Swim shorts occupy the blessed sweet spot between barely-there budgie smugglers and achingly uncool ‘broski’ 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, stacked, 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 outlawed – Victorian sexual repression at its finest – caleçons, or pantaloons, became a popular option. That said, wool was the preferred fabric, which, unshockingly, made for a poor pool-proof choice.
Over the years, male swimwear saw various full-length iterations (including a unitard in the 1920s that wouldn’t look out of place on a nineties wrestler), up until the 1960s when shorter cuts were pioneered. From there, the seventies saw the introduction of even shorter men’s shorts – promiscuous hippies, gotta love ’em – that quickly entailed swimwear and et voila, the concept of modern swim shorts was born.
But in addition to swerving a woollen gusset, there are other things to look out for when buying swim shorts today. “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 fibres 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. “Monotone shorts that sit on the mid-thigh are more versatile, so pair them with a white or pastel-coloured shirt.” Important advice if you fancy yourself more a Daniel Craig as James Bond than Moby Dick. And this summer, these are the only options to consider.
Orlebar Brown Bulldog Aruba Swim Shorts
Not just a brand with a sideline in men’s swim shorts, Orlebar Brown was explicitly founded to make high-end, highly-stylish swim shorts – the kind you could rock both in the pool or on a yacht. Indeed, Orlebar Brown’s shorts have more in common with well-cut chinos than bog standard swimmers. Each is based on a 17-piece pattern and uses a four-part waistband, plus a zip fly, side-angle front pockets and metal side adjusters instead of a drawstring. You can even design your own using the online #Snapshorts service, but the classic Bulldog model is still the original and best.
Topman Car Pattern Swim Shorts
We all know that Topman can’t be beaten for bang-on-trend high street fashion – a reliable old pal when it comes to keeping up to date with each season’s hottest looks. And talking of hot, these swim shorts are pure summer – a colourful, brilliantly eccentric print packed into an easy to wear thigh-skimming cut. With these, it’s not so much dressing to impress (although they absolutely will impress), it’s more about dressing to relax.
Calvin Klein Swim Shorts
The brand that made showing your waistband cool is now making waves with swimwear. Indeed, the Calvin Klein logo is so synonymous with men’s underwear, but CK has the sense to make its swim shorts look like swim shorts – placing the mighty moniker on a wearable shape, making for a pair of swimmers that sit just on the right side of statement.
Speedo Printed Leisure Water Swim Shorts
The name Speedo has been synonymous with Tom Daley’s teenie-tinies since the Olympian was in diving nappies. But the brand is much more than just bollock-suffocating briefs. Take these shorts, which integrate a subtle print within a shape that doesn’t require a gold medal physique.
River Island Blue Stripe Swim Shorts
There will always be a place in the male wardrobe for classic shorts, but for trend-led examples, you be hard pressed to beat River Island. A subtle homage to retro gym vibes without referencing bell-bottoms and an abundance of poorly-trimmed body hair, these runner-style swim shorts are guaranteed to look cool in the pool.
M&S Quick Dry Swim Shorts
There comes a time in every man’s life when he realises that Marks & Spencer does some bloody decent clothes. It’s not a sign of ageing like it used to be, when M&S was your nan’s favourite high street shop, but a sign of a man who likes his clothes well made and well priced. The high street giant’s quick dry swim shorts do precisely what they say on the tin, and better yet, come in a range of colours – so there’s a shade for every summer mood.
Frescobol Carioca Wave Swim Shorts
If you’re buying beach, swim, and summer wear, you could do a lot worse than Frescobol Carioca. The entire range is inspired by the brand’s home of Rio de Janiero, which is brought to life in the fabric with vibrant colours and bold prints. The swimwear takes its cues from the Brazillian city’s modernist architecture but boasts top craftsmanship. Better yet, each design is easily matched with a short sleeve shirt for summer evening dining.
