Reader question: Why are the French so obsessed with Speedos?

Reader question: Why are the French so obsessed with Speedos?
French diver Matthieu Rosset models a Speedo. Photo: Carly Trebaillaud/AFP
In many part of the world Speedos are now regarded as a bit of a joke or at least dated - in France they are compulsory.

Question: What is it with the French and Speedos? Why do I have to wear them if I want to swim at my local pool?

The skimpy male swimwear item – also known as a budgie-smuggler or a banana-hammock – has been out of fashion for many years in other countries, but in France they are not just popular but compulsory in some places.

If you want to swim in a municipal pool you need to follow strict guidelines on dress.

For men this means Speedos – baggy swim shorts or trunks are not allowed.

Men and women must also wear a bonnet be bain (swimming cap) and in most cases only bald swimmers are exempt from this rule.

More controversially, women must wear either a standard one-piece swimsuit or a bikini – the full-body ‘burkini’ swimsuit favoured by many Muslim women (as well as non-Muslim women who are not comfortable with revealing swimwear) is not allowed.

For the more extroverted female swimmers, thong swimsuits are also banned, as is the ‘monokini’ – ie wearing bikini bottoms only and going topless.

The above rules apply only to local-authority run pools, private pools can  set their own rules while beaches allow a variety of different clothing.

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The Borat-style ‘mankini’ isn’t explicitly forbidden in French pools, but is inadvisable for many reasons. Photo by LEON NEAL / AFP

So what is the obsession with Speedos in the pool?

The French pools guide lists ‘hygiene and public welfare’ as the reason for the strict guidelines on appropriate poolwear.

When it comes to male attire, the guide explains: “It’s a question of hygiene. 

“Swimming trunks, as well as Bermuda shorts or boardshorts, can be worn all day long. The main reason for banning this type of clothing is to reduce pollution of the pools (hair, sweat, urine residue, etc) in order to preserve the quality of the water.

“Moreover, long shorts are loose fitting and often have pockets. When swimming, it is possible to forget to remove objects such as tissues or papers from the pockets. These objects have no business being in the pool and can end up floating on the surface of the water.”

There is a little flexibility here though, as well as the classic ‘budgie smuggler’ Speedo, Speedo shorts are also permitted as long as they are tight fitting and these are much more popular with younger Frenchmen.

Hygiene is also given as the reason for compulsory swimming caps – they prevent hair shedding into the pool where it pollutes the water and clogs up the filters.

The rules on women’s attire however, are more moralistic. It is regarded as a matter of ‘public wellbeing’ that thong swimwear is not seen, while a pair of naked breasts is also regarded as a threat to public decency.

It’s worth pointing out that these rules do not apply on the beach, though, so men can cover up in baggy shorts while women can either get their baps out or cover up completely while sunbathing. 

Attempts by some mayors in southern France to ban the burkini on the beach were overturned by French courts.

You can find more explanations of everyday life in France in our Reader Questions section.

Member comments

    1. And the first thing a little kid is likely to do upon entering the water is to pee in it. I’ve seen guys hanging around all day in speedos and then getting into the pool as well. Given that most pools also have a chlorine content that can’t be healthy, I think I’ll stick to the sea.

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