The Quest for the Perfect Men’s Swimsuit

09 December 2010 · 25 comments

As you’re all well aware, I can be obsessive sometimes, and about the dumbest little things.

Lately, for example, I’ve been searching for wool clothes. I’ve decided that I don’t like cotton — it shrinks! it wrinkles! it fades! — and I’d rather wear clothes with more versatility and durability. That means I’ve been buying synthetics, but it also means I’ve become obsessed with wool. I love wool. Wool is cozy and warm, and best of all, you can wear it for days at a time without it stinking. (I wore a single wool t-shirt for the last week in France, and it still smelled fine when we got home.)

Another one of my recent quests is for a stylish and comfortable men’s swimsuit. As I’ve lost weight, I’ve begun to swim once a week. Swimming when I’m fat is a chore, and it’s embarrassing. But when I’m moderately fit, it’s a great workout, and I’m less self-conscious about my appearance. But since my decade-old pair of swim trunks died last April, I haven’t been able to find swimwear that I like.

Women have all sorts of flattering options for swimwear. There are one-piece and two-piece options that can be attractive, modest — or both. Not so for men.

Men basically have two options: tight Speedo-type suits for serious swimmers and gigantic, baggy “board shorts” for the average guy. The former are, well, too revealing for my taste, and the latter are just plain ugly. Seriously: Board shorts are one of the ugliest garments ever invented. (And remember, this is coming from a guy who doesn’t usually care how clothes look!)

Recently, I re-watched Casino Royale for the zillionth time. It’s my favorite James Bond film. Midway through, Bond (played by Daniel Craig) does some beach reconnaissance while swimming in the Caribbean Sea. He emerges from the water wearing this:

Daniel Craig in his fancy-pants swimsuit

Leaving aside the fact that I’ll never look like Daniel Craig (and that’s not my goal), I liked the cut of this swimsuit. I thought my quest for the perfect men’s swimsuit had come to an end. I paused the movie to show Kris. “That’s the sort of swimsuit I want,” I said.

Kris laughed. “No you don’t,” she said. “That’s way too revealing. That’s basically a Speedo.”

“It is?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “If you wear that, you’ll shock all of your friends.

Well, I don’t want to shock all of my friends, so I’m not going to wear that swimsuit. (Even though I was able to track it down — for $112.) But I’d love to find something similar to the James Bond swimsuit that isn’t quite as revealing. I guess I’m looking for a swimsuit that’s cut relatively short, but which doesn’t cling to me like a second skin. Surely there must be something out there that fits the bill. But so far, I haven’t found anything.

I did look through several dozen swimsuits when I went thrift-store shopping last Saturday. I found one that had many of the elements I’m looking for. Since it was three bucks, I bought it. But it’s still not quite right. I guess maybe I’ll have to wait another decade for fashion to change so that the ugly, ugly board shorts go out of style.

1 Celloluv December 9, 2010 at 11:50

Funny, usually it’s the women looking for the perfect swim suit. I’ve tried on dozens over my lifetime. And yes there are lots of options but the big question is do the options cover your personal options? I once ordered a swimsuit online and it fit perfectly; number 3 leg cut, two pieces with each the correct size, modest. The fabric however left me mostly exposed as it was so thin.

It sounds like you’ve looked into thrift/vintage suits. There’s always making your own suit by sewing. Maybe finding one of the board shorts (ugly!!) and getting it re-cut to fit better. Oh, I just remembered that my grandmother showed me an old bathing suit of hers and it was wool!! Maybe check out the antique swim wear….Best of luck!

2 Karl December 9, 2010 at 13:55

*cough* Maybe your wife thinks you’re built a bit differently than Daniel Craig. Personally, that’s one of the reasons I hope board shorts will never go out of style. Some people need a little more coverage… and everyone else is thankful when they do indeed cover up.

3 Cat December 9, 2010 at 13:56

blah blah blah HOT PIC OF DANIEL CRAIG! blah blah…

;)

Yeah, that’s the kind of swimsuit you only get away with in the movies. My recommendation: go to a pool or a beach, and see what men are actually wearing.

4 Kris B December 9, 2010 at 14:03

Speedo makes all kinds of “square-leg” or “training” suits in various degrees of tightness–and they are not expensive via Amazon.com. You might also look under triathalon training gear.

I’ve inherited an amazing vintage ladies suit by Janzten, 100% wool! I’m never going to swim in it, but it is pretty retro-gorgeous for sure.

