Swim shorts: the blessed sweet spot between barely-there budgie smugglers and achingly uncool ‘rad man’ boardshorts. And it gets better. Not only are swim shorts the ultimate balancing act of beachwear, but they complement a wide bracket of body types – whether you’re tall, stout, short or Henry VIII himself, there’s sure to be a pair that’ll suit.
Swim shorts weren’t always the bona fide staple, though. In 1860, when nude bathing was fully outlawed – Victorian sexual repression at its finest – caleçons, or pantaloons, became a popular option that presented a boxy, masculine fit. That said, wool was the preferred fabric, which, unshockingly, made for a poor pool-proof fabric.
Over the years, male swimwear saw various iterations (including a unitard in the 1920s that looked like a cross between WWE and Dad’s Army), but it wasn’t until the 1960s that a shorter length was pioneered. From there, the seventies saw the introduction of even shorter shorts – promiscuous hippies at their finest – that quickly entailed swimwear and et voila, the concept of modern swim shorts was born. You can thank Calvin Klein advertising for the beach bod pressure, though.
These days, in addition to swerving woollen gussets, there are other things to look out for, too.
“Not only should style and fit be considered, but also comfort,” says Federico Uribe, managing partner and creative director of luxury swimwear brand 209 Mare. “The inner mesh shouldn’t be cotton – and neither should the drawstring cord – as this will roughen as the fibers begin to age.” What’s more, remember that the devil is in the detail. “When it comes to the finer points of swim shorts, avoid plastic detailing – not only is it cheap, but it also looks cheap. Another tell-tale sign of quality is a simple slit in the shorts for a waistband cord exit – this should be a proper chrome eyelet.”
All of which are important if you’ve got the budget to spend. But if there’s less cash to play with, there are some universal tips that should apply to every price point.
“Swim shorts should be able to carry you through the entire day,” says Uribe. “Montone shorts that sit on the mid-thigh are more versatile, so pair them with a white or pastel-coloured shirt to carry you through.”
Important advice if you fancy yourself more a Daniel Craig than Moby Dick. And this summer, these are the only options to consider.
Orlebar Brown Bulldog Mid-Length Swim Shorts
All-white needn’t read P Diddy. The most heavenly of colours is a godsend to warmer skin tones, and better yet, will be the gift that keeps on giving the more you tan. So in that respect, consider Orlebar Brown’s Bulldog swimshorts the rap king of swimwear (just without the diamond-plated finish).
Available at Orlebar Brown, priced £145.
Speedo Printed Leisure Water Swim Shorts
Speedo, the founding father of Tom Daley’s teenie-tinies, has thankfully moved beyond bollock-suffocating briefs. These printed shorts integrate an easy-to-wear print – stripes – within a shape that doesn’t require an Olympian’s physique.
Available at Amazon, priced £27.
M&S Quick Dry Swim Shorts
If they’re good enough for Gandy, they’re good enough for us (and you, by proxy). M&S’ quick dry swimshorts do exactly what they say on the tin, and better yet, the summer-appropriate shade is neither statement nor stale.
Available at M&S, priced £10.
BoohooMan Mid Length Swim Shorts
While we’re not condoning boardshorts (not, not even for your year abroad in Bondi), there’s no harm in a slightly longer length. Not only will an extra couple of centimetres provide relief for the more modest swimmer, Boohoo Man’s fail-safe colour and minimalist design make for an exceptional holiday staple.
Available at BoohooMan, priced £10.
Boardies Cyan Blue Swim Shorts
Don’t confuse Boardies’ British heritage as a lack of swimwear credentials. Thanks to solid design and quick-drying fabric, these cyan swimshorts can tackle every beach from South Shields to Santorini.
Available at The Idle Man, priced £50.
River Island Dark Red Swim Shorts
The seventies didn’t end with the cancellation of Soul Train. Instead, they’re alive and well thanks to River Island’s dark red swim shorts – a subtle homage to retro gym vibes without referencing bell-bottoms and an abundance of poorly-trimmed body hair.
Available at River Island, priced £16.
Frescobol Carioca Angra Tailored Swim Shorts
Unless you’re in model shape, Hawaiian prints may be ill-advised. Microprints however, get the green light. Frescobol Carioca’s swim shorts take on the appearance of one block colour – the ultimate in wearability – yet add depth with the fine print to break away from usual monotones.
