New-Wave Water Wear

So long itsy-bitsy-teeny-weenie-yellow-polka dot bikini. This summer, you’ll notice that the biggest clothing trend at beaches and poolside is sleeves. Long sleeves. In fact, the hottest item of water wear today is a long-sleeved protective swim shirt called a “rash guard.” (Short-sleeved rash guards are also available.) Originally created for surfers, rash guards are now favored active wear for anyone spending time in the sun and water.

One reason rash guards caught on widely is that they were found to offer a huge bonus: they protect the chest, arms, stomach and back not only from rashes caused by board chafing, but also from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Made of materials like lycra spandex, nylon or polyester, they have an exceptionally high ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) compared to everyday T-shirts.

They are better than ever now. Lightweight, breathable and quick-drying, they are just as comfortable in and out of the water as they are protective. Parents tired of chasing after their kids in the sun say it’s a better bet to put them in a rash guard than having to reapply sunscreen to their upper torso and arms every two hours.

Function and Fashion

O’Neill Wetsuits began making their neon-colored swim shirts for surfers in the early 1980’s, to protect their skin under wetsuits as well as when paddling surfboards. “We were the first in the industry to offer rash guards as a layering piece and as an outer garment,” said Brian Kilpatrick, director of Marketing Communications for O’Neill. “They served a dual purpose to prevent rashes and to protect from the elements – sun, wind and sand abrasion.”

Eventually, word spread about these amazing multipurpose shirts, and today they are riding a wave of popularity well beyond the surfing community. Clothing makers like J.Crew, Lands’ End and Coolibar offer a variety of rash guards in fashionable designs for men, women and children, with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) as high as 50 (meaning that just 1/50 of the sun’s UV rays reach the skin).

Michael Hubsmith, executive vice president of Coolibar, says rash guards have become popular in and out of the water. “You can wear them with a pair of shorts, making it part of an active wardrobe. It’s not just the surfer look. It can be very casual, classic sportswear.”

Published on August 13, 2014