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MEN OF THE CLOTH
The Evolution of Surf Trunks from One-Piece to Many
1900 VICTORIA’S SCRATCHY
In the beginning, there was
wool. Through the first third of the 20th Century, and right up to
World War II, swim and bathing wear for men and women was influenced by
Victoria’s secret. That secret was wool, because Victoria was Queen
Victoria, the iron maiden of England who ruled from 1857 to 1901 with
an iron hand. Queen Victoria was all about modesty and manners and
proper living, and her influence extended to all corners of her empire
and to the water’s edge. Public bathing became popular and England and
around the world in the last half of the 19th Century, but the
Victorian mind was more than a little uneasy about men and women mixing
in swimming togs. Victoria’s secret at the turn of the 19th
Century to the 20th was the opposite of now. Her secret was modesty.
Her Majesty was a prude. Anything relating to sex was kept underground
and in the cabinet, and that prudence extended to the waterline – to
what men and women wore when they went for a bather in a swimming pool
or a creek or a lake or the ocean.
In Victorian times, women
were wheeled to the water’s edge in bathing machines, which were
changing rooms on wheels. Victorian men would line the rails of piers
with telescopes to get a glimpse of forbidden fruit in that brief
transition from bathing machine to water – not that there was much to
see. The Victorian swimsuits were as revealing as Muslim Haz Mat suits.
When the suits were wet they absorbed pounds of water which made
swimming difficult, and when they were wet they were form-fitting,
which gave Victorian men some jollies.
Before wool there was cotton
and silk and flax, but because wool was the foundation of the English
economy from the 18th Century into the 19th, wool was Victoria’s
Queen Victoria died in 1901
but her influence extended far into the 20th Century – to all of the
British Empire and in effect all of the civilized world, even to
Tourist in Waikiki, styling
in the fashion of the 1920s.
1906 THOMAS ALVA EDISON IN
In 1906, Thomas Alva Edison
sent a film crew all the way to the Hawaiian Islands to make an
“Actuality” film to show the wonders of the American territory to the
rest of the country. In 1906, motion picture cameras were no more than
20 years old, but the images the crew shot are surprisingly good, and
show the fashion attitude to water at the turn of the century.
In the very first shot,
there is a “Panoramic View, Waikiki Beach, Honolulu” in which the
camera operator stands on the beach at Waikiki and turns in a complete
circle. On land there are men and women properly dressed, the men in
suits and white skimmers, the women in full battle dress – buttoned up
to the neck, the wrists and the ankles.
As the pan continues, there
are images of the water and a lot of people frolicking in the water on
outrigger canoes, small alaia boards and regular double-ended canoes.
The men are all wearing one-piece tanksuits and there are glimpses of a
couple women wearing the full Victorian rig – bloomers and skirts and
as little flesh as possible.
Other ocean images in the
Actuality show bare-chested “Kanaka fishermen casting throw nets”
wearing what appear to be cutoff pants. There is a shot of a wooden
platform called “The Float” with about three dozen boys and teenagers
swarming all over it, throwing each other off, playing King of the
Hill. Most of these young men are wearing the tanksuits, with
occasional glimpses of someone skinning it from the waist up.
And after that there are
images of “Surf Riders, Waikiki Beach, Honolulu.” These could be the
first ever moving-images of surfing, and they show more than a dozen
surfers on alaia boards in head-high, offshore surf at what is probably
canoes. These guys are surfing, and one of them is even doing a 1906
version of the Huntington Hop. These surfers are shot too far away to
detail what they were wearing, but the all appear to be in tanksuits as
From the Bishop Museum
George Freeth circa 1907?
1907 GEORGE FREETH FROM
HAWAII TO CALIFORNIA
In a 1907 travel piece in
Woman's Home Companion -- of all places -- Jack London tipped the world
off to a secret. He depicted a small group of Hawaiian beach boys who
took part in what he called, "a royal sport for the natural kings of
earth." Through journalist and Outrigger Canoe Club founder Alexander
Hume Ford, London was introduced to a 23-year-old Irish-Hawaiian named
George Freeth. London recollects his first vision of Freeth: "Shaking
the water from my eyes as I emerged from one wave and peered ahead to
see what the next one looked like, I saw him tearing in on the back of
it, standing upright with his board, carelessly poised, a young god
bronzed with sunburn." Thanks to London's grandiose promotion, Freeth
soon made history.
Electric Railway and Henry E. Huntington needed a gimmick. They were
having trouble selling seats on the Los Angeles-Redondo route that
boasted a new saltwater plunge at its terminus. After reading London's
Hawaiian encounters, they hired Freeth as the world's first
professional surfer. He conducted demonstrations at Redondo Beach
during the spring of 1907, establishing himself as Southern
California's first surfer. (A trio of Hawaiian princes, attending
military school in San Mateo, had surfed Santa Cruz in 1885). He
continued to amaze spectators along the coast at spots from Balboa
Beach to Palos Verdes.
Freeth stayed in California,
becoming the first official lifeguard in the United States and
inventing a lifesaving device still used today. He saved countless
lives with his bravery, including seven Japanese fishermen whose boat
was being swept to sea during a winter storm in the Santa Monica Bay.
In recognition, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the
Carnegie Medal for Bravery and the U.S. Life Saving Corps Gold Medal. A
fishing village near Port Angeles in Washington was even named after
Freeth's life came to an
abrupt end after several rescues during a winter storm in Oceanside in
1919. He contracted influenza and died at 35. A small bust of Freeth
rests along the boardwalk in Redondo Beach. Although it hails him as
one who "revived the lost Polynesian art of surfing," Freeth's
surfer-for-hire roots have grown into the million-dollar fruits that
surfers such as Kelly Slater are enjoying today. -- Jason Borte,
1907 IN AUSTRALIA FROM LEGENDARY SURFERS
1907 IN AUSTRALIA, ACCORDING TO NAT
The issue of nudity being
the first controversy over surfing attire, or lack thereof, the second
one occurred in Australia, in 1907, at Waverly, Randwick and Manly
beaches. Although stand-up board surfing was yet to arrive, Australians
were getting serious about body surfing. The mayors of these
communities issued “a directive that all bathers, irrespective of sex,
had to wear skirts!” Marveled Nat Young in his History of Surfing.
“This was provoked by the fact that men were lying on the beach wearing
V trunks and women were wearing light, gauzy material which when wet
clung too closely to be ‘decent!’ The councils decreed that surfers
should wear a costume which consisted of ‘a guernsey with trouser legs,
reaching from the elbow to the bend of the knee, together with a skirt,
not unsightly, attached to the garment, covering the figure from hips
to knees’... both sexes had to be covered apron-fashion.
“Needless to say, the
bathing public would have none of this. In order to mock the
regulations the bathers organized a march from Bondi to the city, with
a dead seagull on a stick as a banner. Many men wore petticoats, some
with yards of lace and embroidery trailing in the dust behind. Some
wore red flannels; others decorated themselves with ballet frills
around their bulging bellies. A few wore chaff bags with the ends
lopped off or kitchen curtains. It was a hilarious occasion, with the
law flaunted once again; after that the Australian authorities fell in
with what was being worn in Europe and America, and local surfers wore
woolen neck-to-knee costumes.”
ANNETTE KELLERMAN IN 1907
In 1907, Australian swimmer
Annette Kellerman traveled to Australia as an “underwater ballerina” –
an ancestor of synchronized swimming, She wore a swimsuit that showed
arms, legs, neck and bust, and it got her busted in Boston. Once she
got sprung, Kellerman modified the suit with longer arms and legs and
covered the neck, but the form-fit began to catch on.
Annette Kellermann shocks the
In 1910, John and Roy
Zehntbauer and Carl Jantzen founded the Portland Knitting Company to
produce a wool-knit suit for rowers that became popular with swimmers.
The suit became known as a “Jantzen” and in 1918 the company changed
its name to Jantzen Knitting Mills.
Duke Kahanamoku was born in
1890 and grew up in the middle of all this. As a native Hawaiian, Duke
was right at home surfing in a loin cloth and probably surfed starkers
when the mood hit him, and people weren’t around.
But by 1912, Duke was
22-years-old and one of the fastest swimmers in the world. He traveled
through America and across the Atlantic to compete in the Olympic Games
in Sweden and caused a big sensation.
At the 1912 Olympics, Duke
swam in a suit that was built for speed. This was a one-piece suit, far
from a modern Speedo, but it was skin-tight, made of ???? and helped
him win the Gold medal and become the toast of the Olympic games, along
with fellow American minority, redman Jim Thorpe.
Duke Kahanamoku savagely
noble in his sleek speed suit in a 1915 postcard.