Good luck!

5 Kris B December 9, 2010 at 14:10

Or river shorts! Swimmers for white water are often short but loose. Jeff and I have both had some inexpensive rafters that lasted for YEARS.

6 CousinNick December 9, 2010 at 14:52

I was going to post a bunch of silliness here but while searching for swimwear I actually found some I would wear if I had the body for swimming.

See here: http://www.shoplasc.com/eurotrunk.aspx

You do have other options, though. You can do like I do and just stay out of the water. Or, head to Sauvie’s Island and do without the swimwear. Just had to get some silliness in :)

7 Lauren December 9, 2010 at 17:30

In Europe those shorts are perfectly ok. In my own mind, those shorts are perfectly ok. Anyone who can wear them – they are perfectly ok. They reveal nothing. When did 1950’s style swimwear suddenly seem dirty? Marketing. The board shorts people pushed that through, and now everyone believes it.

Wear what you feel good in, JD. You’ve done great work on your fitness… and you don’t need to hide it with extra folds of wet fabric clinging to you in swags – unless you want to. I think every fit man can look good in those shorts. If you want to check out what you like like, they sell that style in underwear at stores like Macy’s. You can buy a pair for $10 to investigate.

My 2c.

8 margot December 9, 2010 at 19:08

Those are indeed essentially Speedos. ONLY straight men with bodies like Daniel Craig and gay men should wear them. No excuses. Board shorts really aren’t ugly. There are lots that are super cute and hot. And there are different fits. Lots of them button at the waist, so they have a nice fit and don’t billow like the ones with elastic waists. And if they are super baggy, it just means that you bought them too big. Go try on normal men’s swimsuits, and try on enough that you get a sense of what’s out there. You were buying the wrong board shorts if you think they are ugly or unflattering.

9 Lindsay December 10, 2010 at 07:29

Maybe you just need a shorter pair of board shorts…kind of like biking shorts (not the skin tight ones). Look in exercise sections for a mid thight relaxed short ok for swimming. Also try shopping somewhere that has a large section of board shorts, there are usually a few that are attractive. If you found a great pair that were a little too long you could have them hemmed (my husband did this). This is something you should try on, may not be a good idea to order over the internet…

10 Lane December 10, 2010 at 07:46

JD, I think I’d add swim trunks to the list of things I would NOT buy used. You never know if the previous owner got a little too comfortable in the warm water of the pool…

11 Anna December 10, 2010 at 09:35

JD, haha! No self-respecting, straight, American male should ever be caught wearing a swimsuit that doesn’t at least come to his mid-thigh. I personally think a man should NEVER wear any type of shorts that don’t come to his knees. Ewww!!! But, maybe it’s just a generational thing because I also happen to think that board shorts are hot! Seriously, you don’t want to dress like my dad! :)

12 josh December 10, 2010 at 12:09

This might be what you’re looking for -> http://www.speedousa.com/family/index.jsp?cp=3124322.3124332&categoryId=3124359. Also, if you are looking for swim workouts check out http://www.dynoswim.com/searchWorkouts.php

13 Pam December 10, 2010 at 15:39

Say what you will, but nothing makes Mac look skinnier than a pair of board shorts. I am with Anna in that I don’t want to see a man in short shorts. But I agree board shorts are not what you want for a swim workout. Check sports stores that sell swim gear; there is more than just Speedo briefs. Some athletic “trunks” are basically just bike shorts.

14 Tyler Karaszewski December 11, 2010 at 09:54

So many Americans are such prudes. None of these commenters would be complaining/making fun in the slightest if they’d grown up on the other side of the Atlantic. I thought we all generally recognized that Europe’s fashion sense was better than ours, anyway? And women telling men they look gross in swim trunks is basically the same thing as men telling women they shouldn’t wear pants (see: 50 years ago).

Besides, tight swim trunks are about 100 times more practical for actually swimming in, and I agree with J.D. that boardshorts look horrible (and I’m a surfer). They make any man look like a nine-year-old boy who’s mom buys him clothes are are too big because she expects him to grow into them.

Here’s a picture of me going swimming in the Mediterranean last summer. I am obviously some combination of gay, gross, and/or lacking in self-respect as other commenters have implied: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tylerkaraszewski/5109285675/

15 Cara December 11, 2010 at 10:52

Original Penguin makes shorts that are not as long, and more slim-fitting. See here:
http://www.penguinclothing.com/1CSS0185-621-penguin.html

These come in blue and black as well. Note that they only have a 3″ inseam. My husband typically buys Penguin suits and they are much more flattering than board shorts, but not overly revealing.

