Top and Levi's, the Original Diveskin
The original diveskins were tight jeans with a hooded pullover or neoprene jacket, known as a "Top and Levi's".
The famous "Top and Levi's" remains one of the best skindiving and scuba diveskins, offering protection from overexposure to the sun, stings, cuts and abrasion. When broken-in properly and shrunk-to-fit, jeans are practical for outdoor activities and aquatic sports.
At some dive locations, just suiting-up can be a chore. Here jeans, a T-shirt, a hooded sweatshirt or dive top are all that you might need for a safe, fun dive. And you won't need to change after diving.
Many swimmers and divers combine their jeans with dive fins, mask and snorkle and have an incredibly efficient set of water wear at a fraction of the cost of lycra. Most swimmers and diver combine their 'skins' with dive fins and a mask/snorkel for a very practical and functional set of swim/dive gear. They offer minimal thermal protection but good protection against sun, abrasion, and stings.
Jeans can be purchased slim fit or tapered and some will shrink to fit.
They can also be tucked into dive boots or cuffed to reduce drag underwater.
The serge in the denim fabric of well fitting jeans acts like shark dendrils and funnels the water over the swimmer/diver's body
allowing them to become hydrodynamic and swim faster underwater.
With street clothes and a T-shirt or a neoprene dive top, you have the basics for a safe and fun dive.
Some divers believe that jeans make excellent diving suits. They have a slight negative buoyancy, enabling a diver, either on scuba or freediving, to descend underwater more easily than with an all-neoprene suit, which is positively buoyant, and requires lead weights to achieve the same result.
This is especially important in the ocean where salt water makes the diver more buoyant than in fresh water. The very same jeans that might feel 'heavy' to a beginner swimmer when they go into a pool, are the second skin to the experienced intrepid swimmer/diver in open water.
Levis 501, 505 and 512 Red Tab are the best styles from Levis Strauss for swimming and diving. In the water your jeans provide similar thermal protection as 1 mm neoprene.
Out of the water on cold days jeans provide poor thermal characteristics. The wet cotton cools you down rather quickly, especially if there is any wind chill. Wet jeans stay wet and get cold in even moderate climates. The solution in cooler weather is to add a layer of lightweight nylon rainwear on top to prevent windchill.
When worn with a 2-3 mm neoprene top, you can swim and dive in jeans quite comfortably in water 3-6°C cooler than you normally would. Jeans skins are effective in water above 18°C degrees. In water below 18°C, depending on the water athlete's tolerance to cold, a neoprene divesuit or skin should be worn underneath to avoid hypothermia.
In warm weather and climates where a complete diveskin is needed underwater,
but not at the warmer surface (which might cause over-heating),
the neoprene jacket can be removed and you can swim with just your jeans and a T-shirt or lycra top.
In very warm water a boilersuit is good protection against cuts and scrapes,
but is heavy when wet after the dive and more difficult to take off than when it is dry.
Jeans are a vital part for some divers.
I have heard of guys wearing a sweat shirt and jeans over their wetsuit when diving oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
That way their wetsuit doesn't get torn by the barnicles if they get pushed into part of the oil rig by the current.
~ Jim Bob, New Orleans, USA
Levi's Jeans for Swimming and Diving
I am a lifeguard, rescue diver and shipwreck dive for fun. Levis 511, 512, 510 and 501 (STF) are all good for swimming and diving. Jeans will protect you from the nasties in open water – cuts, scrapes, stings.
Add a rash guard top or hoodie, and you have the original Levis Diveskins! Great with dive boots and fins.
Allow to dry-on for best fit. This is for intrepid swimmers and divers, people who want to hit a pool, or are on the water and need to get wet.
Don’t be dissuaded by the nit wits who cry ‘you can't to swim in jeans’. Just jump in – the water is fine! Be safe. ~ Jason, Santa Monica, USA
Cheap Dive Suits
Some people are diving in Levis because they can't afford wetsuits and want something to protect them from getting scratched and cut up or stung.
I have occasionally seen divers wearing Levis over a wetsuit. I suppose you could do it to provide some cheap protection for your wetsuit, or maybe as a fashion statement.
But as was pointed on this web site, wet cotton is just about the worst choice you can make for heat loss when you get out of the water.
Jeans have their place in diving, but don't wear your brand new ones.
Get the cheap ones from the thrift store.
~ Terry, San Diego