Duke’s suit was considered
risqué for the times but when you understand the times, you
JACK LONDON 1915
Jack and Charmian London in
The water that rolls in on
Waikiki Beach is just the same as the water that laves the shores of
all the Hawaiian Islands; and in ways, especially from the swimmer's
standpoint, it is wonderful water. It is cool enough to be comfortable,
while it is warm enough to permit a swimmer to stay in all day without
experiencing a chill. Under the sun or the stars, at high noon or at
midnight, in midwinter or in midsummer, it does not matter when, it is
always the same temperature -- not too warm, not too cold, just right.
It is wonderful water, salt as old ocean itself, pure and crystal
clear. When the nature of the water is considered, it is not so
remarkable after all that the Kanakas are one of the most expert of
By Jack London from The Cruise of
the Snark - 1911
When Jack London went
surfing at Waikiki in 1907, he wore a tanksuit, caught a couple of
waves and sunburned his legs. London talked about surfing and the water
and George Freeth, but he didn’t
Ida Barton was the cause of
their perturbation and disapproval. They disapproved, seriously so, at
the first instant's glimpse of her. They thought--such ardent
self-deceivers were they--that they were shocked by her swimming suit.
But Freud has pointed out how persons, where sex is involved, are prone
sincerely to substitute one thing for another thing, and to agonize
over the substituted thing as strenuously as if it were the real thing.
Ida Barton's swimming suit
was a very nice one, as women's suits go. Of thinnest of firm-woven
black wool, with white trimmings and a white belt-line, it was
high-throated, short-sleeved, and brief- skirted. Brief as was the
skirt, the leg-tights were no less brief. Yet on the beach in front of
the adjacent Outrigger Club, and entering and leaving the water, a
score of women, not provoking gasping notice, were more daringly
garbed. Their men's suits, as brief of leg-tights and skirts, fitted
them as snugly, but were sleeveless after the way of men's suits, the
arm-holes deeply low- cut and in-cut, and, by the exposed armpits,
advertiseful that the wearers were accustomed to 1916 decollete.
So it was not Ida Barton's
suit, although the women deceived themselves into thinking it was. It
was, first of all, say her legs; or, first of all, say the totality of
her, the sweet and brilliant jewel of her femininity bursting upon
them. Dowager, matron, and maid, conserving their soft-fat muscles or
protecting their hot-house complexions in the shade of the hau-tree
arbour, felt the immediate challenge of her. She was menace as well, an
affront of superiority in their own chosen and variously successful
game of life.
But they did not say it.
They did not permit themselves to think it. They thought it was the
suit, and said so to one another, ignoring the twenty women more
daringly clad but less perilously beautiful. Could one have winnowed
out of the souls of these disapproving ones what lay at bottom of their
condemnation of her suit, it would have been found to be the
sex-jealous thought: THAT NO WOMAN, SO BEAUTIFUL AS THIS ONE, SHOULD BE
PERMITTED TO SHOW HER BEAUTY. It was not fair to them. What chance had
they in the conquering of males with so dangerous a rival in the
The Kanaka Surf by Jack
Bathing beauties circa 1918.
In May of 1917, the American
Association of Park Superintendents had their last convention in New
Orleans. The report of the Committee on Bathing Suit Regulations
suggested these regulations for all across America.
No all-white or
flesh-colored suits permitted, or suits that expose the chest lower
than a line drawn on a level with the armpits.
Blouse and bloomer suits may
be worn, with or without stockings, provided the blouse has quarter-arm
sleeves or close-fitting arm holes, and provided bloomers are full and
not shorter than four inches above the knee.
Jersey knit suits may be
worn, with or without stockings, provided the suit has a skirt or skirt
effect, with quarter-arm sleeves or close-fitting arm holes and trunks
not shorter than four inches above the knee, and the bottom of skirt
must not be shorter than two inches above the bottom of the trunks.
Men's suits must have skirt
or skirt effect, or shirt worn outside of trunks, except when flannel
knee pants with belt and fly front are used. Trunks must not be shorter
than four inches above the knee, and the skirt or shirt must not be
shorter than two inches above the bottom of trunks.
Wool knit swimsuit circa 1920.
Beach fashion circa 1910.
Men were not quite as
constrained as women, but the Victorian influence was part of the
reason it was considered improper for men to bare their chests in
public until the middle 30s. That is why all of those early surfing
photos from Hawaii, California and elsewhere show men wearing those one
piece tank-tops. It wasn’t just fashion, it was the law – in England,
America and all civilized places.
Wherever England – and then
America – colonized, civilization and modesty followed, with Western
morals Adam and Eveing savage cultures around the world.
By the 20s, Jantzen Knitting
Mills was now known as Jantzen and they were the market leader in men’s
swim suits. Responding to the needs of a rowing club member who needed
a suit that would move with him, not against him, in 1921,
Jantzen patented a process called “the rib stitch” which moved the
functional swimsuit into the modern era.
Jantzen has always been a
clever marketer. One of their earliest and longest-running slogans was
"the Suit that Changed Bathing to Swimming." In 1923 Jantzen
established the red Diving Girl as their logo, and it became extremely
popular around the world as a sticker on automobile windows. Jantzen
was just as active in men’s swimsuits as women’s.
Meanwhile, Duke Kahanamoku
was continuing to kick the world’s okole in the pool. At the 1920
Olympics in Antwerp, Duke won Gold in the 100 yard freestyle and the
relay. At Paris in 1924, Duke took a silver in the 100 yard freestyle,
the gold going to Johnny Weissmuller and the bronze to Duke’s brother
Sam. Duke and Weissmuller became fast friends, and when Weissmuller
came to Hawaii, Duke took him surfing.
Johnny Weissmuller and Duke,
fast friends at the 1924 Olympics.
Rayon was the first
manufactured fiber developed, it made from wood or cotton pulp and was
first known as artificial silk. The Swiss chemist, Georges Audemars
invented the first crude artificial silk around 1855, by dipping a
needle into liquid mulberry bark pulp and gummy rubber to make threads.
The method was too slow to be practical.
In 1884, a French chemist,
Hilaire de Charbonnet, Comte de Chardonnay, patented an artificial silk
that was a cellulose-based fabric known as Chardonnay silk." Pretty but
very flammable, it was removed from the market.
In 1894, British inventors,
Charles Cross, Edward Bevan, and Clayton Beadle, patented a safe a
practical method of making artificial silk that came to be known as
viscose rayon. Avtex Fibers Incorporated first commercially
produced artificial silk or rayon in 1910 in the United States. The
term "rayon" was first used in 1924.
Rayon was the first
manufactured fiber. It was developed in France in the 1890s and was
originally called "artificial silk." In 1924, the term rayon was
officially adopted by the textile industry. Unlike most man-made
fibers, rayon is not synthetic. It is made from wood pulp, a
naturally-occurring, cellulose-based raw material. As a result, rayon's
properties are more similar to those of natural cellulosic fibers, such
as cotton or linen, than those of thermoplastic, petroleum-based
synthetic fibers such as nylon or polyester.
Although rayon is made from
wood pulp, a relatively inexpensive and renewable resource, processing
requires high water and energy use, and has contributed to air and
water pollution. Modernization of manufacturing plants and processes
combined with availability of raw materials has increased rayon's
competitiveness in the market.
At one time, rayon and
cotton competed for similar end uses. Although rayon is a relatively
inexpensive fiber, cotton prices are considerably lower, giving it a
competitive advantage over rayon. Rayon's versatility as a fiber and
relatively low cost have increased its use in blending, but also
encouraged its use in lower quality fabrics and garments—the
performance of which has sometimes tarnished the image of rayon.
Rayon's many desirable properties, however, have made it a choice for
some designer and high-end apparel.
LASTEX IN 1925
Swimwear began to loosen up
in the Roaring 20s with the invention of Lastex. This was a rubber core
wound with rayon, nylon, silk, or cotton thread. Lastex was a giant
step away from wool, and it allowed designers to make clothing that was
still legal, but more functional and comfortable.
COLE, CATALINA AND JANTZEN
With the invention of Lastex a
number of companies began to establish themselves in the growing
marketplace for comfortable, fashionable swimwear.
Three of the top names in
American swimwear all started out as knitwear companies. Portland
Knitting Mills became Jantzen, West Coast Knitting mills made the Cole
of California swimsuits and Catalina swimwear was produced by Bentz
Knitting Mills, later to rename themselves Pacific Knitting Mills.
