Competition swimsuits differ somewhat from fashion swimsuits in style, fit, and fabric. Because they are designed to stay in place and facilitate swimming speed in the water (rather than flatter the body), competition swimsuits do not generally warrant a huge amount of attention on the fashion swimsuit scene. However, competition swimsuits do come in a variety of styles and boast an interesting history that fits seamlessly with the overall history of swimsuits.
Today, the competition swimsuit market is generally dominated by the swimsuit brand Speedo. While Jantzen and some other swimsuit brands do maintain a tenuous hold in competition swimwear, Speedo
swimwear are now worn by nearly 90% of Olympians, including Michael Phelps and Inge de Bruijn.
The Speedo swimsuit company was launched in 1914 when it expanded its production from underwear to swimsuits. While Speedo swimsuits were somewhat popular in the early decades of the 20th century, it would be their general domination among the athletes at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 that would provide their entrance to the international market and solidify their current popularity among athletes.
The manufacturers of competitive swimsuits pay attention to several factors that are not generally important in fashionable or recreational swimsuits. Because speed and smoothness in the water are so essential to a good competition swimsuit, manufacturers have paid close attention to the skin of water animals (like sharks and dolphins). A major goal of competitive swimsuit manufacturers is replicating the texture and smoothness of water animal skin in swimsuit fabric. For example, the Speedo brand recently released its line of Fastskin swimsuits, designed to replicate a shark’s skin in the water. While colors, prints, and cut are the most important factors in recreational swimwear, texture and tightness are the most important factors in competitive swimwear.
Competition swimsuits generally contain a high concentration of spandex fabric to ensure a consistent, streamlined fit on the body. Because of the high amount of chlorine competitive swimsuits are required to combat, the fabric is generally treated for chlorine resistance. However, no fabric can be treated for complete chlorine resistance. Thus, competition swimsuits wear out fairly quickly with heavy use.
Competition swimsuits for both men and women come in a variety of cuts and fits. Men’s competitive swimsuits come in every cut from the basic brief style to full body coverage. Women’s competitive swimsuits also range from basic tank maillots to full-body suits. Many serious competitors use the full-body swimsuit style to take advantage of the specially designed texture of the fabric.
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