There comes a point in life where budgie-smugglers are no longer acceptable for a man, though exactly what that age might be is debatable. Let’s be honest; things change as a fellow gets older, and tight-fitting Speedos as you parade on the beach quickly become weird, obnoxious and borderline creepy. Or do they?
The Australians have been resplendent in them for years, even inventing the term. “Budgie smuggler” references the budgerigar, a parakeet, which if you’re well-endowed enough is what your genitals should look like when enveloped behind a well-fitting pair. At least it is catchier than other Aussie nicknames for the notorious swimwear, which include “banana hammock” and “lollybag”.
The style wasn’t always accepted by everyone in Australia though. When flamboyant artist Peter Travis designed the first pair of Speedos in 1959, the barely-there swimwear rubbed some up the wrong way. In the early 1960s, Bondi Beach inspector Aub Laidlaw was known to call the police to arrest anyone wearing budgie-smugglers for indecent exposure. Charges were dropped because no pubic hair was visible, so their popularity grew, perhaps out of protest as much as through national pride.
Laidlaw would surely raise an eyebrow, then, at their re-emergence this winter. Fifty-five-year-old actor Jason Donovan was recently papped wearing a navy blue pair on Bondi Beach, Australia – the Neighbours star showing off his svelte physique, splashing about in shallow water in a manner to rival Daniel Craig in Casino Royale.
The rear of his pants read “Bondi Icebergs”, suggesting he picked them up at the exclusive swimming club located on the famous stretch of sand. Donovan proudly displayed his allegiance to the club originally set up as a training venue for lifeguards on one side, and his manhood on the other.
It’s a look Australian cricket captain Pat Cummins also recently pulled off Down Under (*chortle*). It’s been a vintage year for him: retaining the Ashes, winning the World Test Championship and now rocking a fruit bowl print, canary yellow pair of budgies on Sydney’s Bronte Beach.
Given that he is a professional athlete, 30-year old Cummins likely wouldn’t be wearing them for fashion’s sake, though. Budgies are designed first and foremost for performance, which is why Olympians and triathletes live in them. Speedo creator Travis noted that “if you lifted your leg as high as you could, that was the shape of the cut”. They’re designed to hug your nether regions and act like a second, slippery skin in the water.
This is something the Prince of Wales learnt in 2004, when he took his role in the Scottish Universities water polo team seriously, rocking a pair of sport-appropriate skin-tight Speedos. Another famous British wearer is David Beckham, who routinely wore them on various yachts in the 2000s. Welsh actor Luke Evans almost exclusively favours them, while Jude Law broke the internet in season one of The New Pope in 2020. A tanned Law, then aged 47, rocked a godly, illuminated white pair in a trailer for the programme, in what is surely the greatest advocacy for the wearing of budgies.
Perhaps that’s the trick to pulling off a pair: unwavering confidence and a nonchalant, devil-may-care attitude towards showing off what God gave you; see Ray Winstone in 2000’s Sexy Beast, somewhat beefier of frame and resplendent in a canary yellow pair of tiny swimmers. It’s something every moustachioed German tourist in the 1970s achieved, and it’s no easy feat.
But do you have to be a 1980s pop heartthrob, a cricket legend or a Hollywood star to work the look yourself? “After Kylie, budgie-smugglers might just be Australia’s best export,” says stylist Sarah Ann Murray. “I like the old-school vibe when sported genuinely; picture glistening bodies on Bondi ready to race or rescue at the drop of a hat.”
Can anyone wear them? “Far be it from me to say that only those with athletic physiques should embrace teeny tiny Lycra. My principled mind wants to say, “Yes, free the thigh… Anyone should be able to wear them,” as I would bikinis for women. Yet the stylist in me wonders whether, unless worn in serious sporting moments or an ironic sense – complete with mullet and tash – we should leave them to Adam Peaty,” Murray argues. “There’s a happy compromise to be found with cycling-short-style swimmers. The perfect evolution from ‘boardies’ for sports pursuits, maximum tanning or simply liberated sun, sea and frolicking.”
An added inch or two goes a long way, then. For something even more wearable, and universally acceptable, there’s also the tailored style, mid-length swim short. Made popular by the likes of Orlebar Brown, which supplied its Setter shorts to Craig’s Bond in Skyfall, this medium-length take is as smart as swimwear gets. They have tailoring-inspired details including waistband side adjusters and a zip fly, and can even double up as regular shorts away from the pool when worn with a polo shirt. Elsewhere, regular board shorts still remain the most popular option globally, with their comfortable drawstring waist and moderate, modesty-protecting length.
But, for times when you want to execute a perfect dive, channel an oiled and magnificent Winstone, or you just want to deny gravity, there’s really only one answer.