For many years swimwear was
knitted from wool and each of these companies found ways of
incorporating a form of elastic, known as Lastex into the weave, which
resulted in a more figure-hugging and flattering garment. Many of the
big swimwear companies developed their own form of Lastex and claimed a
patent. Cole’s was Matletex, and the company went on to develop a
version of Spandex, originally devised by DuPont who patented the trade
Fred Cole secured the
services of famous swimming Hollywood star Esther Williams to promote
his swimwear in the early 50’s. Cole himself was a product of Hollywood
having been a silent movie star in the 20’s before entering the
swimwear industry, via West Coast Knitting Mills which was owned by his
Using his Hollywood contacts
to the full introduced him to designer Margit Felligi, who joined Cole
in 1936 and maintained her design leadership for the company for the
next thirty-six years. During this time she created such note-worthies
as the Swoon and the Scandal suit. The first was a product of the war
years and was made from parachute silk (the company made parachutes for
the government) and the second was a one-piece, launched in the
mid-60’s that had net-panels on its front and sides. This gave the
viewer more than just a peak at the body underneath. Cole’s daughter
Anne followed in his footsteps and became one of the most famous
Cole even persuaded Dior to
design a swimwear collection for the company in 1955. At first Dior was
reluctant, pleading that he knew nothing of swimwear to which Cole
responded “You’re a designer aren’t you? So design.’ Not being able to
argue with that logic Dior complied and produced his one and only
Catalina used promotional
tactics to build its swimwear reputation. Unlike Cole, which was all
about Hollywood glamour and Jantzen, which had a sporty profile and
promoted itself by sponsoring swimming education programmes, Catalina
founded the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants as product promotion
tools, giving it access to a wide audience. Catalina’s styles (Mary Ann
DeWeese headed design and went on to form her own company) largely
appealed to the girl next door and her mother; although at one stage it
too enlisted the services of movie wardrobe designers to include Edith
In the Bishop Museum archive
there are scores of photographs and many hours of movie footage showing
the transition of Waikiki and Hawaii from the turn of the 19th Century,
to World War II. There is a lot of surfing in all these newsreels and
private movies, because one of the things to do in Hawaii at the time
was go to Waikiki and take a surfing lesson or a surfboard or outrigger
canoe ride with the Beach Boys.
As the movies progress through
the teens, twenties and thirties, you can see a gradual easing of the
men’s bathing suit fashion – from tanksuits to trunks, with some
Hawaiians and even a few haole riding the wild surf in loincloths.
A Burton Holmes Film Reel
shot at Waikiki in 1928 shows tourists taking outrigger canoe rides and
a lot of guys out surfing. There is an equal mix of brown and white
skin and these guys are really surfing, taking off on finless alaia
boards and cutting a nice angle to the left with Diamond Head in the
background. Most of the surfers are wearing those one-piece tanksuits
but more than a few of them are surfing bare-chested, getting into the
whole Roaring 20s thing and throwing convention to the offshore winds.
In this footage there are
shots of women tandem surfing with the Kahanamoku brothers and other
Beach Boys, and these modern women are wearing considerably less than
their ancestors at the turn of the century. No bloomers or skirts, most
of the women look like flappers, on the water.
￼THE 30S: TOM, DUKE AND
Tom Blake trunking it in
1930, with his Hawaiian quiv.
USE TOM BLAKE FOR THE
TRANSITION FROM THE 20S TO 30S
Tom Blake was not camera
shy. Through his life – from ???? to ???? – he was photographed often
and a lot,
In the 30s, Rayon joined
Lastex as the synthetic material of choice, and now it was those plus
cotton and silk which took off where wool had left off.
A Jantzen Speedaire ad for 1932.
In the 30s, the swimwear
market began to heat up as Jantzen was challenged by BVD and others.
Jantzen catalogs featured Hollywood stars Loretta Young, Joan Blondell,
Ginger Rogers and Dick Powell and Jantzen ran a popular series of
magazine ads illustrated by George Petty showing handsome men and
shapely women in Jantzen.
In 1931, Jantzen got
downright kinky when they introduced the “Shouldaire” – an internal
drawstring above the bustline which allowed the shoulder straps to be
dropped for tanning.
That same year, Olympian
Johnny Weissmuller – who had retired from amateur competition after the
1928 Olympics - jumped ship from Jantzen to B.V.D to promote its
swimwear line. Weissmuller was paid $500 a week for five years which
was a great deal of money then. He toured the country giving swimming
exhibitions and promoting the product, which had been improved and
innovated by Weissmuller.
The Olympic swimmer was
friends with Duke Kahanamoku and was just as interested in form as
function. Weissmuller asked for a lower cut on the arm hole, a natural
waist and a fuller seat. This resulted in the first pair of bathing
trunks. They came out in France first, but had to be dressed up for the
American market with a false fly front and belts. Weissmuller’s
arrangement with BVD resulted in the first commercially available surf
trunks – which weren’t connected to a chest-covering top. In the early
30s this sort of thing wasn’t acceptable still in America, so they were
first sold in France.
Weissmuller went Hollywood
at the end of the 20s. He was supposed to appear as Adam – wearing a
fig leaf for the finale of Glorifying the American Girl – but BVD
protested to Paramount and the scene was cut. Three years later,
Weissmuller starred in the first of the Tarzan series Tarzan, the Ape
Man in 1932. Not even the censors could get Tarzan into a tanksuit, and
the shirtless Olympian in a loin cloth in a very popular movie series
helped bare the way toward bare chests in public.
DON JAMES PHOTOS, DOC BALL
SURF TRUNKS CIRCA 1939
The Don James photography
book Surfing San Onofre to Point Dume 1936 – 1942, begins the year that
tanksuits ended so in all the surfing photos there is not one,
one-piece suit and a lot of brawny men showing off their chests in surf
trunks that were closer to Speedos or BVD’s – and would definitely
start fights these days. In one photo taken at San Onofre in 1939, the
caption reads: “Peanuts Larson is modeling a pair of Doc Ball-designed
surf trunks. They afforded freedom of motion and were as durable as all
get out. The mass-produced “swimming trunks” that were sold during the
period could not withstand the thrashing that surfers subjected them
to. Ball showed us the pattern and we all stitched them up.”
THIS SHOULD GO TO TOM BLAKE AND
SURF TRUNKS IN 1935
1934 BISHOP MUSEUM TANKSUIT
Kodak introduced Kodacolor
movie film for amateur cinematographers in 1928. In the Bishop Museum
there is a color movie made in 1934 by The Hawaii Tourist Bureau called
The Island Of Oahu: Territory of Hawaii, USA. The titles for the movie
are laid over a color image of men surfing Waikiki with Diamond Head in
the background. None of the men are wearing one-piece tanksuits, which
suggests Hawaii was a little ahead of the times, as it was still
considered improper for a man to bare his chest in public on a beach on
Further along in the movie
there is a shot of the Royal Hawaiian looking pink and regal on the
beach in Waikiki, during a time when that was one of the most
treasured, exotic tourist locations on the planet.
Then there is surfing, a lot
of surfing in good waves at Canoes, shot in color from outrigger canoes
and you can see fashion starting to split between Old Schoolers still
wearing tank suits, and a younger generation who aren’t ashamed or
afraid to bare their chests in public.
In the first surfing shot
two young hotshots angle left on a nice wave while two older guys
paddle out in the foreground, near the camera. The younger guys are
wearing shorts only, while the older guys are stroking along in tank
suits. At the end of the wave, one of the younger guys looks over his
shoulder and seems to be yelling something at the two geezers paddling
And then there is another
shot with a bunch of younger guys all riding waves bare-chested, and
one of them is wearing a loin-cloth. If this were a local kid, that
would be explicable, but the guy is haole, well-built and looks an
awful lot like Tom Blake, as a matter of fact. Maybe he was wearing the
loin-cloth for the movie, or maybe he was making a statement or maybe
he just liked how they felt.
1935 TOM BLAKE FROM
Around 1935, at Waikiki,
“Bathing-style” trunks were popularized by surfing pioneer and
innovator Tom Blake and Olympic champion Johnny Weissmuller. Narrow,
rigid waistband and two-inch inseams were the features of these early
precursors of the modern surf trunk.
1938 INVENTION OF NYLON
On October 27, 1938, Charles
Stine, a vice president of E. I. du Pont de Nemours, Inc., announced
that nylon had been invented. He unveiled the world's first synthetic
fiber not to a scientific society but to three thousand women's club
members gathered at the site of the 1939 New York World's Fair for the
New York Herald Tribune's Eighth Annual Forum on Current Problems. He
spoke in a session entitled "We Enter the World of Tomorrow." which was
keyed to the theme of the forthcoming fair, the World of Tomorrow.
In the middle of Stine's
talk, he proclaimed: "To this audience . . . I am making the first
announcement of a brand new chemical textile fiber. This textile fiber
is the first man-made organic textile fiber prepared wholly from new
materials from the mineral kingdom. I refer to the fiber produced from
nylon. . . . Though wholly fabricated from such common raw materials as
coal, water, and air, nylon can be fashioned into filaments as strong
as steel, as fine as a spider's web, yet more elastic than any of the
common natural fibers."
Thinking that "strong as steel"
meant indestructible stockings, the women at the forum burst into
Twelve years earlier, on
December 18, 1926, Stine, then the director of Du Pont's Chemical [ie.,
central research] Department, had taken the first step down the very
long road to nylon by submitting to the company's executive committee a
short memorandum entitled "Pure Science Work."
