This is in response to a few emails I've received regarding private beaches and beach clubs. Generally, if you choose to join one, I suggest going many times per week to make it worth it. Some of them are quite affordable, and some are priced for suckers. People were wondering how one dresses at a private beach club. I realize that writing about this makes me sound like a pretentious twit, but as I composed the emails, I realized how strange and subtle some of the customs are.
At a Cape beach where young hungover groundskeepers wake up early to pitchfork the seaweed into a small trailer behind a New Holland tractor. My 5:30am alarm clock wants to go look for shells, and I won't disappoint him. My Yankee skin is nearly flammable in translucent paleness, and SPF 30 is usually deployed after breakfast. The beach is quiet and the sky is pink at sunrise... I should have brought a coffee or a club soda. A man in his seventies swims beyond the jetties in the calm sea for what must be several miles, slowly but steadily and ably. We dig around in the sand and explore the pockets of the jetty for crabs, shells, and seaglass and I teach him how to make a sword and shield from a dead horseshoe crab body as I did when I was his age. As we leave, a young gal is setting up the umbrellas for the day, and the morning is hinting (or warning) that the sun will be full and hot soon.
As uptight as the day-time attendees on this beach are about nearly everything else, the body is seen as honest and honorable. The dress code is interesting. If you tan well, you are expected to be nearly naked so that the pale-skins can live vicariously through you. The pale (me) never last over an hour without retreating to an umbrella, hat, or loose cotton shirt (preferably a ratty one). Athletic physiques aren't noticed, but intentional musculature is viewed as suspicious. Bathing suits mustn't be seen as an attempt at "sexy" and since most of the men there have had numerous crushes on a lifeguardess or two throughout childhood and their teen years, a woman in her twenties or thirties will do well wearing a red one-piece and aviators... call it muscle-memory I guess.
Vanity is openly mocked and any aftermarket parts on women are the stuff of scandal. Body shapes and sizes are not fretted over, as the beach is intended to be a refuge from concerns about love-handles, thinning hair, etc. Extra pounds on women are not even noticed. Nudity is not welcome (unsanctioned midnight skinny dipping excluded, of course), but there exists a refreshing welcome of natural and honest.
Men wear polo shirts, old button-downs, baseball hats, straw hats, moderate bathing trunks (no long board-shorts) though for the past few years the shorter Thomas Magnum-style are coming back. Shirts come off once you set up your chair or towel, but are put back on even to use the clubhouse bathroom. If you are 50 and have a large gut, feel free to strut it, as you will be in good company. Flip-flops and boat shoes are the norm for footwear, so don't bring your running shoes or socks. Do not smoke, turn off your cellphone, and if they have wait staff on the beach, order your drinks as quietly as possible. Only children are permitted to be boisterous, and never bring your own chairs... the club will have better ones. If you go as a guest, no cash will be exchanged, so don't pull out any money at the bar... it will all be signed for by your host (so buy him or her a drink later in the week). It is also fine to bring small snacks, but if there is a restaurant or grill there, don't pack a picnic, and for God's sake, no coolers.
If you have a thing for a young female lifeguard, don't try to chat her up. Instead, make friends with her male colleagues because the guys will invite you out drinking with them, and guess who will also be there... yup.
Why they can suck
If you are single, and over 17, you may be out of luck for any kind of scene. You also won't have anything awesome like a popsicle truck parked nearby, and if you get stuck talking to some grandmother, she will likely corner you into legitimately pretentious prattling about her grandchildren and their schools. Parking can also be a pain, and during the summer, clubs are always seduced by wedding revenue, so you won't be able to go to your own club a few times per week, and rarely on weekend evenings because Jennifer and Tom have to have their seashell and starfish barefoot-in-the-sand dream wedding be picture perfect.
In the end, the beach should be enjoyed. Playing cards with your Navy buddies is fine, digging in the sand is fine, and chasing your kids is fine. Don't spread your crap out, don't bring anything inflatable, and don't be creeped out by having to wade or swim through seaweed. Don't freak out about your small children changing or undressing right on the beach, because nobody cares. Unless you go often, they can be a rip-off.
There are times to wear nice clothing, and times to not wear very much.