Men’s Swimwear: From Modesty To Modernity

The evolutionary path of men’s swimwear follows close to that of the female outfit. That is, the fashion began by covering up as much of the body as possible before drowning, to today where there is a near-insistence to leave as little to the imagination as possible before it’s considered public nudity. However, there are many factors which attribute to the prevalence of the swim short and trunks over the budgie smuggler. These quasi-underpants are usually reserved for men of the Mediterranean as well as those old enough or brave enough to neglect shame. This is the condensed evolution of men’s swimwear, as well as some of the key players in the industry today.

Covering Up

Before the 20th-century swimming – especially swimming for ‘fun’ – was seen as an odd pursuit. The health benefits of exercise were yet to be published and having only just come out of the Victorian Era, the West wasn’t particularly keen in engaging in an activity that demanded a certain lack of clothing. Swimming, if done at all, was akin to bathing and therefore would only be done in the company of the same sex. But as a middle-class rose and weekends became the norm, a dip at the beach or the local bathhouse became more and more prevalent. Inevitably, the sexes were to inter-mingle. Thus, what made a man a man, needed to be covered. This included a man’s chest, arms, legs, and obviously, his crutch.

This modest form of dress was even enforced by local governments, who maintained that showing too much skin publicly is improper. A few social revolutions, including the sexual revolutions of the 1960s, owed to the eventual stripping-back of men’s swimwear. But no other movement played a stronger role than surfing. Before the war in Vietnam, when boards were long and hair was short, the board short took strong root. The epicentres of the surfing world – Bondi, Malibu, Honolulu – played as the experimental grounds of men’s swimwear fashion. There was nothing easy about trying to stand up on board in a soaked woollen swimsuit.

RELATED: ‘The Colourful History of the Iconic Floral Shirt.’

Surf’s Up, Shirts Off

However, local police continued to try to regulate men’s swimwear, insisting the short’s ends travel only a couple inches above the knee, and no further. With the culture agreeing that the speedo was not enough and one-pieces covering a man’s entire upper-body were too much, practical trunks became the prevalent norm. Soon enough surfing culture became synonymous with beach culture and the fashion traversed social groups.

Since the 1960s and 1970s men’s swimwear has gone through a natural ebb and flow that many fashions naturally experience. An example of an unwelcome addition includes three-quarter boardshorts that somehow found their way into the culture in the 1990s and 2000s. But today’s fashion emulates its forefathers 50 years ago. The above-knee board short is the obvious and only style of choice here. The budgie smuggler should only be recalled for comedic use and swimming or lifesaving activities where minimal drag is preferential. 

Here are a selection of affable summer options. 

Coast Society

Beginning with the swimshorts specialists at Coast Society, we have a couple of short, colourful additions. Coast Society’s shorts also tend to utilise buttons over drawstrings, resulting in a slimmer fit and less dangling than is necessary. Mind you buttons will leave far less to the imagination if you’re still carrying excess winter kilos.

A considerably short trunk, the ‘Fulco Cardinal Red.’

The ‘Porfirio Bauhaus’ is a good length with a charismatic triangle pattern.

Frescobol Carioca

Hailing from Rio de Janeiro and inspired by Brazil’s Golden Age in the mid 1940s, Frescobol Carioca embodies the spirit and style of its hometown. Think pale blues and greens, geometric patterns mixed with classic block colours and collabs with local artists, offered in both a short or long leg.


The Praia Tailored Swim Short features a fun print from Brazilian artist Paulo Mariotti.

The Ipanema print mimics the tiled pavement that borders Ipanema beach.

Rubinacci Napoli

Rubinacci is famous for their intricate suiting and menswear. Their swimshorts are no exception. They offer a wide variety of contemporary options, all at good length and design.

The ‘Violet Turtles’ swimsuit is a simple classic. And, of course, turtles.


A similar cut, the ‘Yellow Fantasy’ exhibits some warmer summery colours.

Anderson & Sheppard

Another menswear behemoth, the U.K.’s very own Anderson & Sheppard has some lighter options – both in fabric and in price. Quality always maintained and prioritised.

‘Plain Swim Shorts.’ Simple done right.

The ‘Flower Print Swim Shorts’ are another summertime favourite.


Springing out of the summer of 1970’s St. Tropez is Vilebrequin. Since its inception the brand has continued to move with the times while keeping a few of their strongest classics.

The men’s Flat Belt Stretch short are a bit firmer than competitors. Which can be good or bad depending on the confidence of the man.

The aptly named ‘Splash’ short has quick dry technology to get you back in the surf sooner. If that’s your thing.


One of the younger brands in the list (founded in 2010), Venroy is inspired by the laidback yet prestigious Bondi lifestyle all Australians know.

The plain and practical ‘Snaplock’ is a throwback to the early surfing days with a touch of Italian ingenuity for good measure.

Venroy’s signature swim short are made to last – these guys won’t go out of style anytime soon.


Jay is a writer and content producer for The Versatile Gent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *