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BOARDSHORTS: IN THE BEGINNING


Outrigger Canoe Club
 
Men’s swimwear, in fact swimwear in general, has a comparatively short history dating back not much farther than 150 years. Before then if you went “bathing” then you most likely did so in the nude. At the turn of the 19th Century conservative attitudes required that men wear bathing suits when swimming in public, particularly on beaches, and these regulations prompted several companies to begin producing knitted woolen bathing suits, often one piece tank suits.  Wool was the chosen material because it was able to stretch and did not absorb as much water as cotton, despite not being as hard wearing.  By the 1930s tanned skin had started to become more fashionable as it became increasingly associated with having the wealth to travel and enjoy a variety of leisurely pursuits, to the point where the desire for a tanned torso eventually saw the abolition of the upper half of men’s bathing suits.

As surfing experienced a revival in Hawaii and spread to the mainland USA and Australia in the first half of the 20th century, the requirement for suitable shorts caused many surfers to take matters into their own hands as none were commercially available.  In Hawaii surfers would visit specialist Japanese tailors to have a pair of shorts made to measure.  Stores such as H. Miura’s in Haleiwa, Take’s in Waikiki or M. Nii’s in Makaha specialized in making palaka shirts for workers on the sugar cane plantations and diversified into producing shorts from the same material. Palaka was the name given to the cut of the shirt, however the name became synonymous with the cotton plaid fabric featuring a woven check that most of the shirts were made from, and which was popular because it was so hard wearing – a valuable characteristic to hard-up surfers who lived in their shorts day-in, day-out.  Palaka shirts are the direct predecessors to Aloha shirts. 

 

Palaka Short - Honolulu Museum of Art

 

Over in California, meanwhile, many surfers wore cut-down military surplus Navy whites, again chosen for their durability and because they could be cut to fit, allowing slightly longer shorts suitable for paddling and straddling a surfboard. The theory behind wearing longer shorts for surfing was that if your shorts were too short you were liable to rip your legs off whilst sat on your waxed surfboard waiting for waves. Through the 1940s wartime fabric shortages meant that shorts were, well, short, however in the post-war years shorts returned to being commissioned and produced with function and comfort in mind.  
 
As surfing began to boom in the late 50s and early 60s dedicated boardshort producers began to appear in Australia and California, companies that would go on to become major players in the then-fledgling surf industry such as Hang Ten and Ocean Pacific. In 1969 Alan Green, Carol McDonald and Tim Davis launched Quiksilver in Australia, starting out by using two “snaps” and Velcro to fasten their shorts rather than belts or a drawstring. In 1973 the Australian boardshort industry doubled in size when Gordon and Rena Merchant started Billabong out of their flat in Burleigh on the Gold Coast, and from there a rivalry developed between the two companies that led to innovations such as the yoke waist and scallop leg, providing a fit tailored to the needs of surfers and current fashions. With the eighties came loud prints, and by the nineties short lengths had increased again to a near impractical length, however boardshorts and men’s swimwear has now returned to a happy medium.
 
As a result of this rich history that we’re able to draw from, we offer three different styles of men’s short taking our cues from classic board shorts, tailoring and timeless patterns and covering a range of requirements, from beach, to board, to bar.

 

     

 

 

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Sunny Cove Studios
London
UK