish society has started to make its way on to our beaches. Irish men, she says, have upped their game.
“The fact is that Irish men don’t have as much opportunity to be on beaches as other European males. But with the influx of different cultures to Ireland and Irish men taking more overseas holidays, I think beach fashion has changed,” she says.
When we speak, Amon is on a beach, at Seapoint in Dublin, assessing the male attire on show.
“I’m looking at lads in their 20s at the moment, in surf shorts, at elderly people who come here every day in Speedos, and fathers in their mid-30s in trendy-looking three-quarter-length shorts,” she says. “The types of print on the fabrics have changed a lot, with everything from check prints to paisley. I can see a huge change.”
Men’s fashion retailer Alan Kelly, owner of Gentlemen Please in Blackrock, doesn’t agree, and says that, in his experience, male beachwear has changed little in the past few decades. Bermuda shorts are still the big seller, although Kelly has seen a move to more tailored shorts for evening wear.
“I’ve been working here 20 years and haven’t seen a huge change in that time,” he says. “Generally, Bermuda shorts are number one for the beach. The only rule with them seems to be: the louder the colour, the better. I think it’s because this type of shorts covers a multitude: if you are tall and skinny, then it covers your knees; if you are big and stout, then it will cover stocky legs. So it suits all shapes and sizes, which is important for Irish lads!”
When it comes to skimpier offerings though, Kelly is uncompromising. “Look, Irish men are not going to wear Speedos,” he says. “We’ll leave that to the Italians. It’s like that joke Billy Connolly had when he goes on holidays, and it starts raining and it’s cold, and he goes for the woolly Speedos. That’s the only time they might be useful!”
So, despite the social changes in society, it seems the Irish beached male is still hopelessly loyal to the following beachwear from a bygone era:
1 Bermuda shorts
Apparently these shorts have nothing to do with Bermuda, but were created instead in London by the British military at the beginning of the 20th century. This was so that troops operating in more tropical parts of the Empire could remain cool. If only Irish males had known this during Italia ’90, when Bermuda shorts were taken up en masse by Irish men. Design came in various shades of green, and often with phrases such as “We Kicked Ass on Italian Grass” blazoned across the buttocks. How could we resist?
Since then, demand for the shorts has been maintained, particularly as surfing has gained in popularity and “board shorts”, as they are sometimes known, now come in various types of materials, designs and lengths.
For some, when it comes to Speedos and the Irish male, never the twain should meet, regardless of the person or the physique. It’s all about outlook and cultural grooming for the wearer to be able to carry them off – think more Ronaldo and less Roy Keane. Speedos are worn by people comfortable with their physique, happy to show as much flesh as is humanly possible, and proud of their male prowess, which probably excludes half the adult Irish male population straight off.
Speedos are, in essence, shorts in need of a good meal, and were originally worn by athletes in water sports such as diving and water polo. They are far more acceptable in swimming pools, especially with the splurge in leisure centres in Ireland over the past decade. On a beach though, unless you are over 50, expect derision from your peers.
3 Cut jeans
The cut jean probably comes from the need, in times long, long ago, to recycle our clothing for other uses. Either that or holes in the knees meant that jeans had to be halved into shorts to extend their lifespan. The punk movement took ripped jeans to heart too, while in the US cut jeans are often called “highwaters”. Here in Ireland, stone-wash denim cut above the knee, or a halved pair of Levi 501s, were particularly common during the 1980s and early 1990s. Catching on to this, jeans companies now sell shorts, tailored without the stringy bits you get when you go hacking your denims at home with a scissors.
4 GAA and rugby shorts
From Bondi to Bundoran, in fact everywhere there is a large grouping of Irish beached males, expect to find various assortments of GAA, rugby and football shorts. Soccer shorts are generally shiny, and have been getting longer and somewhat more presentable in recent years, although they are still unsuitable for beach or pool wear. The GAA and rugby offerings, though, are the least appropriate, often coming in starched white and emblazoned with the parish or county colours. Just imagine what those Baywatch boyos would have looked like, in the opening scenes, striding across the sand with a “St Senan’s Kiltimagh” badge stitched perilously close to their crotches.