This one has been in the works for quite awhile now but, finding mens swim wear that isn’t terrible isn’t as easy as one would think. I have been a swimmer for most of my life. In competition its easy enough but, shorts for the beach or lounging proves to be much more difficult. I have been searching for interesting swim suits for a long time and eventually it hit me, where are you going to find stylish well made swim suits?, places where rich people vacation of course. So, a lot of the companies on this list come from southern France, Italy, and the Caribbean meaning, you will probably be the only person, where ever you live, wearing them.
When it comes to a story, the history of swim wear is relatively short considering humans have been enjoying the water since we walked on all fours. It wasn’t until the mid-18th century that bathing clothes became a common and required fashion in private bath houses and even then, swimming nude at public waterholes, rivers, lakes, and the sea was the norm until well into the 19th century. Nude bathing was outlawed for men in the UK in 1860 although little changed. Many people still did as they pleased and the few that followed the law swam in there underwear which, wasn’t much of an up grade as far as decency is concerned. But, by the 1870’s a rudimentary form of swim costume began to be available. For men, these early swim outfits consisted of shorts and a waist coat constructed of a sturdy fabric so that modesty could be protected or something resembling a union suit.
man in his swim costume/underwear c. 1915
The first prototypes of ”modern” swim trunks were cumbersome and made swimming extremely difficult. The first Jantzen suit weighed nearly 9 lb. when fully soaked. Modesty continued to be an issue well into the 1920’s. Under the “Bathing Suit Regulations” published in May 17, 1917, men’s suits had to be worn with flannel knee pants and a vest with a fly front.
The introduction of Lastex (synthetic rubber yarn) in the 1930’s created a whole new era in men’s swim wear. This “miracle fiber” made it possible to give the wearer the appearance of a fit form. Even overweight men had the chance to be “Mr. Muscles,” according to the advertisements. Athletic supports, called “Sunaka” supports were sewn directly into the trunks, similar to a girdle, providing comfort and a trim appearance in front.
men at the beach c. 1930’s
The “Men’s Topper” introduced a new thrill in men’s swim wear. This unprecedented belted, two-tone wool suit gave the wearer the option to go bare. The deeply scooped top was attached to the front of the trunks with the newly-invented zipper. Instead of being connected, the back of the suit featured a “y” arrangement of straps to secure the top to the chest. The top was removed by just unzipping the zipper. Unfortunately for many of those who did, this led to arrests for “indecent exposure.”
The public’s concern with nudity eroded as time passed. Shorts were the typical swim wear for men, with men’s swimsuits during the 1940’s looking very similar to the narrow hips and smooth abdomen of the women’s styles. Of course, those males with a little more modesty in mind could always opt for the “boxer-type” shorts. With women’s suits becoming more flamboyant than ever during the 1950’s and beyond, the male bathing costume was not to be outdone, resulting in an explosion of color patterns and fancy detailing. “Cabana sets” consisting of matching boxer trunks and shirts with loud prints such as zebra stripes and pony prints exploded onto the scene.
awesome cabana set pattern from the 1960’s
From the 1950’s on mens swim wear stayed more or less the same shape evolving with the changing textiles. The basic swim short in various lengths and styles are what ever guy wears today. But, when it comes down to it there are really only three categories of modern mens swim wear that should be acceptable; trunks, board shorts, and swim shorts. These may seem like all the same but, the differences are many and noticeable. Below I will go into each one in detail as well as list a few that I like. DISCLAIMER: Most of the suits on this list I have only seen online so, I can not speak to their exact fit beyond the pictures but, that being said most of them seem to be cut well and they are all companies I would trust.
To start, board shorts, are exactly what they sound like, a swim suit designed to be worn while surfing or being very active in the water. The terrible version has been popularized by douche bags and frat boys the world over. First, if you aren’t surfing or doing something where your shorts my get pulled off by the water you shouldn’t be wearing board shorts. Simply good board shorts should be durable, to hold up against the salt and board wax, very simple in design, no tribal/flower/girlie prints or things to break, a tie that will hold your waist tight and not let go, to prevent any de-suiting, if you will, during vigorous activity, slim but, with enough room in the leg to move freely, and finally, they should cover enough of your thigh that you don’t get board rash from the wax and sea water rubbing your hair into your board. Notice, I did not say covers the knee, I said covers enough of the thigh, which means no more then necessary. Although the board short is probably the longest of the three categories it should still end several inches above the top of your knee. Think 1970’s beach bum, add some gold aviators, Huaraches and a Oaxacan blanket, maybe a bum straw hat and you’ll be set.
Sundek $119 rainbow band with drawstring
Birdwell Britches $61 305 on the right 301 on the left
Saturdays Surf NYC $75 checks and jailbreak
Original Penguin $65 original plaid
Next, trunks. Trunks are probably the most common swim suit you see, at least before the onslaught of the tribal board shorts. Popularized by the cabana set trend in the 1960’s trunks continue to common in awesome colors and patterns and are great for lounging and hanging out by a pool or laying out for a tan. They usually have an elastic waist with a tie on the inside, few if any pockets, mesh liner, and a little bit of a drape. They are always very comfortable and light weight making them hassle free but, also less secure in rough water. Trunks come in every shape and size and within the bounds of a good eye that can make for some fun looks. You know you will probably never really wear a pair of trunks more then 50 yards from water so, you can get a little crazy with the patterns and not worry so much about looking like a fish out of water. Traditional flower prints (not the tribal shit), basic geometrics and bright colors are right at home here. Think of the colors and attitude of a beach in San Tropez. Kick back in your beach chaise, order a fruity drink from the beautiful bar girl, relax and absorb the aquas, oranges, yellows, and greens to the sounds of calypso and crashing waves.
Franks Australia $140
Armata di Mare $57 stripes $64 floral
MC2 Saint Barth $132
Solleone Capri $95
Lastly, the swim short. If you want to dress like a grown up and look good by the pool the swim short is what you need. They are the swim suits you would see James Bond in. The kind of swim wear that you can walk around town on the weekend in and not feel like your going to a pool party but, still be ready if the chance arises. Be able to go from the beach to dinner just by grabbing a jacket. If the board short is the polo of the swim wear world then this would be the suit and tie. The swim short should be fitted, just like the pants of your favorite suit, but, not to the point of the obscene, shorter then the board short but, still acceptable in the city, have the convinces of normal shorts such as pockets, zip fly, and a snap closer, and finally, again, will be simple and elegant. Think 1960’s atomic chic, Sean Connery’s Bond by the famous Piscine Molitor in Paris.
Sundek $129 snap fly
Dondup $59 snap short
Olasul $135 Cielo 5”
Orlebar Brown $205 Setter
Onia $130 Calder 7.5”
Park & Ronen $108 2” Angeleno
In the end its all about fit and just like everything else fit is very individual. I gave you a bit of an overview on each style and how they should fit above but, everyone is shaped a little different so, there are some basic guidelines that if you follow you can’t go wrong. First the smaller you are the shorter your shorts should be. Now, of course there is a point where they shouldn’t get any shorter but, if you are a fit person then longer baggy shorts will just make you look tiny. On the other hand if you are a bigger guy or you are a power lifter or sprinter or something with absurdly large thighs then you should wear slightly longer shorts or else your thighs or belly as the case may be will swallow them. Much of what I posted favors the shorter and the smaller but, most of these companies make longer versions of the same suits. Just follow the links.