Classic Speedo Briefs-Style Swimsuit: A History Lesson

Classic Speedo Briefs-Style Swimsuit: A History Lesson. While we were writing our post on Steve Lyon aka Vintage Speedo Guy, we came across this 1980s advert for the classic swim briefs with the slogan that goes “Speedo suits men. Speedo suits America”.

The slogan made us wonder why it seems to be specifically targeting Americans and then we found out that Speedo is actually an Australian brand. Well, it’s bought by a UK company now but the world famous swimwear originated in Australia which explains why the logo is a boomerang.

classic speedo briefs advert - speedo suits men and america

This late-in-life discovery that Speedo is an Aussie brand led us down the rabbit hole on how it became so popular such that the name is now synonymous to briefs-style swimsuits.

Anyhoo, here are some things we found out which we want to share with you:

Speedo was established in 1914 by a Scottish immigrant named Alexander MacRae under the brand name ‘Fortitude’, which was taken from the motto on the clan MacRae crest. It didn’t become known by its now famous brand name until 1928.

In 1914, the company was founded in Sydney, Australia by a young Scot called Alexander MacRae, who migrated to Australia four years earlier. It was then called MacRae Hosiery manufacturers and was, at first, making underwear. However, because beach culture was becoming popular, the company decided to include swimwear in their product line.

The name Speedo was coined by staff member Jim Parsons when the company held a “naming” competition among its employees. His slogan, Speed in your Speedo, beat the other entries and it became so popular to the point that the company changed its name to Speedo Knitting Mills Pty Ltd in 1942.

In the competitive swimming world, the first one to popularize the Speedo brand is Swedish swimmer Arne Borg who set swimming world records while wearing a Speedo Racer Back.

classic speedo racer back arne borge

At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, some members of the Australian mens swim team wore the topless swim shorts which, at the time, was considering “daring” because it didn’t cover the chest.

classic speedo swimwear - australian swimming team - 1936 berlin olympics

Australian swimmers also deserve credit for popularizing the briefs-style swimsuit which has come to be identified with the brand such that, these days, “Speedo” is used to refer to skimpy mens swimwear even if these are made by other manufacturers.

From “But it wasn’t until the 1956 Melbourne Summer Games that the ‘classic’ men’s swimming briefs made their first appearance. The new swimming trunks were made of nylon for the first time, and were worn proudly by the Australian swimming team, who took home eight gold medals. This exposure solidified Speedo’s hold over the market.”

The Aussie swimming team dominated their rivals winning five of the seven gold medals awarded during the games. Here are some members of the victorious Aussie team: Murray Rose, Jon Henricks, and John Devitt.

classic speedo briefs - australian swimmers 1956 melbourne olympics

Gary Chapman, Murray Rose, Kevin O’Halloran, and Jon Henricks:

classic speedo briefs - australian swimmers 1956 melbourne olympics relay team

David Thiele and John Monckton in the pool.

classic speedo briefs - australian swimmers 1956 melbourne olympics - david thiele and john monckton

Note: Aside from which we quoted above, other sources for this blog post include and

Classic Speedo Briefs-Style Swimsuit: A History Lesson. Last updated: August 1, 2020 at 8:38 am.