Stine wanted to undertake
research with "the object of establishing or discovering new scientific
facts," as contrasted with Du Pont's current research, which "applied
previously established scientific facts to practical problems." He
pointed out that "fundamental or pioneer research work by industrial
laboratories was not an untried experiment" but rather had been
successful in the German chemical industry and in the General Electric
Company. He recognized that universities did a considerable amount of
fundamental research but noted that there were some important gaps in
their programs; as he put it, "applied research is facing a shortage of
its principal raw materials."
Nylon — The “Miracle” Fiber
In September 1931, American
chemist Wallace Carothers reported on research carried out in the
laboratories of the DuPont Company on “giant” molecules called
polymers. He focused his work on a fiber referred to simply as “66,” a
number derived from its molecular structure. Nylon, the “miracle
fiber,” was born. The Chemical Heritage Foundation is currently
featuring an exhibit on the history of nylon.
By 1938, Paul Schlack of the
I.G. Farben Company in Germany, polymerized caprolactam and created a
different form of the polymer, identified simply as nylon “6.”
Nylon's advent created a
revolution in the fiber industry. Rayon and acetate had been derived
from plant cellulose, but nylon was synthesized completely from
petrochemicals. It established the basis for the ensuing discovery of
an entire new world of manufactured fibers.
An American Romance
DuPont began commercial
production of nylon in 1939. The first experimental testing used nylon
as sewing thread, in parachute fabric, and in women's hosiery. Nylon
stockings were shown in February 1939 at the San Francisco Exposition —
and the most exciting fashion innovation of the age was underway.
American women had only a
sampling of the beauty and durability of their first pairs of nylon
hose when their romance with the new fabric was cut short. The United
States entered World War II in December 1941 and the War Production
Board allocated all production of nylon for military use. Nylon hose,
which sold for $ 1.25 a pair before the War, moved in the black market
at $10. Wartime pin-ups and movie stars, like Betty Grable, auctioned
nylon hose for as much as $40,000 a pair in war-effort drives.
During the War, nylon
replaced Asian silk in parachutes. It also found use in tires, tents,
ropes, ponchos, and other military supplies, and even was used in the
production of a high-grade paper for U.S. currency. At the outset of
the War, cotton was king of fibers, accounting for more than 80% of all
fibers used. Manufactured and wool fibers shared the remaining 20%. By
the end of the War in August 1945, cotton stood at 75% of the fiber
market. Manufactured fibers had risen to 15%.
NYLON GOING INTO WORLD WAR II
A Jantzen ad for 1938.
THE 40S: FROM HERE TO HONOLULU
The war in the Pacific
started with a boom and ended with a bang and the vibrations were felt
around the world and back, politically, but also in terms of fashion –
in what people wore to the beach. Prior to World War II the world was
slowly molting it’s Victorian modesty, but World War II put that
process into hyperspeed as the War in the Pacific fave a free ride to
millions of young Americans, who otherwise would have seen the Hawaiian
Islands and the islands of the South Pacific in Bob Hope/Bing Crosby
Lancaster and Kerr getting
jiggy wid it in From Here to Eternity.
World War II influenced
beach fashion in ways obvious and not so obvious. After the war, the
surfers and gremmies around the Manhattan Beach Surf Club were buying
white sailor pants at the Salvation Army, cutting them off and taking
them to Hawaii. In 1946, atomic testing at Bikini atoll inspired
Frenchman ??? Reard to name his new, revealing two-piece bathing suit
the bikini, and set the world on fire.
What World War II did is
filter a lot of Americans through Europe and the Pacific, where people
were a little less modest than America and that resulted in America
loosening up more than a little bit.
WHAT TO SAY ABOUT WORLD WAR II.
OUTRIGGER CANOE CLUB?
In the 1940s, surf trunks
were featured on the cover of Vogue magazine in an action shot from
Hawai`i. Duke Kahanamoku, “The Father of Surfing,” traded his
older style Olympic swim suits for short trunks, some of which
were beginning to be sewn with drawstrings attached, to aid the wearer
in turbulent surf conditions.
A 1943 Catalina ad.
Jantzen ads by George Petty
for the 40s.
In the Bishop Museum archive
there is a reel of film showing Outrigger Canoe Club racing and a
paddleboard race at Waikiki . This is 1944, and the film is in living,
vivid Kodachrome color which brings out the nice bright colors, brings
out the green of summers makes you think all the world’s a sunny day,
On the movie there is an
Outrigger Canoe Race for women, which shows a lot of very fit women
wearing very fashionable, functional two-piece swimsuits that were
apparently made for racing. The women still are not showing their
belly-buttons, but as they lift and carry their canoes down to the
water’s edge, they are watched by dozens of appreciative eyes of
uniformed soldiers and sailors – most of them hiding their inner
thoughts behind aviator glasses.
The race starts and the
women haul okole off the beach, apparently very comfortable in their
suits that are built for speed. By 1944, tanksuits were ancient history
and the men are all wearing those swimtrunks that are somewhere between
Speedos, bunhuggers and something else. This is wartime so a lot of
those men’s fashions are probably General Issue, combined with
Hawaiian-made shorts from Taki’s, Lynns and ???.
There are no baggies or jams
in sight, but they are coming.
The public's concern with
nudity eroded as time passed. Shorts were the typical swim wear for
men, with men's swimsuits during the 1940's looking very similar to the
narrow hips and smooth abdomen of the women's styles. Of course, those
males with a little more modesty in mind could always opt for the
"boxer-type" shorts. Successful swim wear campaigns were not intended
for the timid. In 1947, the Jantzen company hired James Garner as their
"Mr. Jantzen" to model their line of "savage swim trunks
Fig. 5 shows an amusing
sports garment which was inspired by a designer seeing young people
rolling up the legs of regular length slacks when digging clams at clam
bakes on the east coast. She simplified the problem by producing short
slacks, complete with cuff, which were the right length!
They were made from sturdy
fabrics, such as denim and corduroy and then they became popular for
bicycling and other sports where a regulation slack was not as
convenient. They were not worn nor designed to flatter but for the
convenience which they provided.
Because of their shorter
length, the regulation slack pattern would be tapered slightly more
than for a full length garment. In making this novelty style, the knee
height measurement would be the basis of establishing the proper length
for the garment. Note that they fall about two inches below the knee.
- From 1942—Modern Pattern
by Harriet Pepin."
1948 INVENTION OF VELCRO
After the war, the people of
Europe had the leisure to do things like walk their dogs and invent
Velcro. That is what Swiss mountaineer George de Mestral did one summer
day. He took his dog for a walk, and they both came back covered in
burrs. Nearly blinded by a lightbulb as bright as a hundred suns, de
Mestral set out to synthesize a two-sided fiber that would imitate the
gripping of nature’s hooked burrs, and fasten a hold on the market
dominated by zippers.
Working with a weaver at a
textile plant in France, they somehow figured out that when nylon was
sewn under infrared light, it formed hooks that were as good as those
burrs in the fields of Switzerland. De Mestral combined the words
“velour” and “crcochet” to call his product Velcro, and patented in
1955 a synthetic fiber that would produce hundreds of millions of
dollars in sales, and millions of ripped-out pubic hairs.
50's BEACH MOTHERS FROM
Back on 1950s Mainland USA,
there were no commercial surf trunks. As Mike Doyle continued, “When I
first started surfing there was no such thing as surf trunks. We used
to wear boxer shorts. We thought it was really cool to buy them about
ten-inches too big in the waist so when we stood on the nose of the
board, our shorts would fill up with air like big balloons. I don’t
know why we thought that was cool, but the point was we were making our
own fashion statement. When I was a kid surfing at Malibu, my mother
made my surf trunks out of awning canvas. They were nearly
indestructible and way ahead of their time: purple and black,
with diamonds down the side, or quarter panels in different colors.
Other surfers were always asking me, ‘Where’d you get your trunks?’
PEZMAN ON COPYING MOM’S TRUNKS
“Years later Steve Pezman,
who was the publisher of Surfer magazine, told me, ‘You know, OP made
millions of dollars selling surf trunks, and all they did was copy the
trunks your mother made for you on her little treadle machine.’“
1951 CATALINA AND THE
MISS USA CONTEST
The Miss America competition
originated on September 7, 1921 as a beauty contest in Atlantic City,
New Jersey. It was initiated in an attempt to keep tourists in Atlantic
City after Labor Day.
In the early years of the
pageant, a beauty competition of the women wearing bathing suits was
the main event. When the Miss America organization decided to make this
a less important part of the competition, swimsuit-making sponsors
started their own separate pageant, Miss USA. Yolande Betbeze, Miss
America 1951, refused to pose for publicity pictures while wearing a
swimsuit, citing that she wanted to be recognized as a serious opera
singer. Catalina Swimwear, which was a Miss America sponsor, split off
and created the Miss USA/Universe pageants.
In the early 1950s,
H. Miura General Store began selling surfers school gym shorts with
stripes down the leg in school colors. Red and white Waialua High
colors were considered “very cool.”
