Max Humfress V's swimming costume

Contributed by: Manly Art Gallery & Museum

Max Humfress wearing his V's, ca. 1911 Max Humfress wearing his V's, ca. 1911 Max Humfress' V's
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    Manly Art Gallery & Museum
  • Date range:

    1906 - 1916
  • Place of origin:

    Manly, New South Wales, Australia
  • Gender:

    Male, Child
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Object information

Significance statement

This very rare example of a young boy's homemade V's dates to around 1911. The images of 3 year old Max Humfress wearing them add tremendous interest and value to this garment. The provenance is enhanced by the appliqued letters 'MH' on the front. They are the only child's 'V's' and one of the earliest 'V's'- in the Manly Museum and Art Gallery collection.

'V's' are cotton, roughly made, V-shaped costumes for men from the 1920s-30s that covered the lower part of a mans body. They were an attempt to bring modesty to the beach, where it had been common for men to swim in the nude. The cotton pants, if worn on their own, exaggerated a man's shape, especially when wet and therefore had the opposite effect. They were strictly designed to be worn over a 'neck to knee' knitted costume for modesty purposes but this was also not very successful. They were a precursor to the Speedo.

This new type of swimwear not only shocked but also challenged ideas of what was and what was not acceptable beach wear. It also questioned the ways that the body should be displayed, or, in this case, concealed on Australian beaches.

Author: Jackie Dunn, Sarah Bendall, Lindie Ward, 22/11/2012.


Grey-blue handmade child's cotton 'V's' with stitched white cotton tape initials, 'MH' of owner and wearer, 3 year old Max Humfress.

The V's are machine stitched, probably by a home dressmaker. They consist of front and back panels, joined at the left side and the crotch.

The right side fastens with a cotton drawstring, secured through a channel around the waist. The seam for the drawstring has been simply turned over twice and machine sewn with a straight stitch.

At the centre front the initials 'MH' have been stitched on by machine with cotton tape, slightly wider than that used on the drawstring. The thread for the stitching of the initials has not been reversed and therefore the ends of the thread have become loose. Similarly, the stitching in a number of areas has broken down leaving gaps between the thread.

The simplicity of design and lack of elasticized waist indicate this was almost certainly not created by a professional seamstress but most likely a family member, possibly Max's mother.

Link to further information about this object

History and Provenance

Max Humfress went on to become a champion swimmer in Brisbane, winning the 1933, 1934 and 1935 'Speedo Shield' for the Brisbane based City Pastime Amateur Swimming Club. He also was a champion swimmer and life saver with Surfers Paradise Surf Life Saving Club in 1933-34. The family maintained a long connection with swimming, holidaying in Manly for many years. Max was a foundation member of the Surf Life Saving Club Currumbin and Surfers Paradise.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

This is one of the oldest known examples of 'Vs' - the predecessor of the modern day Speedo. Popular from the beginning of the 20th century until the end of the 1930s, these cotton V-shaped costumes for men covered the lower part of the body and were usually worn by themselves or over a one piece costume for added modesty, the latter was made a by-law in some Sydney councils in 1906. 'Vs' were particularly popular in swimming baths such as Manly Cove in Sydney and often provoked outrage from moralists over the exhibitionist tendencies of those men who wore them without a traditional one piece (which covered from neck to knee) underneath.

One such opponent was the Mayor of Waverly who in 1907 wrote that "the most objectionable aspect of surf bathing was the pleasure that bathers derived from promenading their exposed bodies." The mayor went on to refer specifically to 'Vs' which seemed only to accentuate rather than conceal the male anatomy as after contact with the water... show up the figure in a very much worse manner than if they were nude." Another commentator, this time a mother, wrote in a letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald in February 1907 that she was forced to leave Balmoral beach with her daughters due to the "sprawling men and lads, naked, but for a nondescript rag around their middle."

This new type of swimwear not only shocked but also challenged ideas of what was and what was not acceptable swimwear, as well as how the body should be displayed, or in this case concealed, on Australian beaches.

Where did this information come from?

Courtesy of Margaret Ekert.

This garment has been exhibited

Yes, this garment is currently on display at the Manly Museum and Art Gallery for the exhibition 'On the Beach: Gems from the Manly swimwear collection.' Curated by Sarah Johnson and Lorraine Foster.

  1. Place of origin:

    Manly, New South Wales, Australia

  2. Owned by:

    Max Humfress

  3. Worn by:

    Max Humfress

  4. Occasion(s):


  5. Made by:

    Unknown- likely by the owners mother or family member by the indication of amateur construction techniques.

Trimmings / Decoration

The initials of the owner and wearer Max Humfress have been appliqued on the centre front in cotton tape using a single straight stitch. The letters have been specifically created for the piece and have been layed out by hand before applied by machine stitching.

Fibre / Weave

Made entirely of cotton, including the base fabric and tape used for the initials and drawstring.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


This costume was machine sewn by an amateur for the wearer Max Humfress.

All the seams, including the channel for the drawstring and applique are sewn using a single row straight stitch. These seams have not been reversed to secure the thread and have become loose over time as a result.


No label- garment was handmade

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other


  1. Bias
  2. Straight


Cotton tape used for the drawstring measures 6mm wide.

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring


Waist 560 mm
Front waist to hem 132 mm
Back waist to hem 125 mm
Convert to inches

Overall height by width is 180 x 265mm

Side width at hip- 25mm

Leg hole circumfrence- 380mm

Tape width- For initials- 6mm

For drawstring- 10mm



  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor


  1. Discolouration
  2. Crease
  3. Stained
  4. Worn
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