1920s Men’s One Piece Swimsuits
In many ways, men’s and women’s 1920s swimsuits were nearly identical. Both were deep-cut ribbed wool tank top over a snug fitting pair of shorts that were sewn in at the waistline. The “skirt” of the swim-top came from up from knee-length of a few years before to around mid-thigh level. It was “too much” to raise the top any further, revealing men’s personal parts. Instead, more suit material was removed from under the arms and around the back- supposedly making it easier to swim, but mostly to reveal more muscles.
Men’s swimsuits were made of wool or ribbed cotton in very bright colors — red, purple, yellow, pale blue, navy blue, brown, and the very popular orange. White, black, or colored stripes outlining the edges and skirt were equally common with the one piece “California style” swimsuit.
1920s Men’s Two Piece Swimsuits
The two-piece swimsuit went mainstream around 1924. It consisted of a ribbed wool onesie (unitard) that buttoned at the crotch, paired with separate shorts. The onesie top had a scoop neck and was generally plain white or grey, but could be striped or solid colors too (red, grey, blue, orange).
The swim shorts went down to the mid thigh, with a flat front and sometimes white stripes on the sides. The shorts could also have a button fly with a looser fit, similar to men’s pants, or they could be pull-on ribbed shorts with no fly. Fly front shorts were often wool flannel instead of worsted wool, but both were options.
A white webbed belt with silver metal military buckle secured the shorts to the waist.
1920s Speed Suit
In 1929, a new one-piece suit emerged, called the “speed suit.” It was designed for college athletes, but the public quickly adopted the new, more revealing suit. In the speed suit, most of the back was removed, and the top now had cutouts under the arms. This new back was called a “crab back” for its criss-cross pattern.
The Speed top found its way onto two-piece swimsuits as well. This style is what would dominate in the 1930s.
Men’s Swim Shoes
Initially, men protected their feet from hot sand with canvas lace-up beach boots or shoes with rubber soles. Men would also wear thin white or black socks (and sometimes thick golf socks) with them.
For most of the 1920s, the all-rubber pull-on swim shoe was the better of the beach shoes, and they could be worn while swimming. Red, blue, and green made these shoes stand out on the beach.
Swim caps for men were Aviator-style, with a tight rubber cap that covered the ears and a chin strap. The Submariner style cap had ear muff shaped rubber coverings that were more comfortable to wear. Rubber could be a natural color but bright colors such as red, green, white, or navy blue matched rubber beach shoes. Can you image how colorful swimwear was in the 1920s?
Swimsuits – Make Your Own
Making a men’s 1920s swimsuit isn’t too difficult. Find an extra long cotton ribbed tank top and a pair of biking shorts. Add stripes and edging using binding tape, or buy a “ringer tank top” with contrast edging already attached. You can also paint on stripes (see below). Add a white elastic belt, a swim cap, sunglasses, and done!
This tutorial shows you how to make a swimsuit from a men’s T-shirt (sewing required).
For men, the above tank plus shorts works well, too. For a mid- to late-1920s style, look at a wrestling singlet also called a bodysuit or unitard. These one piece, snug fitting suits have the same silhouette as ’20s swimwear. You could layer on a pair of belted shorts for a less revealing look. Beefcakes Swimwear makes a classic silhouette swimsuit in vintage patterns.
I would choose cotton or Lycra if you plan to swim in it. You may also want to order 1 or two sizes up to get a looser, less body building, more vintage look. These suits work well for 1920s strongman costumes too.
- 1930s-1950s Men’s Swimsuit History
- A History of Men’s Underwear in the 1920s
- 1920s Tennis Apparel for Men and Women
- Men’s Sportswear and Casual Clothing in the 1920s
- 1920s Men’s Workwear
Shop Men’s 1920s Swimsuits
These new suits are ready-made and loosely inspired by 1910s and 1920s swimsuits. 1920s men’s swimsuits patterns are included too, so you can sew your own.
Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.