Seaside hang-outs: Hilly Janes wishes men would show a bit more decorum in their choice of beach apparel

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The Independent Online
THE BIGGEST threat to our shores this summer is not sewage, indestructible plastic bottles or French seamen. It is fat men in shorts. From Swansea to Southwold, as soon as the sun comes out, they defile our beaches in their thousands, with their pendulous stomachs, bulging crotches and hairy white legs.

It's not just the shorts, which are minuscule and therefore much too tight. Why do they have to keep their shoes and socks? Black socks. And why do the trainers that they wear the black socks with always have to be dirty? Haven't they heard of sandals? Even a pair of flip-flops from Woolies would look more stylish.

It would help if the beach bums wore matching T-shirts with their nether garments, preferably loose ones. Don't they know that turquoise nylon buttock huggers with purple flashes and straining waistbands look horrible teamed with orange polyester stretched taught over a bulging paunch? Even topless would be an improvement.

Actually, it's not just fat men in tight shorts. Skinny types in baggy ones can look just as bad. I am accustomed to finding used condoms and dirty sanitary towels on my favourite beach, but nothing could prepare me for the sight of a 6ft, 9st spotty adolescent in one of those holey nylon football shirts (red and white) over a pair of multicoloured, knee-length surfie shorts, drawstring dangling. The fact that he was an Arsenal supporter was no excuse.

It's not that I have anything against shorts or indeed men's bodies per se. What could be sexier than a pair of long, well-turned legs, with matching bottom, in a pair of properly cut bermudas, worn with a short-sleeved polo shirt and a pair of deck shoes? It's a smart enough outfit to wear to the office, as some of my colleagues demonstrate. On the beach, men wearing only Mambos and shades can look terrific. On a bike, so can a messenger in Lycra.

What upsets me about the way the beachside Bunters dress is the sheer slobbiness of it all. 'What sexist rubbish,' I hear a male voice say. 'She'd never dare say that about a woman would she, Neil?'. I probably wouldn't, but then I don't think many women show such total disregard, contempt almost, for their own appearance. Pace feminism, but if ever there were an argument in favour of the pressure on women to look attractive, this is it. Perhaps the difference in attitude is always there, but the clothes we wear to work or in more formal situations disguise it. In the winter I suspect these guys wear shell suits. They may look vile, but at least the top usually matches the bottom and they cover a multitude of sins. On the beach all is revealed. God knows what these men are going to look like if they get skin cancer.

It was not ever thus, and unlike many gripes about the British inability to dress well, it has nothing to do with money. When I was little my father used to wear his baggy old Army shorts held up with a crinkled brown leather belt whenever we went to the beach. If modesty dictated, he would wear a cotton shirt, I think, with the sleeves rolled up and the neck open. We were pretty broke. He looked fine.

The little leather, black-and- white snapshot albums that record my aunty's youth in the Thirties are adorned with pictures of chaps in blazers and baggy trousers posing at picnics on rugs or rocks. They weren't well off, but they looked so elegant. Earlier still, those all-in-one stripey numbers so beloved of Edwardians on the beach may look comical to us now, but weren't they rather dapper? It seems ironic that although many of us now have far more time and money to spend on leisure than our forebears, we look absolutely revolting while at it.

I'll tell you what I really hanker after, though. On a recent Sunday at the seaside, reeling after the sight of so many fat men in shorts, I passed a gentleman going for an afternoon walk. He was wearing a panama hat, a white cotton shirt with a black dickie bow and a creamy, crumpled linen suit. It was boiling hot. He looked absolutely divine.

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