How to Stand Out in Swimsuit Season

Men’s swimsuits are a fairly modern creation, being that throughout most of history men bathed and swam separately from women and therefore didn’t need to wear anything. It was only with mixed-sex bathing that men’s swimsuits were developed, primarily as a modesty garment. Up until the early 20th century, US law prohibited men from even being bare-chested in public, and most wore woolen one-piece swimsuits. The leg could not be shorter than 4 inches from the knee and the skirt not shorter than two inches above the bottom of the trunks.That changed when in the 1930s men protested for the right to go topless until finally in 1936 New York lifted the topless ban, ushering in a new era of swimwear. Swimsuits now became more about function and style than mere cover-up. The 60s especially saw a proliferation of swimsuits designed for different functions in an array of new fabrics, with a marked accent on color and style. Today the sheer number of men’s swimwear styles and cuts in any department store can be overwhelming, making it easy to sometimes make a hasty choice, or to simply stick to the same swimsuit you’ve been wearing season after season. Here’s a quick review of what to consider when shopping for a new swimsuit. 

Swim Trunks

Trunks are by far the most popular men’s swimwear, at least in the US. Similar to shorts, but made from light, fast-drying materials like nylon or polyester, with a more fitted lining and a range of inseam lengths, trunks come in a virtually limitless variety of colors and patterns. If you’re in relatively decent shape, look for a slimmer, shorter cut. Don’t go too short or too tight – just comfortably fitted in proportion to how slim you are. Shorter and/or more muscled men can pull off shorter styles best. Flat-front trunks with a velcro closure are a good style option. Also, consider colors and/or graphic patterns – checks, paisleys, polka dots – to highlight the cut and summery look. Overall, trunks make a confident style statement. For a slightly less revealing style, try square-cut trunks. They hug the body from the waist to the upper thigh, with leg openings cut straight across.

Style reference: Sean Connery as 007 in Thunderball

Board Shorts

Originally developed for board sports like surfing and paddle-boarding, board shorts are a longer version of trunks that come to or past the knee and are fitted closer to the torso, often with a non-elastic waist. Board shorts are a great option if you have a beer belly or lovehandles. They cover up nicely while still looking stylish. Be careful not to go too long and baggy because that can backfire and make you look more shapeless. A little tailoring and solid colors are a good bet. Keep in mind that loose fabric when wet can chafe, so looser is definitely not better if you’re going to be very active. If you're in decent shape, lace-up board shorts can make for a classic resort look beyond the pool – add loafers and a button-down shirt for summer evening cocktails. There are also Jammers, knee-length, skintight suits used by water athletes to reduce drag. Wearing them presumes that you are in good shape.

Style reference: Ryan Gosling

Swim Briefs

Often generically referred to simply as “speedos,” the popular trademarked brand, swim briefs are tight, body-hugging swimsuits most commonly designed in stretch fabric and with an interior lining. Cut well below the waist and V-shaped in front to bare the thighs, swim briefs make a decidedly bolder statement. Whether you work hard on your physique, or you’re just fortunate to have been genetically endowed with a fat-free body, swim briefs are the best way to show off your body. They are more popular in Europe and South America than in the US, but that is likely changing as we continue shedding our Puritan roots (and oversized trunks). If you’re not sure whether you can pull off a swim brief or not, ask a girl – she’ll tell you. (Hopefully nicely.)

Style reference: Daniel Craig in Casino Royale

General Type Tips:

Tall and athletic: You lucky dog – you can wear anything.

Short and athletic: Swim briefs work well for you. A high leg cut make legs look longer and a low waist band shows off those abs. (Avoid really long trunks.)

Tall and thin: Board shorts are best – tailored, not baggy.

Tall and big: Long trunks in solid colors or smaller patterns. (Bold patterns make you look all the bigger.)

Other Considerations: How intensive are your swimwear activities? For example, swimming in a hotel pool doesn’t have as rigorous requirements as surfing, and can mean he difference between swim briefs and board shorts. Also, how much sun protection do you need? Prolonged sun exposure may call for more body coverage, thus longer trunks. Whatever style of swimsuit you choose, just be sure it stays up when you dive in - that’s where a cord serves best.