What did men wear to the pool or beach in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and beyond? Since men’s retro swim trunks are back in style, let’s take a look at the swimwear trends for each decade, starting with the 1960s. For other decades, read about 1920s men’s swimwear and 1930s-1950s men’s swimwear.
Shop retro swimsuits at the bottom of the page or on the Men’s Retro Swim Suits and Cabana Sets page.
1960s Men’s Swimwear
There was a lack of innovation in men’s swim trunks of the early 1960s. The boxer short, swim brief, and belted shorts continued to be worn. The waistline lowered a bit and leg lengths also rose up a little, tightening around the upper thigh. Many vintage styles were revived in the 1960s, too. Stripes on the sides returned again. Solid colors, instead of patterns, were also preferred over most prints (plaid was the exception).
Knitted shorts with stretchy nylon fabrics were the biggest invention in swimwear. By the end of the decade, they became hip huggers with an oh-so-snug fit all around. The new length was called the “Nassau-length,” with only a 2-inch leg.
Belts, lace up “renaissance” flys, and drawstring waistbands with the tie on the outside were some of the new details.
Men not bold enough to wear the knit trunks had the classic tab button waistband shorts to wear instead. The fit was slimmer and shorter than previous decades with a flat front and high waist.
The new trend in California was the surfer’s swim shorts, called “surfer jams.” They had long loose legs and an elastic waistband with a string tie. Bright solid colors, horizontal stripes, and tropical/Hawaiian prints decorated the beaches. Later in the 1990s, they were renamed “board shorts.”
In the late 1950s as well as the late 1960s, designers experimented with pool pants or beach pants that could be worn for swimming, but that were mostly for lounging or playing beach Volleyball in. The 50s/60s style were calf length pants with a trouser-like cut in white or light blue cotton fabrics.
The late 1960s pool pants were ankle length, printed in very loud bold patterns with flared legs and a drawstring waistband. They were not terribly popular with mature men, but teenage boys loved them.
Cabana shirts continued to be even more commonplace in the 1960s. Cabana jackets, too, were offered as an easier option to zip up over sun-tanned bodies. Mock neck T-shirts in solid to wide horizontal stripes were the most casual shirt to wear with knit swim shorts.
1970s Men’s Swimsuits
While the men’s bikini, unitard, and thong made editorial news in the 1970s, most men still preferred basic solid color boxer or shorts style swimsuits. Many bathing suit styles flashed back to the 1950s with an elastic or tab button waistband, or to the 1960s with knit hip huggers. The entire decade was a flashback to previous decades, this time in new polyester materials instead of nylon knits.
The newest design was “sport shorts,” featuring an elastic band boxer with tulip side-leg shaping and taping in either white or contrast piping. These swim shorts were marketed as athletic shorts that could go for a run on the beach, into the water, and onto the tennis court without changing. Later in the decade, the tulip shape was replaced by a straight leg while still maintaining the “retro stripes.”
The other traditional style was the fixed waist shorts with a tab button waistband, straight legs, short inseam, and pockets. The small coin pocket existed with a a button down square flap. Large square pockets on either side made shorts look like Safari or cargo shorts.
Between the tulip-leg boxer shorts and fixed waistband shorts, there was little variation in 1970s men’s swimwear. Cabana shirts and zip up windbreaker jackets continued into the 1970s with plain colors and contrasting taping. T -shirts and sport knit shirts also continued in the new sportswear colors.
1980s Men’s Swimwear
In the early to mid 1980s, there wasn’t much change in men’s swim trunks. The tulip-edge swim trunks and straight leg boxer types with retro striping were still popular, and the fixed waist shorts were also ongoing. Lengths were still fairly short and the rise was lower than navel.
There were some attempts are changing waistbands in the mid 1980s. The full drawstring waistband was popular with some men. The elastic waistband with snap button was also trendy (and is trending again today).
The newest design change was in the colorblocking with horizontal stripes. Alternating wide and narrow stripes in 3 -4 similar colors created a refreshing new designs that have remained a popular swim shorts pattern for decades. The chevron color-block was also in style for several years.
The Speedo swim brief finally made its way into mainstream culture in the 1980s. Professional swimmers had been wearing them for years, but the public’s interest was piqued when men flocked to gyms to for weight-lifting or to athletics clubs with a lap pool to try for that chiseled Olympic swimmer body.
In the late 1980s, men’s swimwear returned to the 1940s and 1950s where bold, tropical prints were in style. The 1960s Surf-Jammer shorts, called Jams Shorts (name brand), with its elastic waistband and drawstring tie, replaced both the tulip and fixed-waist shorts. Prints were colorful cartoon graphics, neon “pop art” themes, abstract geometrics, Hawaiian themes, and my favorite “splatter paint.” The subtle colors of the early ’80s were replaced by a rainbow of primary hues in the late 1980s. You may noticed these funky prints are back in style now, too.
The colorful ’80s continued into the early ’90s with even more unique prints: bold vertical rugby stripes, colorblocking, and brand logos such as Gecko, Pacific Swimwear, and O’Neil became required swimwear. All swim shorts were now elastic waist with gradually lengthening shorts.
Crinkle cotton or nylon replaced heavier pre-90s fabrics. They dried quickly, although the dry texture wasn’t very nice next to the skin.
Men’s beach pants also circled back into fashion in the 1990s. This time, they were called harem pants. They fit with an elastic waist, full leg, two pockets, and an elastic cuff. Bold prints and ethnic patterns matched those of swimwear trends.
- Men’s 1970s Retro Workout Clothes
- 1920s Men’s Swimwear History
- A 1930s-1950s History of Men’s Swimsuits
- Men’s Fashion of the 1980s
Buy Retro Swim Trunks
Many of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 19980s men’s swim trunks have come back in fashion. You can find short knit 60s shorts, fixed waist 70s shorts, 80s colorful prints, and 90s colorblocking. Cabana shirts too. The only thing you wont find is a high waist. These are some men’s retro swim shorts in vintage cuts and prints to get you started:
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.