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Out at Sea in His Search for Swimwear

June 23, 1988|DON G. CAMPBELL

Question: What's happened to styles in men's swimming suits? Every store I go in and every catalogue I look at, it's the same story: You can't tell whether you are in the men's swimming suit department or in the section set aside for runners or in the section selling soccer uniforms--everything posing as "swimming trunks" bags halfway down to the knees!

While I don't set any records, I go into the water to swim, and nothing drives me crazier than to have a lot of cloth flapping around my legs--especially with cute surfing prints on them. I want my trunks close-fitting and with about a five-inch side seam. The only close-fitting trunks you can find today are bikinis with a one- or two-inch side seam.

In the past I've always relied on Speedo to have at least one model available with the five-inch side seam, but now Speedo has apparently abandoned me too. In at least a dozen stores I've shopped, the only Speedos I can find are bikinis with only enough material in them to stop a mild nosebleed.

I know that styles change, but I've never seen such an all-out shift--either go swimming in a pair of knickers or find a deserted pool where there's no one around to laugh at you and go the bikini route. What's a man to do?--E.W.

Answer: You sort of tipped your hand, age-wise, when you used the word knickers . You've got to be middle-aged, at least, to even remember those schoolboy pants with their elastic cuffs just above the knees. What you are looking for--the tight-fitting trunks with the five-inch side seam--are known in the trade as dive suits. And the name tells it all: Here is a pair of swimming trunks that you can wear with assurance that when you dive into a pool and resurface, you and your trunks will still be an entity.

This is more than can be said for a lot of baggy trunks with their water-drag factor and with less-than-perfect elastic around the waist. (The dive suit is also known in the trade as a training bikini--for the man who likes the snugness of the bikini but who can't yet bring himself to that much exposure.)

The problem in your search, according to Terry Allen, president of Speedo America, a division of Warnaco Inc., is that you're looking in the wrong kind of store. You're looking in traditional retail and sporting goods stores instead of swim specialty stores, Allen says.

"Traditional stores go by the demographics--they cater to the young swimmer who is very trendy and to the older customers who simply aren't all that much into swimming as a form of exercise in the first place," he continues. For young swimmers, trendy (at the moment) translates as baggy.

And no, neither Speedo nor any other manufacturer of men's swimming trunks that Allen knows of has really deserted you. "The 5-inch dive suit has always been a popular style for us, and we've got no fewer than nine different prints and patterns in the 78%-22% Lycra/nylon blend and another one that's 100% nylon," Allen says.

Speedo America, after many years in the swimming suit business, finally moved its headquarters last summer from Portland, Ore., to a town that really takes its swimming seriously--Santa Monica. What you've got to do in your dive-suit search, though, is to zero in on stores in which swimming--fitness swimming, in fact--is the major focus, not weightlifting, camping equipment, golf or tennis. Swimming, period.

If you don't find such a place in the Yellow Pages under "Swimming Suits--Retail" or "Swimwear & Accessories," look under "Sporting Goods," but keep alert for the stores emphasizing swimwear or billing themselves as swim-team specialists. You don't find school swimming teams working out in baggy shorts with "cute surfing prints" on them. As a case in point, Allen mentions Scuba Haus in Santa Monica, where, obviously, swimming has to be the focal point.

"Knickers"? I think I'll forget you said that.

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