Staple #22: The Swimming Suit

It doesn’t matter if you live in a climate that only has a week-long summer, every man needs to own a swimming suit. You take it on vacation, to the beach, camping, or just to the local pool.

It should be an easy purchase, but if you’re not careful you’ll look like the guy who either never left high school or is rocking Lena Dunham-worthy love handles. Here’s how you do it.

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Go shorter than you think. One of the keys to dressing well is doing so confidently and intentionally. You’re as close to naked as you should ever be in public when you’re in your swim suit, so confidently wearing something both shorter and smaller is going to make you look larger and communicate that you’re comfortable with the way your nearly naked body looks. Of course, this is even more rewarding when you’ve taken the time to eat right and work out so you have a beach-worthy physique.

Don’t take this to mean I’m an advocate of boxer-brief style trunks, man thongs, or speedos. Moderation is key here. Show some thigh and leave the calf-grazing board shorts to teenagers and wakeboarders.

For all body types you’ll want to stick with classics like flat fronts and minimal or no pockets. You’ll also want to know the difference between swim trunks and board shorts.

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Swim trunks have been around since the 1930’s. They’re typically made of cotton, polyester, or nylon and are traditionally shorter. Because many are made with natural materials they will cling more and also dry more slowly. Add to that the fact that they have elastic waist bands and you soon realize that these are made for the skinny or athletic man who doesn’t have any extra body fat he needs to worry about. They are very quickly making a comeback and should be your go-to if you’re well-built and want something that looks casual and relaxing.

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Board shorts are a later, sportier iteration of swimwear and are typically made of synthetic materials. This makes them more water-resistant and less likely to cling. Board shorts also are typified by a velcro front and laced waist band. No elastic means they’re much more forgiving on that spare tire you may still be sporting. These are for the larger and/or softer man and those who spend more time engaging in beach-worthy activities that are more physically demanding than reading a book or working on your tan.

Up until recent years board shorts were next to impossible to find any shorter than knee-length. Fortunately clothing companies are aware of the changing tide (heh heh) in menswear and are creating different length options to accommodate preferences and styles.

Regardless of your body type, fit is still king with swimwear as much as anything else. You want shorts that will follow the natural lines of your body without restricting movement. Narrower leg openings and shorter inseams keep everything in proportion and help you look like a grown man.

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There’s nothing formal or serious about a swim suit, so this is a great piece of clothing with which you can embrace patterns and styles. That being said, there’s still a difference between dressing like an adult and dressing like a child. So geometric prints, Hawaiian florals, ginghams, or other patterns are great, whereas Sponge Bobs, dragon tattoos, or anything else that tries to either look ironic or tough should be left on the rack at the store.

If you find yourself in the water more than just a couple of times per year, you may want to invest in more than one pair. Whereas those who only see their trunks on vacation or the annual barbecue are fine with a single set.

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Meet The Author


Tanner is the founder and primary author of Masculine Style. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with his wife and two kids, and helps run Beckett & Robb - a men's clothing company built around custom suits and shirts.
  • Peregrine John

    My personal preference in length is to mid-thigh, perhaps an inch or so longer than in that first image, though I had not thought of the reasons listed above. Because of my notably blocky thigh muscles, it simply stays where it should more easily, when wet. Shorter tends to ride up, which honestly isn’t always bad. But definitely worse, longer tends to grab onto the lower “edge” of my quads.

    Note that board shorts were originally made for surfers for a reason. They are not remotely as flattering, but are good for their intended purpose.

    • MasculineStyle

      Ya that bunchiness can be a pain. Mid thigh is ideal for a lot of reasons.

  • sam

    I tried to buy some trunks recently and went home empty handed. I think J. Crew was the only place I found anything appropriate but all the J. Crew stuff is cut for people with love handles, so it didn’t fit me. Some specific recomendations would be nice.

    • MasculineStyle

      J Crew is actually where I pulled all of these photos from. The guy in the photo is wearing a pair from American Apparel and H&M had some good stuff this summer as well.

  • Kine

    I’ve got Vilebrequin and i love them! ;)

  • https://www.cladwell.com/ Eric

    Love the call out on the differentiation between trunks and board shorts.

  • Trace

    I disagree that board shorts are more forgiving. In contrast, elastic is forgiving by definition. Try gaining 5+ pounds after buying your board shorts and you’ll quickly realize they aren’t at all forgiving and the Velcro doesn’t help much. It’s at times like this that I reach for those elastic “dad” trunks you’re recommending.