BoohooMAN Mid-Length Swim Shorts
BoohooMan has built a reputation for turning out contemporary, on-trend clothing with an edge – whether it’s a street edge, sports edge, or in the case of these swim shorts, a surfer edge. Now, we’re not condoning totally rad board shorts, but there’s no harm in a slightly longer length, especially for taller guys. In short (or not), BoohooMan’s failsafe colour and minimalist design make for an exceptional holiday staple.
H&M Pineapple Swim Shorts
One of the very best places on the high street for modern designs, H&M is known for its great prices, and racks and racks (and racks) of choice. Some of its swim shorts may be a little bold, but if there’s ever a time you can get away with rocking all-over pineapples or palm trees, it’s when you’re decked out in swimwear. This summery pair from will complement most frames – especially those who have been hitting the gym since January.
Burton Basic Navy Swim Shorts
It might not be everyone’s obvious first choice, but Burton is a go-to place for casual summer wear – a trusty retailer for the sensible-but-fashion-minded modern bloke. And navy is another go-to – a staple of any man’s wardrobe, with the kind of versatility that 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.
Vilebrequin Splash Swim Shorts
Another brand with roots in the sizzling summer spirit of an exotic holiday destination – in this case, Vilebrequin’s hometown of Saint-Tropez in the French Riviera. Founded in the early 1970s, the swimwear specialist continues to produce bright, vibrant designs for well-off holidaymakers. These simplistic swimmers have an adjustable waistband and back pocket, complete with the company’s trademark turtle logo embroidered into the lightweight fabric, and they can also be turned into an easy-to-carry pouch.
Reiss Flint Striped Swim Shorts
Reiss has long filled the gap between high street and designer gear, and the brand’s beachwear output is no exception. Another tricky balancing act, its designs make a statement with chic Riviera vibes without making the wearer look like Elton John on his holibobs. A winner formula, if ever we did see one.
Dan Ward Lightweight Embroidered Logo Swim Shorts
For guys on the lookout for ‘grown-up’ short, Dan Ward is a specialist in brilliantly simplistic swimwear. These embroidered swim shorts, for example, are a safe, quality piece that use subtle motifs such as the brand’s monogram to pack just enough volume poolside. Come 5pm, throw on a towelling polo shirt and hit the cabana bar.
New Look Zig-Zag Swim Shorts
New Look is another standard-bearer of high street fashion – a great place for accessible, affordable style. This season’s broad selection of men’s swimwear should satisfy all tastes in summery gear, from madcap flamingo and floral prints to primary block colours and stripes. Aim for somewhere in the middle, such as a print in a monochrome colourway, and you’ll look utterly electric while doing lengths.
Polo Ralph Lauren Gingham Swim Shorts
It might not seem like the obvious choice when choosing summer gear for the bigger man, but Ralph Lauren knows that larger frames shouldn’t be restricted by fewer swimwear choices. In a refreshing move for such a high-profile brand, it has introduced a Mighty range to cater to more robust bodies, including swim shorts that go up to 5XL in size.
Next Pink Swim Shorts
Whether you’re after casual duds, smart business-casual gear, or fun summer clobber, you really can’t go wrong with Next. And if you’re not spending a week’s rent on holiday-wear, you can afford to take risks – less cost-per-wear to worry about, and all that. This means you can make a statement with bold swim shorts. Granted, they may not meet wallflower tastes, but they’re sure to make a pop poolside.
Mollusk Long Length Swim Shorts
San Francisco-based outfit Mollusk knows a thing or two about the surf. It’s a self-professed ‘surfing institution’ that rides high on the waves of its sunny Californian credentials. So you’d expect nothing short of superior design and a durable wear from its retro-inspired cotton-blend swim shorts. Surf is most definitely up.
Tu Yellow Swim Shorts
You’d be forgiven for not realising that Tu is the in-house clothing brand of British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s. It’s also incredibly successful – one of UK’s biggest selling clothing brands, ahead of some of the most recognisable names out there. These swimmers are basic but effortlessly cool – a simple yellow that’s just the perfect shade for summer fun.