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Friday, April 8, 2011

The Man Who Invented Speedos

Peter Travis, who is (naturally!) gay.

It has been 50 years since Travis designed that ultimate symbol of Australian life, the Speedo brief. Unaware of the impact his design would have on both the worlds of fashion and sport, Travis’ novel idea was simply to design a swimsuit you could actually swim in.

Speaking to Sydney Star Observer at a retrospective of his design work held at the Bondi Pavilion Gallery during NSW Seniors Week, Travis pulled out the swimsuit he wore as a young man in 1950s Manly. Made of cotton and stretching down the body like a tank top, with matching cotton shorts, it isn’t hard to imagine how liberating the introduction of some very brief briefs must have been.

“It was designed quite practically, not with fashion in mind,” Travis said. “I realised you shouldn’t have anything around your waist that would twist when you swim. The only way you could stop that would be to end the cut on your hips. It’s designed as a purely functional object.”

When Speedo Australia poached Travis from rival company Jantzen in 1960, he entered a company lacking in vision.

“When I first went into the design department, they were making all these dowdy, old-fashioned things. The man in charge really wasn’t a designer. A very nice man, and good at producing catalogues, but really their progression was about one year having four buttons on a piece, and the next year only having three,” he recalled.

“The first thing they showed me was a pair of shorts and a shirt with a Hawaiian motif. I said, ‘I’m sorry, but in the next year, everyone around the world is going to have this. A good designer never follows anyone. I will create a new fashion … I want to design a swimsuit you can swim in’. ”

Originally designed in three different sizes to accommodate different levels of modesty, the Bondi Beach swimsuit inspector was still outraged by the costume’s briefness. The inspector’s enviable task was to wander the beach, tape measure in hand, measuring people’s swimwear.

The first wearers of the now standard swimsuit were carted off on indecent exposure charges.  One wise magistrate dismissed a case on the grounds that if there was no pubic hair in public view, no harm was done.

The design has remained the choice of swimmers over the decades — real swimmers, as Travis reminded beach-goers wandering through the gallery.

Travis interrupted our interview to tell one hapless young man who had wandered in wearing board shorts, “Real swimmers wear briefs. I call those things poop-pants.”

“I’ve heard people saying things like, ‘Oh, that fat old man looks terrible in a pair of Speedos,’ and I don’t like that.

“The point is, he looks just as bad in anything else, but he shouldn’t be criticised because he wants to wear something to swim in. He’s not there for people to look at. Why shouldn’t a person who wants to swim wear that and not be criticised?”

Original article here, another blog post here.


jimboylan2 said...

Of course, comic book Super Heroes and circus Trapeze Artists were wearing this cut of trunk much earlier, but probably of thicker material, and often with a belt instead of a drawstring.

Nikolaos said...

Agreed. Which is perhaps why I spent my childhood lusting after Superman, without at all realising what was going on. I wonder how many gay-shaded blokes first fell in love with a superhero?

jimboylan2 said...

I did as you wondered. It helped that I 1st found DC comic book heroes like Superman, instead of the competing Marvel comics. Many of their characters are drawn and clothed so they seem less endowed in a manly sense.