For years, the men’s swimwear market had flatlined. The choices seemed to be either Euro-style Speedos or baggy, surfers’ swim trunks. In the last few years, though, men have started to look for the option of more tailored European cuts and are welcoming prints into their wardrobes.
Brands like Thorsun, Onia, Solid & Striped, Faherty, Orlebar Brown, Retro Marine, and Charlie by Matthew Zink have flooded the market in recent years to meet this new demand. “I felt there was a need for short that was tailored, but still sporty, versatile, and above all practical,” says George Sotelo, founder of Thorsun’s printed and solid shorts, which are produced in New York City. Sotelo came up with the idea for the brand when he was in Rio for Carnival and needed a short that could take him through the day in style. With deep front pockets that tilt forward when you’re sitting down to prevent items from falling out, an internal hidden security pocket, and back zip pocket, the suits are practical and hold a lot. “I wanted to be able to carry my phone, keys, and other items without the short looking bulky,” says Sotelo of the suits that work from the beach to the bar.
“Before I started Solid & Striped, the market was cluttered with flashy prints and surf-inspired designs,” says founder Isaac Ross. “I wanted to create a product that would stand out for its simplicity, be wearable for years—if not decades—and never chased trends.”
But it’s not just about how the swimwear looks on the rack. “Swimwear is the least amount of clothes that most people are going to wear in public, so you want them to feel good in it,” Ross says of his brand’s quick-drying, mesh-lined trunks. Matthew Zink, of Charlie by Matthew Zink, agrees that men want to show off their bodies more now than they may have previously—thank you, CrossFit. “There has been a continual surge of men taking great pride in their health and fitness, and swimwear is a way to flex your accomplishments.”
Of course, with the proliferation of swimsuit brands, guys also find themselves with more options to choose from.
“Now that there are so many options in the swim category, men are more aware of the differences in the fits offered, and they’re making really informed decisions about what looks best on them,” said Bergdorf Goodman’s men’s fashion director Bruce Pask. And while both high-fashion labels like Etro and Givenchy are also embracing this dynamic market, boutique brands are seeing great returns. Does Pask have any favorites? “Tomas Maier built his longstanding namesake brand with a few well-designed, great fitting swimsuits that has now grown into an entire sportswear fashion collection,” he says. “Adam Brown at his U.K.-based brand Orlebar Brown has also been a great innovator, creating a sleek, more tailored swim short with pockets and a sportswear aesthetic.”
The shopping habits of men are also unique in this category. “Men buy swimsuits quite differently than women,” says The Webster’s Laure Heriard Dubreuil. “While most women prepare in advance of their trip, men buy their swimsuits on the spot, more impulsively. And men’s options used to be so limited and conservative, now vibrant prints from Thorsun and Orlebar Brown are our top sellers.”
Other brands are diversifying into the clothing arena from purely swimsuits. The well-known Cote D’Azur brand Vilebrequin, which has been in business for 45 years, and its bright signature prints and matching father-and-son styles have become ubiquitous on beaches around the world in the past decade. CEO Roland Herlory cites the launch of a new “swim-to-wear” collection, including swimming pants and Bermuda shorts “which look great with a linen shirt and can get wet and also a pair of water-repellent tuxedo shorts” as areas of growth for the brand.
Model Garrett Neff, who founded the New England-inspired swimwear brand Katama, sought to offer men “shorter options that are still sophisticated, and longer options that don’t make them feel like they’re wearing a teenager’s baggy board shorts.” As a consumer, Neff was disillusioned by the offerings at stores. “I’ve always shyed away from bright, elaborate prints so I set out to design a collection of timeless trunks that seek longevity.” The brand is also adding tops to round out its 2017 resort collection.
Retromarine’s business (the brand is known for its clean cuts, mosaic and geometric prints, and SPF 50 fabrics) is branching out in other ways this summer: Founder Juan Pablo Jaramillo is opening two flagships for the brand in Dubai and Miami. More reasons why men’s swimwear has gone from afterthought to thriving category in just a few years.