Lace Up Some Swim Trunks
M. Nii, one of Hawaii's
M. Nii, the name of an Oahu mom-and-pop tailoring
shop that initially sewed only made-to-measure men's and women's
essentials, M. Nii Tailor became a destination for longboard-riders
from the early-1950s through '60s for creating one of the first lines
of surfing-specific trunks.
I REMEMBER THE NII'S WELL....MY GOAL WAS TO
VISIT HAWAII AND GET A PAIR AND WEAR THEM AT DA BU.........MR. AND MRS.
NII HAD ONLY TWO GOOD LEGS BETWEEN THEM.....
A LITTLE HISTORY......PASS IT IT ON....AMIGO........BE WELL
In the 1950s at the “old” Outrigger Canoe Club site near the Royal
Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki, Mr. Nii would take orders for custom made
swim suits. He would measure and take notes about the special
things you wanted. Laced front fastening, wax pockets (surf board
wax), length, stripes, fabric, color….no two alike. He used
crutches to get around and came in all the way from Waianae before any
freeways. He would bring back your creation in a month.
This man created a fashion a long time ago and 55+ years later is
Within their ramshackle shop in Waianae, by the west shore of Oahu's
big-wave Makaha breaks, Minoru and Florence Nii made their shorts from
rugged cotton-twill, selling them for about $4 a pair. The custom
baggies took inspiration from the Navy-surplus sailor-pant cutoffs
surfers wore in the post-WWII breakers. These early boarders would
bring their trunks in to M. Nii for patching and detailing. Greg Noll,
the celebrated Banzai Pipeline surfer and pioneering board shaper, was
one of them.
"M. Nii had striping on rolls, which we'd have them
put down the sides to juice them up a bit," he said. "A year after I
first went there [at age 15], I returned with $300 that a bunch of guys
had pooled for me to bring them back M. Nii's," said Mr. Noll, now 75.
The coveted trunks were flat-waisted (not cinched) and equipped with
button-flies, reinforced at the waist with tie-up laces. (A back pocket
became a common request.) The rise was low and hip-hugging, with an
above-the-knee hemline. The jams—designed to stay on and hold up
against the worst of wipeouts—came to be known as "Makaha Drowners."
The more weathered and beaten they became, the greater the badge of
honor. Many surfers liked the "fade" of them so much that they'd make
bets to see who could keep a pair on longest, said Mr. Noll.
A pair of M. Nii's original
MIKE DOYLE ON M NII FROM
1960s champion surfer Mike
Doyle remembered, “The first modern-style surf trunks I ever saw were
made by a little Filipino who had a tailor shop at Waianae, south of
Makaha. His name was M. Nii. The surfers at Makaha were always going in
there to get their torn trunks mended, and this fellow realized there
was a market for a better surf trunk. So he started making his own. In
the island tradition of colorful silk shirts, he started experimenting
around with bright and exotic colors, different panels in varying
colors, a wax pocket in back, and surfer stripes down the sides. Before
long the M. Nii trunks became famous. Every surfer who went to Hawaii
had to have a pair of M. Nii trunks, and more often than not, he had a
whole list of orders for M. Nii trunks from his friends back home.”
1952 M NII MAKAHA DROWNER
By 1952, most California
surfing transplants were buying custom-made surfing trunks from M.
Nii’s in Waianae. Nii’s “Makaha Drowner“ is considered by many to be
the first, true surf trunk. Greg Noll confirmed the value of M. Nii
surf trunks. “When we first went to the Islands, these pants [M. Nii’s
custom-made surftrunks] were kind of a trendy deal. You see us wearing
them in a lot of the old pictures. Eventually, we started going to M.
Nii’s in Waianae and having white shorts made with stripes down the
side and a pocket for our board wax. That was a big deal, to go to
Hawaii and have M. Nii make your surftrunks. They caught on everywhere
we went and were prized on the Mainland. We’d bring M. Nii’s trunks
back to our friends.”
1952 ORIGIN OF M NII STRIPED
TRUNKS FROM GREG NOLL
Greg Noll was born in 1937,
which made him a perfectly-timed teenager in 1950, just in time to
enjoy a period of surfing that Miki Dora called The Golden Years. From
a young skinny gremmie hanging around the South Bay and causing
trouble, by the middle of the 50s, Greg Noll at 19 years old cemented
his legend by leading the first surf session at Waimea Bay. In the 50s,
Noll became famous for charging the biggest waves obtainable, wearing a
pair of black and white striped “jailhouse trunks” he had custom
ordered in Hawaii.
This is Greg’s story about how
those trunks came about: “You’re going to hear a lot of BS from back in
those days, some of it actual BS, some of it the truth, so you can mix
this in with all of them, but this is the way I remember it. Going back
to when I was about 13 years old everybody was wearing plain old trunks
from JC Penney’s or wherever you bought trunks from in those days. I
spent a lot of time at the Manhattan Beach Surf Club under the pier.
This was at the turn of the Grannis era, when surfers were guys like
Don James and Doc Ball, educated guys who went to church and didn’t
swear and were polite. Well I got involved when the whole thing was
falling to shit and guys like Dale Velzy and George Kapu got involved.
Things turned and went the other way. There was a pretty earthy
group of guys at the Manhattan Pier who set the style for the South Bay
and that effected things all up and down the coast.
So what happened at
Manhattan Beach is someone like Barney Briggs or Velzy started
going to the Salvation Army to buy their clothes, because you could get
an overcoat or Army surplus stuff for 25 cents. Well they started
buying white sailor pants and cutting them off above the knees and
started surfing in them. And that caught on, and pretty soon everyone
was doing that. At some point somebody got the idea to see who could
live in those cutoff sailor pants the longest, without taking them off
or washing them.
There were rules to this
deal. You could only drop the shorts to your knees to take a crap, or
to your ankles to screw your girlfriend. Otherwise they stayed on and
whoever kept them on longest won.
I think it was Velzy who
won. He went over three weeks without taking off his cutoff white
sailor pants, and knowing Velzy they were down around his ankles more
than a few times.
Anyway these things got to
be standard surf attire for the guys in the South Bay and when some
guys started going to Hawaii to surf Makaha they were still wearing
their cutoff whites.
On the west side of Oahu in
Waianae there was a tailor named M Nii. He and his wife were Japanese
or Filipino and they made shorts for the Hawaiian surfers. At the time
some guys were wearing Outrigger Canoe Club shorts that had stripes
down the side, but those were a big deal to get. You had to know
someone or be a part of the club or get them underground somehow.
At some point we started
going in there and looking at all the different-colored striping
material – red and gold and green and all kinds of colors.
I think it was Billy Ming
who first got the idea to go to M Nii to get that colored striping into
their white shorts. The gaudier the better. One guy had red and
another guy got blue strips and some guys had trunks that looked like a
clown suit. Well they wore those trunks as hard at Makaha as they did
at Manhattan Beach and by the end of the winter they were so worn out,
guys would go back to M Nii and get some more custom tailoring done
before they went back to the mainland.
Guys were pretty much living in
those shorts so they evolved wax pockets and comb pockets and wallet
pockets and all this shit.
I went back to California
with those white sailor cutoffs customized by M Nii and people really
liked them. So the next winter I went back to Hawaii with orders and
measurements from my friends and about $350, which was a lot of money
back then. I got custom trunks made for myself and friends and the rest
is history, you know? I don’t know what other guys will tell you but
this all happened when I was 15, so that would have been 1952.
1957 BEACH MOTHERS FROM
About the same time as the
first commercial polyurethane foam boards became commercially available
(1957), more and more beach mothers took to sewing their sons’ custom
trunks -- not only Mrs. Doyle, but Mrs. Takayama, Plaudette Reed and
Nancy Katin, among others.
PLAUDETTE REED IN NEWPORT
Plaudette Reed was the wife
of Bob Reed, City of Newport Beach Lifeguard Chief. They lived in an
oceanfront house right on the strand in Newport. If you had a pair of
custom trunks from one of the mothers, “it put you on another level
from the guys with cut-off Levi’s or a pair of their dad’s plaid
baggies (however, these were close).” Newport Beach gremmies
would go over to Mrs. Reed’s, she’d measure waist, inseam, etc. Young
surfers would select fabric and color. A few weeks later, she’d have
them cut out and pinned together “and she’d make you put ‘em on and
correct the fit so they were perfect. You could custom design your own
trunks any way you wanted.”
ALLAN SEYMOUR ON BOB BEADLE
AND HIS PREFERENCE
“I remember Bob Beadle
divided his legs and waistband into quarter panels of alternating red
and green canvas,” said Allan Seymour. “My deal was to have my trunks
made from solid navy blue material with the inside of my wax flap and
inside waistband bright orange. Were we cool or what?” The trunks were
generally made of a sturdy canvas duck material that started out real
stiff, but over time, softened to just perfect. This being way before
velcro was invented, they featured lace closures on the waistband that
could be left insolently untied and hanging open, and covered button
flys. The wax pocket came with a button-down flap to hold your
paraffin. To make each pair of Mrs. Reed‘s trunks truly custom, she
would embroider your name on a patch inside the pocket flap.