16 Greg December 11, 2010 at 13:46

Hmm. I have to admit I haven’t bought swim trunks in awhile. I have 2 pairs that are in fine shape. One was purchased in 1998 and the other in 2005. I dont know if things have changed that much since 2005, but they are not speedos or those long board shorts. They are both swim shorts with liners and come to maybe 4-5 inches above the knee- or what I would consider modern “normal” male shorts length. They are not 1970s short shorts but also dont look like some ridiculous man capris. They dont have the boardshorts style fly or thick long fabric either. One pair is Nautica and was purchased at a macy’s type store. The other I believe is just Old Navy.

I kinda understand the interest in the Daniel Craig style there. It reminds me of my transition from loose boxers to boxer-briefs. I have never been comfortable in briefs and always wore baggy boxer shorts. Recently I switched to a boxer brief that is a lot more functional, perhaps combining the desired aspects of both boxers and briefs. That swimsuit ( or maybe something with a few inches more of inseam) appears that way- functional without looking extremely ridiculous.

As far as how one “must look” or what kind of physique one must have to wear that ( like “You need to look like Daniel Craig to wear that”)- it makes absolutely no sense. Men, in general, go shirtless when swimming. The only really variation is the type and size of the shorts/bottoms. Men’s physiques and whether they are “in shape” are almost entirely dependent on the upper half of their body. Maybe I’m just ignorant, but I don’t see what a man’s upper body physique has to do with what type of shorts he can wear. It’s not like a guy with a fat gut is going to look better wearing shorts that look like a dress as opposed to shorts that are fitted.

17 Karen December 11, 2010 at 18:12

Olympic swimmers are sometimes wearing things that look like bike shorts, so if you’re comfortable in those already, maybe that could work? Longer but tight?

18 Barb December 11, 2010 at 18:26

Have a look at aussiebum.com, they may have what you are looking for. Not just under “swimwear” (speedo-types with 2 exceptions) but also “surfwear” which has short-leg boardshorts as well as long-leg, and some called 60’s shorts. In the $40 range mostly.

19 kl December 12, 2010 at 05:06

As a European, I find this speedo-scare of Americans a bit funny. Here, you can’t even enter most swimming halls with kind of swimming pants that are considered “appropriate” in the US…they are considered unhygienic, I guess.

So buy that and come to Europe to wear it, that’s the only solution. ;)

20 Audrey December 12, 2010 at 11:01

My brother was in an ROTC style group at college, and the military swimsuits are very similar to those, but not skin tight, and of course they are khaki. I would have no idea where to find them, but it might be an option for you.

21 Peter S. December 17, 2010 at 15:14

J.D.-

I’m with you on compromising between board shorts and a speedo for recreation, although I do wear skin tight, slightly shorter than knee length trunks to swim laps in. For recreation/beach time, try something like this: http://www.jcrew.com/mens_category/shortsswim/swim/PRDOVR~91258/91258.jsp. They’re much shorter than traditional board shorts and much tighter, without being skin tight. Really great swim trunks.

-Peter

22 Alex L April 25, 2011 at 11:52

This is called style, europeans are typically about 10 years of americans in fashion consciousness. so by rocking this style you are in fact classy and while the ridiculous notion that any short that does not look like a man capri makes you look somehow gay you can stay classy.

23 JDS April 30, 2011 at 18:58

JD,

I was looking exactly for the same thing you were. Slim, short swimsuit that you feel as comfortable walking around as swiming.

I found online and bought them…if I heard you right it might be what you were looking for.

http://store.speedo.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Product6_10651_10202_285088_-1_75354_33311_Y_285094

or this maybe

http://www.amazon.com/Speedo-Fashion-Polyester-Watershort-Swimsuit/dp/B000YT0MRI/ref=sr_1_15?s=sporting-goods&ie=UTF8&qid=1304213971&sr=1-15

24 Paul June 17, 2011 at 11:39

Check out the selection of men’s suits from Sauvage. They have a very large selection, ranging from loose shorts to more form fitting trunks. Great products.
Paul

25 Paul June 17, 2011 at 11:41

Speedo’s shorts kind of suck. They’re not stylish AT ALL.

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