Why Is the Speedo Disappearing From European Beaches?

The brief-style of bathing suit associated with the Australian brand Speedo is dropping in popularity. Merten Snijders/Getty Images

Some folks simply call them briefs. Others opt for the slang term banana hammocks. And for most beach and pool goers around the world, the tight, short swim trunks for men are known simply as Speedos. Just like the terms Google and Xerox have been co-opted to describe web searches and photocopying, the word "Speedo" has come to describe a distinct type of bathing suit — regardless of whether it was actually produced by the Australian swimwear company Speedo.

The Speedo may be recognizable around the globe, but its home base has long been mother Europe. From the Baltic Sea beaches to the Greek isles, Euro swimmers just seem to be a little more comfortable about showing off those creamy hamstrings, and Americans have always enjoyed having a little fun with that stereotype. It turns out, however, that lately even the Europeans are adding a little extra coverage to their trunks.


But where'd this form-fitting design come from? Men in Speedo-style swim trunks began turning up poolside and at beachfront bars after the Australian swim team prominently put "budgie smugglers"on the map during the 1956 Olympic Games. The skimpy, skintight trunks may have made the best Aussie swimmers a little more aquadynamic, they argued.

For the puritanical types in the U.S., however, these short-short shorts have largely been considered just a little too over-the-top. (That is, unless you're an American office dweller who wants to show off his patriotism by showing up at work in a red, white and blue bikini.)

Corny people with nothing better to talk about used to ask: boxers or briefs? Then the boxer briefs came along and shut them right up. Think of the modern European swimsuit like a boxer brief with just a smidge more hang.

"Currently stylish men, and the ones who are fit enough, are wearing boxer briefs – short fitted shorts, also made with some spandex content," says Russell Smith, the author of "Men's Style: The Thinking Man's Guide to Dress." "These look a lot like men's swimsuits of the late '50s and early '60s. Think James Bond."

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The swim trunks worn by Daniel Craig in the 2006 James Bond film "Casino Royale" are an homage to the classics worn by Sean Connery in "Thunderball."
Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

Sean Connery sported a truncated trunk in the films "Thunderball" and "You Only Live Twice." Sure, Daniel Craig can come strutting out of the ocean with a skintight, slightly longer version of the Speedo on and nobody is going to ask any questions. He's James Bond.

"If I see the stereotypical Speedo they're either usually on someone who really knows what they're doing in the water, and looks like it, or is over the age of 50 and really know what they're doing in the pub," says Karlmond Tang, a British style writer and photographer.

Those regular chaps who don't travel the globe chugging martinis and thwarting bad guys like 007 are instead going with short swim shorts that don't cling as much. (The streamlined brief swimsuit remains popular at athletic competitions and gay pride parades worldwide.) If you want proof that the Speedo is moving toward the sunset, look no further than some of Europe's most fashionable swimsuit makers. The editors of GQ's British edition recently handpicked a smattering of printed swimsuits deemed beach-ready. They included cacti-spotted trunks, a suit made for sailboat fans and a couple of pairs that look like they were cut from a fresh set of fancy trousers. Not on the list? Anything that resembles David Hasselhoff's favorite skivvies.

This is the middle path. Smith says guys who want to stand out when they hit the sand in Ibiza, Mykonos or St. Tropez without going for the tight Speedo always have other options without going full Yank. After all, he says: "Long, flapping board shorts still look awfully American in Europe."