1959 NANCY KATIN FROM
Nancy Katin was the most
famous of all the beach moms who sewed surf trunks. Mike Doyle tells
her story: “Across the street from Corky [Carroll] lived Nancy and Walt
Katin, who had a business making boat covers out of heavy-duty
industrial canvas. Walt was a classic boat guy. He was short, robust,
and wore powder-blue jumpsuits zipped up to the neck. He had a big
salt-and-pepper beard and always wore a captain’s hat with a gold
anchor on the black plastic brim. And he was happy all the time. Nancy
was a little eighty-nine-pound lady who chain-smoked -- very nervous
and excitable, but clear as a bell and the sweetest woman I ever met.
Like her husband, she was happy all the time.
“The Katins had no children
of their own, but they loved kids, and they always made Corky feel
welcome at their place. One day Corky asked Nancy if she would make him
a pair of surf trunks out of boat canvas. He explained that swim trunks
wouldn’t hold up to the stress of surfing -- usually they would just
rip out in the seat or the crotch.
“Nancy had heavy-duty sewing
machines and used hundred-pound-test, waxed-nylon thread. She knew how
to sew things that would last. So she said, ‘Sure, Corky, let’s give it
“Nancy sewed him a pair of
red trunks out of sixteen-ounce drill canvas. She sewed them the same
way she sewed her boat covers: with zigzag stitching, double and
even triple seams. Corky loved them, but they were so stiff that every
time he took them off, he just stood them up in the corner of his room.
He wore them for two years before they broke in enough that they
wouldn’t stand up by themselves. And after three years, he was still
“Before long, hundreds of
local surfers were coming to Nancy Katin and asking her if she would
make them a pair of surf trunks just like Corky’s. The Katins’ boat
cover business was rapidly turning into a surf trunk business. It was
all word of mouth, no advertising, a walk-in business, no mail order.
They called it Kanvas by Katin, and there wasn’t anything else like it
in California. Over the next four years, Nancy and the two Japanese
ladies who worked for her made thousands of pairs of surf trunks. For
surfers, Kanvas by Katin was legendary.”
1959 WHAT THEY WORE IN GIDGET
What were they wearing in
Gidget? Do I have a copy of that?
THE 60's CORKY ON KATIN FROM
Yes, I had both M Ni's and
Take's from Hawaii. Also had a pair of customs from the cotton
shop in seal beach. but I would have to say that Katin was
the first real solid custom surf trunks company that I know
of. I used to wear my dads big ol' swimming trunks or
a pair of white clam diggers that I cut off above the
I am glad I convinced Walter
Katin to make those first surf trunks... sure wish I would have gotten
a % for that.....
if you have any other
questions call me 334
1961 VELZY SHOP IN SPRING NEWPORT SAN CLEMENTE
“In the Spring of 1961,”
recalled Seymour, “the surf cultures of San Clemente and Newport Beach
were at the opposite ends of the economic spectrum. Someone once said
that if your dad had a steady job in San Clemente he was an
overachiever. In contrast, the Velzy-Jacobs shops in San Clemente did a
thriving business. A large part of the clientele were rich kids from
Newport Beach. They drove Porsches, wore new Pendleton’s and real
Levi’s. We San Clemente kids thought they got the leather shoes they
wore at bowling alleys, when actually they were very expensive elk hide
yachting shoes. But the Mrs. Reed custom trunks were what really made
the best surfers from Newport special.”
MARKETING IN SURFER BEN
The big-dollar, full scale
battle that is surfwear marketing in the 21st Century began with a
whisper in the first issues of SURFER Magazine. Before there was
Birdwell, Katin, Hang Ten, Golden Breed, Ocean Pacific, Stubbies, Surf
Line Hawaii, O’Neill, Body Glove, Quiksilver, Gotcha, Instinct, Maui
and Sons, Surf Fetish, there was Sandcomber. There were more ads for
neoprene surf jackets than clothing in the first issue of The Surfer
Magazine but in Volume 2#1, there are no less than three ads for surf
trunks, all of them put up by a company called SandComber. A
quarter-page ad on page 14 and another quarter-page ad on page 18
pointed to page 30, where there was a half-page SandComber ad touting
“Dogger” and “Baggy” trunks. There was no information on materials,
price or where you could buy them. Surf trunks increased in intensity
from there and the sound and fury is still going.
Nothing until issue 3#1, and
then the marketing of surf trunks begins to heat up. On page there is
an ad for Hobie surfer trunks, made of rugged 10.10 ounce heavy duty
canvas a butter fly, wax pocket and string tie. The trunks are
available by mail order for $9.95, plus tax. There is also an ad for
SandCombers, and Surf Goodies by MF are offering SandComber trunks in
one size – huge – for $5.00.
And then on the back page is
the first serious salvo, the first in many many many full-page ads in
Surfer Magazine, in color and with serious branders, slogan-masters and
marketers pulling the strings. On the back page of Surfer there is a
full-page ad from Jantzen featuring Pat Curren, who was sponsored by
the company along with Hap Jacobs, Warren Miller, Ricky Grigg and John
Severson – the publisher of Surfer Magazine.
Jantzen was the ancestor of
both Billabong and Abercrombie and Fitch, at the same time an outsider
company marketing within the surfing world, but also a company which
used many variations on “Only a surfer knows the feeling,” slogan in
their ads, when Gordon Merchant was only ???? years old, and a
billabong was a line from Waltzing Matlida.
Jantzen was on the back
cover of 3#2, 3#3 and 3#4 but now the Jantzen man was Ricky Grigg, the
surfer/scholar who worked out a deal with the company based on his
surfing career, which helped to fund his day job: “My deal with Jantzen
lasted eight years,” Dr. Grigg said from Hawaii. “ It involved an
unlimited merchandise allowance, about $3,0000 a year and some travel
perks to photo shoot destinations. Basically, the extra income
added to my scholarship, and got me through Scripps Institution of
Oceanography. I helped design the trunks but most of my ideas
were not used. Basically the trunk would have been a reinforced
spandex flex fiber not too long on the leg. Sort of like
what Kelly Slater uses in contests today.”
Ricky Grigg was on the back
cover of Surfer Magazine for the next ???? issues, wearing ???? and
then Hawaiian Surfriders and then red and white striped shirts. While
Jantzen and Grigg dominated the back cover of SURFER, new logos and
companies began to appear inside.
The first Birdwell ad appeared in
issue 3#5, advertising custom-made, Army duck canvas shorts out of
Santa Ana, for $8.95.
The Birdwell “Birdie” logo
appeared for the first time in issue 4#3, and Kanvas by Katin showed up
in the next issue. They used the same logo then that they use now, and
offered “Surf trunks tailored to your measure,” for $??.??. Jantzen was
still on the back cover of 4#4, now using the slogan: “There are some
things that only a surfer knows.”
HANG TEN APPEARS IN AN AD
In issue 4#6, ???? of ????,
Jantzen all of a sudden got some serious competition when the first
Hang Ten ad appeared on the inside back cover of SURFER – essentially
going head to head with Jantzen. Hang Ten came out swinging, letting
the surfing world know they were a surfing company run by surfers for
surfers by featuring three of the best-known names of the time, posing
on the rocks with their wives: Bing Copeland is wearing shorts made of
3.5 ounce, fast-drying nylon for $6.95. Dewey Weber is wearing
“hi-style rice bag” shorts that are “fully lined and guaranteed to
fade. Apparently Hobie Alter had given up on the idea of Hobie shorts
because he is the third surfer in the first Hang Ten ad, wearing denim
shorts with Velcro closures “tested for 50,000 pulls equivalent to 100
years of wear. Hang Ten stands behind Velcro.”
CATALINA BUYS KATIN
Later on, in the mid-1960s,
Catalina sportswear bought-out the Katin business. Mike Doyle revealed
that, “Back at the time when Catalina bought out Kanvas by Katin, I
considered that deal to be a good thing. It gave Nancy Katin a good
retirement after years of hard work, and it helped the Catalina label,
too, by associating it with a quality product. Eventually, though, I
realized that Catalina wanted the Katin name for the same reason they
wanted my name: as a marketing gimmick. Right away they started making
junky trunks and putting the Kanvas by Katin label on them. To surfers
everywhere, Katin had meant quality, and almost overnight Catalina
trashed the Katin name.
“Nancy Katin was heartbroken
when she realized what had happened. Her husband was gone, her business
was gone, the kids who had come to her from the beach were gone. Even
her name was gone. She had nothing left. But that gutsy little woman
surprised us all. She paid Catalina double what they’d paid her, just
to get her name back. Then she went back to making quality trunks.
Before long the kids started coming back, she had her extended family
again, and she was happy.”