Available at Frescobol Carioca, priced £160.
Topman Grey Marl Printed Swim Shorts
Summer is a perfect opportunity to spin the colour wheel, but there’s no danger playing it safe with monochromes. Darker dressers should opt for Topman’s printed swim shorts, using grey as a lighter alternative to black without diving head first into fluoros.
Available at Topman, priced £20.
H&M Short Swim Shorts
Swimwear is one of the few instances in which men can safely rock yellow. And instead of looking like a canary abroad, this sunny pair from H&M will complement most frames – especially those with a tan.
Available at H&M, priced £9.99.
Vilebrequin Lobster Embroidery Swim Shorts
Lobster thermidor; serving your stomach, and now your swimshorts, a real treat thanks to Vilebrequin. An adjustable waistband and robust zamac tips net functionality points, while an embroidered detail to the leg makes for a real catch of the day.
Available at Vilebrequin, priced £225.
Dan Ward Lightweight Embroidered Logo Swim Shorts
Proof that not all nautical pieces look like a Jean Paul Gaulthier ad, Dan Ward’s embroidered swimshorts are a safe, quality piece that use subtle motifs – the double stripe and monogram – to pack just enough volume poolside. Hello sailor indeed.
Available at Dan Ward, priced £125.
Burton Basic Navy Swim Shorts
Navy is a go-to colour in any man’s wardrobe, and the versatility lends itself well to swimwear. So, dive into the depths with Burton’s basic navy swim shorts, a fail-safe pair that are as solid as they are affordable.
Available at Burton, priced £10.
Polo Ralph Lauren Mighty Hawaiian Plain Swim Shorts
Bigger frames shouldn’t enjoy fewer swimwear choices. In a refreshing move for a designer brand, Ralph Lauren has introduced a Mighty range to cater to more robust bodies, with these classic Polo swim shorts going up to 5XL in size.
Available at High & Mighty, priced £65.
Next Bright Pink Swim Shorts
If you’re not spending a week’s rent on holidaywear, you can afford to take risks – less cost-per-wear to worry about, and all that. Which means you can make a statement with Next’s Bright Pink swim shorts. While they may not meet wallflower tastes, they’re sure to make a pop poolside.
Available at Next, priced £12.
Reiss Seaside Striped Swim Shorts
Reiss has long filled the gap between high street and designer, and the brand’s beachwear output is no exception. The Seaside striped swim shorts fill a classic shape with the millennial’s colour of choice – baby pink – for a statement pair that doesn’t pare down on quality (or masculinity, for that matter).
Available at Reiss, priced £60.
Mollusk Vacation Cotton Blend Swim Shorts
San Fran-based outfit Mollusk knows a thing or two about the surf, so expect nothing short of a durable wear from these cotton blend swimshorts. With an adjustable waist for a better fit, minimal branding to the leg lifts these grey swimmers past other monochrome contenders. Surf’s up.
Available at Mr Porter, priced £65.
Calvin Klein Logo Swim Shorts
The brand that broke (or, should we say, stamped) a thousand waistbands is now making waves within swimwear. Calvin Klein’s Logo swimshorts place mighty brand recognition within a wearable shape, making for a pair of swimmers that sit just on the right side of statement.
Available at Zalando, priced £49.99.
New Look Khaki Utility Swim Shorts
Sourcing a decent pair of swimshorts can be a military operation in itself. Which is why New Look channeled that very thing with the armed forces’ favourite shade: khaki. Not only will these swimshorts ally with both lighter and darker staples in your arsenal, but they’ll blow any novelty alternatives out the water.
Available at New Look, priced £14.99.
209 Mare Light Blue Swim Shorts
Sure, you might not be holidaying on a yacht in Monaco, but that shouldn’t stop you dressing the part. 209 Mare’s light blue swimshorts may come with the pricetag, but they’re built to last; premium Italian fabrics, monogrammed mother-of-pearl buttons and quality worthy of the captain’s table.
Available at 209 Mare, priced £180.
Tu Blue Gradient Shortie Swim Shorts
While monotones are recommended, there’s no harm in wearing a quiet blend of two complementary shades. Like Tu Clothing’s swimshorts, you can touch upon tie dye gradients without going full-on haiku/acid-dropping hippy at a Full Moon party.
Available at Tu Clothing, priced £8.