Men's swimwear has evolved over the decades from ultraconservative fashions due to the cultural taboos that forbade the exposure of the chest in the 1800s to the modern trunks we see today. The 1930s marked a turning point in men's swimwear fashion, as people sought to do away with the one-piece suit in favour of two-piece outfits and, eventually, the topless look.
Lycra one-piece suits were the first to enter the scene, and while they still covered the chest, they offered men the first opportunity to break away from the norm. The suits utilised a newly invented rubberised thread known as Lycra, and companies began making snugger swimming costumes to create more of a "nude look" while still keeping the one-piece suit. These suits made swimming much easier.
The topless taboo remained strong throughout the 1930s, but the Topper, a swimsuit created in 1932, marked the evolution away from the trend. The Topper featured a two-tone belted wool suit with a top that a man could zipper into an athletic supporter, or leave off altogether. Athletic supports, also called "Sunaka" supports, were popular as they were sewn directly into the trunks, giving the wearer the appearance of a more fit body.
Jockey bathing trunks made their way into France in 1935 as a swimsuit completely sans top, a look that failed to gain traction in America at first. Companies streamlined the trunks to give them a more "dressed" look in an attempt to gain public acceptance by creating the appearance of a fly front and a belt and buckle. Still, the issue of toplessness remained controversial, as some bare-chested men were banned from Atlantic City, N.J. beaches in 1936.
As the decade progressed, men's swimwear fashion eventually settled on the one-piece belted suit with no top, although many men continued to wear two-piece suits. The new suit was a prelude to a new era in American swimwear history, as the tops all but disappeared in the coming decades and the one-piece evolved into what it is today.
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