Following fast upon the
heels of the Katins going commercial in 1959 was Birdwell Beach
Britches, also manufacturing trunks in Southern California out of sail
cloth. Yet, even as late as 1961, many surfers were still opting for
“home-made” trunks over the brands that were established and those in
the process of establishing themselves.
1962 Hang Ten
In 1962, Duke Boyd and Doris
Moore formed the Hang Ten label, in Long Beach, California. Some
innovations followed, including the first use of nylon fabrics. The
same year, Ricky Grigg became the first surfer to secure an endorsement
deal with a surf trunk manufacturer, signing a sponsorship agreement
1963 DAVE ROCHLEN AND
JAMS/BAGGIES FROM LEGENDARYSURFERS.COM
Jams, or Baggies, were a
later development that began in 1963. Mike Doyle recalls that,
“In December of 1963, I was back in Hawaii again, getting ready for
that year’s Makaha. The morning of the contest, I was surfing at a
little beach break at Pokai Bay (south of Makaha), just warming up
before heading over to the contest. As I came out of the water, Dave
Rochlen came walking down the beach. Dave, who was about fifteen years
older than I was, had been a lifeguard at Santa Monica, was a respected
big-wave rider and somebody I’d always looked up to. He’d been
kind of a playboy in his younger days (he dated Marilyn Monroe before
she became a famous movie star), but when he went to the islands he
fell in love with a Hawaiian woman. I remember him telling me that when
he saw her surfing one day, he just knew he had to have her. He ended
up marrying the woman, having kids and settling down there in the
“Anyway, what really caught
my attention on this particular day was that Rochlen was wearing these
great big, floral-patterned surf trunks, like big baggy sacks with a
draw string. They were like a cross between a Hawaiian muumuu, and
extra-large boxer shorts. I liked them right away -- they really made
me laugh. So I called out to him, ‘Dave, what the hell are you
“Rochlen looked at me, then down
at his baggies. He had a funny way of talking with gestures -- rolling
his head, squishing his neck, tilting his shoulders -- like he had to
feel every word before he could let it out. ‘These are my new jams!’
“I’d never heard the word
before -- jams. ‘Well, those are really cool,’ I said.
“Dave acted surprised. ‘You
really think so?’ He stripped them off right there -- he had a pair of
briefs on underneath -- and handed them to me. ‘Here, they’re yours.
First pair I ever made.’
“I wore Rochlen’s jams
around for a long time. They were comfortable, and they were so wild
they made an anti-fashion statement, which I believe was the beginning
of surf fashion.
“Not long after that, Dave
created one of the first surfwear companies, and called it Surf Line
Hawaii. He registered the trademark, Jams, and came out with an entire
line of his floral baggies.”
Greg Noll also remembered
Dave Rochlen starting “the Jams trend. Jams were –– and still are
–– brightly colored, Hawaiian-print trunks, cut just above the knee.
Every surfer wore them. Rochlen’s company, Surf Line Hawaii, originally
started out as a surf shop in Honolulu that was owned by Dick Metz. Now
it’s a big international clothing company. The original Surf Line Jams
came on strong again a few years ago with the surfing crowd.” Noll was
quick to remind everyone, however, that “the first surfwear trend
started with the cutoff sailor pants worn by Velzy and his cohorts at
the Manhattan Beach Surf Club.”
Mike Doyle & Commercial
Mike Doyle was intimately
involved with the beginning commercialization of surf trunks. He
put it this way: “The first mass-manufactured surf trunk was made by
Hang Ten, started by Duke Boyd, an advertising man who was one of the
first to realize that the whole surf trend had marketing power. He
advertised his first trunks in Surfer Magazine, and I was one of the
“Hang Ten started out
selling their clothes in the surf shops until they’d established an
identity in the surf community; then they expanded to bigger clothing
stores and, finally, to the major retailers. Hang Ten became a very big
company by springboarding off the surfer image.
“Of course, surfers were
into anti-fashion, and as soon as Hang Ten became popular with
non-surfers, surfers stopped wearing their trunks. But Hang Ten didn’t
care. They came out with matching tops and bottoms, which surfers
wouldn’t be caught dead in, and used their surfing image to market a
whole line of clothes in the Midwest and the East.
“After that, surf trunk
manufacturers started popping up all over the place...”
1964 ENDLESS SUMMER FROM
Meanwhile, in 1964, The
Endless Summer was released, its day-glo poster demonstrating both the
proper style of wearing surf trunks and establishing them as a new
But, “the surfing image
wasn’t always the path to riches,” reminds Mike Doyle. “Some
beachwear companies failed miserably at trying to capitalize on it, and
for several years I worked for one of them.
“Catalina Swimwear was an
old, established company that had been into casual clothing for years.
Their market had always been the older, East Coast, mom-and-pop crowd.
They had what they called a cruise line, which was the kind of thing
retired people would wear on a two-week cruise through the Caribbean.
Catalina realized early on the potential that the surf trend had in the
clothing industry, and they were determined to try to stay with the
times, which meant designing for younger people.
“Catalina got their foot in
the door of the surf trend when they sponsored the Long Beach Surf Club
at the Peruvian International. After that, Catalina started looking for
a surfer to promote their swimwear, and they eventually chose me. Right
away they started making Mike Doyle-model surf trunks. At first I had
no say in the design process -- I just wrote a little blurb for the
hang tag and signed my name to it.
1965 MIKE DOYLE AND CATALINA ON
TOUR FROM LS.COM
“In the spring of 1965...
Catalina sent me on a promotional tour called ‘Make It with Catalina.’
They put me on a fat salary with an expense account and hired Bruce
Brown, the maker of Endless Summer, to create a seven-minute promo
film. I spent the next four months traveling through California, the
Midwest, Texas, Florida, and the East Coast, bird-dogging for
While on the promotional,
Doyle discovered that the Catalina surf trunks weren’t worth a shit.
His subsequent experience with corporate sportswear giant Catalina
became a wake-up call. Doyle remembered, “As soon as I got back... I
called up the president of Catalina, Chuck Trowbridge, and told him I
didn’t think Catalina’s surf trunks were any good. I told him they were
using cheap zippers and flimsy nylon, and the seams wouldn’t hold up to
the stress of knee paddling. I told him it was a lousy product that
would rip out in the ass every time. And I tried to explain to him how
their sense of design was killing them with surfers -- that only kooks
would wear matching trunks and shirts.
“... Trowbridge called a meeting
of the Catalina board of directors to hear what I had to say. I told
them everything I’d already told Trowbridge, then I said, ‘I know you
can make a strong pair of surf trunks, because Nancy Katin is doing it
“Later on, Trowbridge drove
down to see Nancy Katin. Not long before, Walt Katin had passed away
and Nancy had been devastated. Nancy survived the loss of her husband
because the young surfers who came to see her every day had become her
children, her extended family. Anyway, when Chuck Trowbridge saw what
Nancy Katin had done with her business, he liked it so much he offered
to buy her out. And Nancy, perhaps thinking it was time for her to
retire, agreed to sell Kanvas by Katin to Catalina.”
After the First Duke
Invitational, Doyle went to Catalina a second time. “That spring I did
the Catalina East Coast promo tour again... After I got back... I
talked to Chuck Trowbridge again and explained how I thought Catalina
could improve their line of swimwear to appeal to young people. He
seemed interested in my comments, and that summer he hired me to help
Catalina design their swimwear...
“I found out right away how
frustrating it could be. One day I went in to see Catalina’s pattern
maker. I took along a pair of M. Nii surf trunks because I wanted him
to see how well they fit. The M. Niis were patterned after what’s
called a ‘young man’s fit,’ meaning the front of the waistband is about
an inch and a half lower than the back, like a pair of jeans. But the
pattern maker was sort of an Old World tailor who had been doing the
same gentleman’s cut for so long he couldn’t change. I’m sure he
understood what I was talking about, he just wasn’t willing to consider
doing things any differently. Swimwear had to have a waistband like a
pair of baggy trousers. It was my first lesson in corporate paralysis.”
Although nylon has endured
as a viable fabric for surf trunks, early editions of the nylon trunk
were nowhere near what they are, today. Doyle recalled, “I didn’t like
the idea of surf trunks made of nylon, which was what Catalina was
using at the time. Nylon might have looked like a space-age fabric, but
surfers knew it felt awful in the water. So I found some great
industrial-grade canvas. It was made of 100 percent cotton, had a nice
texture, and felt comfortable wet. Best of all, it was so strong you
could make a pair of surf trunks that would last forever.
“When I showed the fabric to
Chuck Trowbridge, his response was, ‘How much does it cost?’
“‘Forty cents a yard.’
“‘We don’t buy that cheap,’
he said. ‘We usually spend four times that much.’
“‘But if it’s better
quality, why not buy cheaper?’
“‘We just don’t do things that
“That was my second lesson
in corporate paralysis.
“I had more success getting
Catalina to beef up their stitching. But I had no luck trying to
explain why surfers would never buy matching trunks and nylon jackets.
