WELLFLEET — To Speedo or not to Speedo? That was my question.
In 1960, the Australian swimwear brand introduced the skimpy men’s briefs to the market, and the style made a big splash on hippie-happy US beaches. Fast-forward 54 years and — other than on certain same-sex beaches, or at athletic competitions — it’s difficult to find people brave enough to don the eye-catching, skin-tight suits.
Expedia recently released its 2014 Flip-Flop report, an annual study of beach habits, spanning 24 countries across five continents, examining a range of beach behaviors including attitudes on nude sunbathing, popular activities, and — my personal fave — acceptable beach attire.
According to Expedia, 74 percent of its worldwide respondents consider Speedo-style briefs acceptable beach attire. A full 95 percent of Brazilians approve, followed by Austrians (94 percent), Germans (91 percent) and Spaniards (91 percent). Acceptance was lowest among Norwegians, with only 40 percent approving. How did Americans measure up? The report states that 57 percent of the US respondents gave the briefs a thumbs up.
What do New Englanders think? The report didn’t break the US statistic down by region, and so this reporter, armed with notebook, camera, and a healthy curiosity, hit the sandy shores of the Outer Cape to query beachgoers on this hot-button topic.
At Newcomb Hollow in Wellfleet, the day was mostly sunny, in the 70s, with a light sea breeze. There were 38 respondents, all New Englanders.
So, thumbs up or thumbs down to Speedo-style suits on the beach?
‘I wore them religiously till I was 12 or 13. . . . My family from Brazil used to wear them. It took them 20 years [here] to stop.’
Doug Chester, wearing knee-length trunks, gave the style a thumbs down. “I would never wear it, and none of my lads would either,” he said.
His two adult sons agreed.
“It’s acceptable but not proper,” said Brian.
“I think I’d rather wear my underwear,” said Kyle.
Chester’s 90-year old mother, Eileen Slattery, chimed in. “I prefer those [knee-length] Bermuda-style shorts.”
Other family opinions split along generational lines, with the eldest and youngest in pro-Speedo agreement, and the middle generation voting con.
“I’m 78 years old. I’m from Switzerland. There is nothing wrong with it,” said Marianne Viner.
“It seems odd and out of place on a beach,” said Viner’s son, Drew. “My daughter says I shouldn’t be in one.”
As long as her dad isn’t wearing the swimsuit, Abigail Viner sides with her grandmother.
“If somebody wants to wear it, they should wear it. If I see it, I say, ‘I give you credit for rocking that Speedo on the beach.’ ”
Many beachgoers, especially women, qualified their thumbs-up according to body type.
“I love them! Of course it depends on who’s wearing them. The man has to have a great body,” said Rebecca Egozi.
“On men who are swimmers, it’s fine,” said Amy Carow.
“For a certain type of man — very fit and stylish — it would be OK. For 95 percent of men, no,” said Susan Hamilton.
“I don’t like them. But when I do see them on guys, I assume they’re European,” said Marion Hamilton.
There seemed to be a consensus that European or South American men were most likely to wear Speedos.
“When I see them I feel like I’m in Europe, so I like it,” said Toby Simon.
“I don’t think they’re as popular here as in Europe, but I can imagine it catching on. The US loves European stuff,” said Yanni Kostantinidis.
“I wore them religiously till I was 12 or 13. Then I couldn’t anymore. You have to go through puberty to realize how ridiculous they are,” said Michael Radvany. “My family from Brazil used to wear them. It took them 20 years [living in the States] to stop.”
So how did New England match up with overall American taste in men’s beachwear? With a tally of 23 thumbs up and 15 thumbs down, the approval rate of approximately 60.5 percent is slightly more tolerant than the US average. However, what people approve of and what they wear are two different things.
“Have you found a single individual today on the beach in a Speedo?” asked Marsha Cooper.
“I wouldn’t want to wear it, but to each their own. As culture becomes more accepting, people will be able to express themselves as freely as they want,” said Greg Palazzo, wearing a swimsuit that brushed the top of his knees.
“Men are wearing a lot shorter suits. The fashion used to be below the knee, then at the knee, and now slightly above. Personally I don’t think I’d go any shorter,” said Palazzo.