When a man wears a Speedo, he's not just "wearing a bathing suit" or "ready for a swim." He's wearing a Speedo. And even though Speedo is technically a brand—with a full range of performance-based swimwear and accessories, thank you—the brand is synonymous with its tight, revealing, freeing, brief. It's known for the brief because it's the standout piece of swimwear. There's no statement-making quite like a Speedo statement-making. When a man wears a Speedo, it's a thing.
Well, at least in America. European and South American men have been wearing the suit without stigma for years. Athletes wear them, too. So why is the simple swimwear such a shock to see at a pool party or, say, on your dad? And is it ever truly acceptable to wear one? This is what swimwear experts had to say.
Performance Comes First
When it comes to peak performance, there is no better option. "It's been an iconic silhouette in both the fashion and sports world," says Giorgi Duvall, vice president of merchandising and design at Speedo softgoods at PVH. "In America, we see it a lot in competitive swimming, diving, or water polo. It creates freedom of movement and support."
Five-time gold medalist Nathan Adrian confirmed the Speedo's practical use for sport. "So much of the water is a feel thing—you feel how your body reacts to it," says Adrian. "I need my skin to touch the water. When you're actually swimming, there's no question a Speedo is faster."
There's another practical Speedo movement happening a bit out of sight: Guys are layering Speedo briefs under longer trunks for added support, or to cover up until they get into the water. "I see that a lot in places like the Hamptons," says George Sotelo, founder of Thorsun swimwear. "Guys wear the shorts over briefs because you're really exposed in a Speedo."
It seems the brief's practical support or performance use is the gateway to wearing a Speedo as a style statement. "I think it still starts in competitive swimming and then leaps into fashion," says Duvall.
Adrian seems to exemplify that idea exactly. "It started off as a uniform thing for me," he says. "As a typical shy kid, I'd wear a blue or black Speedo so nothing stood out. Now, it's much less something that I want to hide or not have people notice. It's a little bit more of a statement."
Know Your Environment
Speaking of statements: No one knows the statement piece better than Europeans. "Europeans are all about the tan lines," says Adrian. "I've traveled all over the place, and it's totally normal to have a ton of dudes in Speedos."
Sotelo sees the European approach influencing styles in the states. "I think American men are starting to become more comfortable with shorter shorts," says Sotelo. "The European influence is coming into America, and will continue to do so."
Still, we're not all the way there in the States. And sure, if you're surrounded by a bunch of deeply tanned European dudes in their array of banana hammocks, you won't raise any eyebrows in your own Speedo. But in America today, the more conservative environment makes a brief look like the odd one out.
"Be aware of your environment," says Sotelo. "It can be aggressive and overly sexual if you wear it when it's not appropriate. If I have a pool party at my house, and everyone is in more conservative trunks, don't be the dude in the Speedo. You will be the peacock."
Which, depending on your personality, might be the look you're going for exactly. In which case…
Confidence is Key
As with all things style related, you have to know the rules before you can break them. What does this mean for Speedo wearing? Well, it means it's a conscious, confident decision that you make. A brief might not fit the norm (duh). You might—make that will—get some comments and questions, sure. But if you do wear one? Damn does that show nerve.
"The brief is the sign of confidence," says Duvall of Speedo. "It's as much of a sign of confidence on an elite swimmer as it is a sign of confidence on a gentleman in South Beach."
Nathan Adrian sees things similarly. "You totally just got to rock it," he says. "The level of confidence you have is clutch. If you just walk around like it's normal, then it is normal."
Sotelo of Thorsun, a proponent of men being adventurous (and comfortable doing so), says wearing a Speedo is the ultimate sign of self-confidence, and the unequivocally best way to highlight those hours at the gym.
"I'm super jealous of guys in Speedos because they don't care what people think, and that's awesome," says Sotelo. "If you're wearing a Speedo, you have to have some level of confidence because it's such a statement. So if you look good and you can fill it out, why not? Go for it."
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.