In comparison to the rapidly shifting mores that define womenswear, menswear has a reputation for staying static. So, it would follow that male swimwear, utilitarian by nature and limited in its choices of fabric and cut by practical concerns, would be among the last items in a man’s closet to reflect change.
But as illustrated by the dramatic shift from Sean Connery’s swim trunks in Thunderball to the knee-grazing board shorts that populated many a ‘90s spring break, men’s swimsuits do change—it just takes a little more time.
“Swimwear, especially for menswear, has a much slower trend cycle, but we do see the category taking inspiration from the bigger trends in menswear,” says Thom Scherdel, who serves as the buying manager for men’s ready-to-wear and non-apparel at the London-based fashion boutique Browns.
One of those trends being a return to tailoring, which in swimwear terms translates to more closely fitting, mid-length swim shorts from brands including Frescobol Carioca, Commas, and Orlebar Brown (the third label, founded in 2007 by British photographer Adam Brown, supplied Daniel Craig with its Setter swim shorts during his 007 turn in Skyfall).
In turn, these versatile suits are being paired to resorty pieces to form outfits that play well beyond the beach. “When it comes to styling, we’re still seeing demand for summer knits, from a Casablanca crochet bucket hat to an open knit short-sleeve shirt from Nanushka,” Scherdel continues. “Those, alongside the classic linen shirt, are both an effortless way to transition from beach to bar.”
Citing an uptick in “statement” swimsuits featuring bold prints or even metallic hues, Scherdel believes that a surge in demand is providing the swimsuit field with fresh energy. “With wedding season and holiday trips back in full swing post-Covid, resortwear brands are simply reacting to customer demand for newness in the category,” he says.
Orlebar Brown chief marketing officer Trevor Hardy also sees an increased interest in tailored silhouettes, coupled to a greater appetite among men to explore fabrics and fit. “Soft, light fabrics drape beautifully and show a man’s form,” Hardy tells Robb Report. “With the addition of subtle yet discerning details in the form of stitching, jacquard, stripes, and finishes such as drawcord caps.”
In particular, Hardy believes that men are more willing to experiment with their style of swimwear—a byproduct of the circumstances in which swimwear is worn.
“There is a recognition that there are many sides to a man. A persona that thrives at work—the ‘9-5 you’—and a persona that thrives on vacation, the ‘you’ that comes alive when you travel,” he continues. “Men are dressing for these different versions of themselves, especially wearing colors on vacation for a more expressive, characterful personality.”
Fun in the sun notwithstanding, swimwear brands are also working to address increased consumer consciousness of environmental issues.
“Over the past few years there has been a huge shift in the value customers place on environmentalism and sustainability,” says Roland Herlory, who serves as CEO of the French swimwear maker Vilebrequin. “Whether we’re using new sustainable or recyclable materials, or employing new design techniques in our swimwear collection, we’re always looking to act today to help save the oceans of tomorrow.”
That focus was at the center of a recent collaboration between the French label and the Woolmark Company, which collaborated to produce swim trunks made from worsted Merino wool, citing the natural fabric’s biodegradable qualities and gentler environmental impact.
“Not many people would think that wool would be the best material to create a swimsuit out of, but our 100% Merino wool swim trunks are sustainable, breathable, lightweight, thermoregulating, and durable,” Herlory tells Robb Report.
And as evidenced by the continued influence of James Bond’s swimwear choices, we’ve already seen at least one fictional character helping determine what men wear to the beach. “It will also be interesting to see the effect of big movies and major TV shows. For example, the Barbie movie, which sees Ryan Reynolds in many resortwear looks,” Scherdel says.
Ken, it appears, remains as reliable a style weathervane as ever.