Swellboy on… beach dressing

Ahead of his yearly pilgrimage to the playas of Marbella, Nick Foulkes ponders the wisdom – or otherwise – of disporting oneself in towelling

Orlebar Brown towelling Resort polo, £95
Orlebar Brown towelling Resort polo, £95

The time is drawing nigh for the annual pilgrimage to that other Eden known as Marbella and as usual my chief concern is what to wear on the beach.

Orlebar Brown Bulldog 007 You Only Live Twice swim shorts, £245
Orlebar Brown Bulldog 007 You Only Live Twice swim shorts, £245

Dressing for the playa is more difficult than it sounds. It should be straightforward; after all one wears fewer clothes on the beach and to be fair I am spared the inner wrestling of the soul that accompanies my choice of tie. Likewise, matching, or creatively mismatching, the shade of my socks with my pocket handkerchief no longer becomes an issue as summer is usually a sockless time of year. 

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But alas, I lack the heroic bronzed physique that one needs to wander seaside sands with complete insouciance. If I have the build of a Greek god then it is Dionysus and if my body is a temple then it is one of those very ruined ones. My aim is to cover as much of my frame as possible in clothing that is beach appropriate: thus, the genius of Terry Haste at Kent, Haste & Lachter on whom I rely to “create” my physique is ruled out – unless I decide to go sunbathing in a tweed jacket or pinstriped suit.

Vilebrequin terry cloth Pacific polo shirt, £120
Vilebrequin terry cloth Pacific polo shirt, £120

My default is a knee-length bathing costume and voluminous linen shirt in matching print by Emma Willis, but this year I am also experimenting with towelling.

Udeshi Italian cotton towelling blazer, £375
Udeshi Italian cotton towelling blazer, £375 | Image: Andy Barnham

Of course, the most famous towelling beach garment in the storied history of towelling beach garments was worn by Sean Connery in Goldfinger, a short-sleeved, self-belted, powder-blue playsuit – it brought out Sean’s feminine side, which was quite an achievement given that before he embraced the dramatic arts he was a lorry driver. 

Connolly cashmere Beach cardigan, £1,800
Connolly cashmere Beach cardigan, £1,800

Unaccountably, such a garment is hard to find. However, I have located an excellent compromise solution: Adam Brown’s bathing costume company Orlebar Brown offers a towelling polo (£95) in the right 007-approved shade  (called by them “Riviera blue”) and sells bathing trunks (£245) decorated with posters from Bond films – although sadly not Goldfinger. Elsewhere, Vilebrequin has made some sinfully soft towelling polos (£120), and perhaps they can be persuaded to run to a playsuit next year – it would look just the thing poolside at the Byblos in Saint-Tropez.

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Meanwhile, Oscar Udeshi is so dedicated to perfecting the towelling beach blazer that he has moved to Marbella to conduct in-depth year-round research. He favours shawl collars and slanted patch pockets, plus a small pocket for a Dupont lighter (that is any serious swimmer’s constant companion) and an outbreast pocket on which a motif can be embroidered. He claims that if you assume this garment (£375) upon leaving the water, by the time one reaches the beach restaurant the torso will be dry.

Rather improbably, he says that he was inspired by a 1943 duffel coat, but he is not the only person to adapt an essentially winter garment to summer use. I was in Connolly the other day and came across a blue, belted, multiply cashmere cardigan of the sort that reminds me of Starsky & Hutch. The mere sight sent me off into a Proustian reverie, while my mind’s eye made a quick trip back to 1975 to see Paul Michael Glaser as Starsky clambering over the bonnet of the famous vector-striped, cerise Ford Gran Torino wearing just such a garment. 

However, this garment was not conceived from car chases along the streets of southern California circa 1975; this is a “beach cardigan” squarely aimed at the billionaire yachtie who feels a bit of nip in the evening air while out on deck watching the sun set on the Ligurian Riviera or the Amalfi Coast.

It is a true billionaire’s garment not so much on account of its own price tag (£1,800), but because, in the event of there being no cool summer evenings this year, one will require the services of a large yacht with the airconditioning turned right down low to make the most of it.

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