I wrote a twenty-page analysis of where the youth movement was going
and how that would affect the clothing market, how young people were
wearing natural fibers because cotton looked and felt real, while nylon
had something phony about it.
“Trowbridge told me, ‘But,
Mike, our matching nylon trunks and jackets are selling in the
“‘But surfers are just a
little bit ahead of them,’ I said. ‘Believe me, the Midwest is going to
like cotton trunks, too.’
“‘Uh-huh... Well, thank you,
Mike. We’ll talk it over, and let you know what we think.’
“By this time I’d begun to
see that Catalina didn’t really want me involved in the design of their
swimwear. What they wanted was to be able to say they had a real surfer
involved in their design. It was just a marketing angle. The problem
was that I really did become involved. I got interested in the fabrics
and the design process and the quality control and the marketing -- I
craved the creativity. And I felt an obligation to help deliver an
honest product to the surf community.
“After several months of
work, I went before the Catalina review panel to show them the line I’d
designed. They were all sitting there smoking cigars... I showed them
how I’d changed the cut on the trunks for a younger man. I showed them
how I’d double-stitched the seat and used overlocking stitching in the
crotch. I showed them how I’d switched from nylon to cotton.
“They all gave me a screwy
look, then Chuck said, ‘Gee, Mike. It looks a little wild.’
“I took a deep breath and
began pleading my case. ‘Surfers are open to new ideas,’ I said. ‘They
don’t care what middle-aged men in New York or Miami are wearing.
They’re going their own way.’
“Then Chuck Trowbridge spoke
the words that ended my corporate career. ‘Mike,’ he said, ‘there’s
something you have to understand. We aren’t really selling to surfers.
That’s not our market. What we’re doing is selling the surfer image.’
“I knew then it was
hopeless. Not only did they fail to understand what I was trying to
tell them, that the surf market would lead them to the future of their
industry, but they were using my name to promote an inferior product. I
said, ‘Well, you’ve got the wrong guy then, because all this time I’ve
been trying to design a real product for real surfers.’
“And I walked away. A lot of
people in the surf industry thought I was a fool for leaving Catalina.
It was a pretty sweet job for a young man just twenty-four years old,
and if I’d milked it for ten years or so, I might have become fairly
wealthy... Catalina swimwear, which had been a giant in the industry,
went out of business eventually. When authentic surfwear companies
started popping up out of garages all over Southern California, pushing
tough, creative, innovative beachwear, Catalina got eaten alive.”
A View From San Diego
In 1998, Bill Andrews sent
me the following email about the early days of the surfwear industry
from a San Diego perspective:
“I grew up at La Jolla
Shores. Had to suffer the abuse of being a Shores Guy, while attending
La Jolla Junior Senior High School, class of ‘62. Actually have a photo
of my first wave (‘58 La Jolla Shores, taken by Tom Clark’s mother ),
worked for Gordon and Smith, Surfer Mag, Nat Norfleet... The real
surfers at ‘The High School’ (La Jolla Jr. -- Sr. High) were turned on
to a tailor in Pacific Beach, next to PB Jr. High, who made canvas
trunks. Must have been about 1960. All trunks were custom made, pick
your own fabric. My mother drove us there. We prayed we wouldn’t run
into Butch or any of the other WindanSea crowd. The same story as ‘Up
North.’ Stripes, etc. I can not remember how we closed them. Certainly
“We Shores Guys, (The Burro,
Magoo, The Grub, Bull Neck) had to get the best. The Grub, who had an
older ‘big wave rider’ brother, said our trunks had to be really
sturdy, because that’s what the Hawaiians wore. Our canvas trunks were
made out of the super awning canvas. 4,000 wearings and were still
stiff as a board. Crotch rot or not, we had to wear them.”
“Another caveat to those who
want to become big shots in the ‘hard core surf biz”:
“Back, late 60’s early 70’s,
my store -- The Pacific Beach Surf Shop – was the largest single store
customer for Ocean Pacific. Since I had been in ‘surf’ retail long
before the rise and fall of Hang Ten, (and by the way, Gary Bates sure
got screwed by them) I was fully prepared to take a wait and see
attitude with OP.
“[Later on, after I stocked
OP sportswear,] I heard a rumor that OP was going into the Broadway
Stores in SoCal. I told JJ and Henry, that the day OP sold to Broadway,
was the day their stuff went out into the street. I said I’d rather let
the Hell’s Angels (including Shorty), and the other derelicts that hung
around the foot of PB Drive, have the stuff than sell a ‘surf trunk’
that was also sold in Broadway. The day the full page OP/Broadway ads
hit, was the day the OP stuff went out into the rain.”
About Catalina surf trunks
being no good:
“The trunks were worse than
that,” recalled Bill Andrews – who sold the stuff, “but, memory please
don’t fail me now, weren’t our first WindanSea Surf Club jackets
“Pretty complete history of
the surf trunk, BUT:
“Before ‘Balsa Bill’ Yerkes
started Sundek on the East Coast, Yerkes and Larry Gordon, with a touch
of Floyd Smith (and the Maine babe), designed and made the finest surf
wear ever sold on the West Coast: TURTLE KING and WAVE WEAR. The names
said it all.
“Pacific Beach Surf Shop
became the Beta Test Site...maybe JJ was even a sales rep for Yerkes?
And then Yerkes bailed, OP began. Yerkes became a billionaire East
Coast Sundeker. Great fun then, and what a learning experience...
right??? Bill Andrews”
Surfwear Industry, 1970s to
After the success of
commercial surf trunks became evident, Mike Doyle recollected, “surf
trunk manufacturers started popping up all over the place -- Ocean
Pacific (or OP), Surf Line Hawaii, Quiksilver, Gotcha, Instinct, Maui
and Sons -- and eventually dominated the casual clothing industry. You
can go to any beach resort in the world now and see men in their
seventies wearing baggy, neon-green surf trunks with bright floral
patterns. Before surf trunks caught on, grown men wouldn’t be seen in
something like that.”
From the mid-1960s, surf
trunks spread further and deeper into American life. In 1969, Sundek,
in Florida, became the first major surf trunk manufacturer on the East
Coast. 1971 was an important year, with “Hawaiian Soul“ type trunks as
well as Golden Breed popular. Jim Jenks, formerly with Hansen
Surfboards, started Op Sunwear and, marketed around the brilliant
surfing of Pipeline legend Gerry Lopez, the Lightning Bolt label was
born the same year.
In 1976, Jeff Hakman and Bob
McKnight began manufacturing Quiksilver “boardshorts,” featuring the
scallop-leg and two-snap velcro closure in California, setting the
standard that, minus the scallop-leg, endures to present day.
In 1978, South African
surfer Michael Tomson found Gotcha, which, along with Quicksilver,
became the style leader in the post 1970s surf trunk era.
Notable events in the 1980s
include Quiksilver rider Dan Kwock‘s introduction of neon polka-dot
trunks, beginning the Echo Beach line and ushering in what was called
the New Wave fashion swell. In 1984, Jeff Yokoyama of Maui and Sons
incorporated day-glo colors into his sweatshirt and trunk line. And, in
1986, Op first brought out the lycra short, patterned off sleek
triathlon racing suits. World champion surfer Tom Curren was the model.
In 1987, Billabong joined
Gotcha and Quicksilver in a triad of imported labels that dominated the
In 1988, 26 years after
Ricky Grigg struck his deal with Jantzen, Quicksilver signed the
first-ever million dollar contract with 2-time world champion Tom
By 1991, styles tended to go
more toward the baggie type. Lycra-neoprene suits haven’t really caught
on. Although the neoprene-lycra trunks are efficient in the water,
“Nobody wants to hang out on the beach all day in Lycra,” said Bob
Hurley of Billabong.
“I’ve spent a lot of time
wondering why people all over the world want to dress like surfers,”
concluded Mike Doyle. “Some sociologist could probably write a doctoral
thesis on that subject. But I think the basic reason is pretty simple:
Surfing is fun, and surfwear helps remind people of all ages that life
is supposed to be fun.”
More than funwear, “Trunks
are a piece of vital surfing equipment,” emphasized Bob Hurley, “the
thing about trunks is that a surfer will wear them all day long... Surf
trunks are something a surfer basically lives in.”
I was born and raised in
Newport Beach, I can only help with the female styles.
Ditto jeans were in, with
the horse shoe seam up the back of the legs and over the butt.
Hip huggers and big bell
bottoms, poor boy shirts. Bikini's were off the hip, but straight
Some tie dyed things around
Laguna Beach. Girl's hair was long, straight and parted in center or on
"Honk" was a popular
local band, that was the music for a surf film "Five Summer Stories",
in 1972. This film was made by Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman, two
surfer film makers.
I went to Newport Beach Pop
Festival, Palm Springs Pop Festival and later Laguna Beach Pop Festival.
Dave Woodworth and John
Parks were the best surfer photographers from Corona Del Mar High
Hope some of this helps.