How Men’s Swim Trunks Should Fit

You a speedo kind of guy? Me neither. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just not my thing, you know?

Don't get me wrong, I like to show a little thigh. In fact, the older I get, the shorter my trunks get. No more past-the-knees board shorts for me.

Swim shorts

Swim shorts that go past the knee are way too long for shorter men. You want my legs to look longer, not shorter. And swim trunks that are too long definitely make you look shorter.

This post explains exactly how men's swim shorts are supposed to fit, and what kind of colors and patterns look best on shorter-than-average men.

Let's start with a photo of some of my favorite trunks:

Mens swim trunks

Safety first!

I love these swim shorts because they fit great. Here's a rundown of how each part of your swim trunks should fit:

Waist – Just tight enough that they stay up without having to use the drawstring.

Mens swimming trunksThigh – Not skin tight, but not too much excess material either.

Length – This is the most important part of swimwear fit for men. If you only take only one thing away from this article, remember:

Swim trunks should never go past your knee.

In fact, they shouldn't even hit your knee. They should end somewhere between two and four inches above the top of your knee cap. Look for trunks with a 5-8″ inseam.

Leg Opening – This is almost as important as length. Just like pants, if the leg opening is too wide, your legs will look thin and wimpy (especially if you have skinny legs like me). Many American brands have wide leg openings.

Unless you have super muscular thighs, you probably need a slim leg opening. It should be wide enough for your the shorts to slide up and down your legs (like when you sit down and stand up, for example), but narrow enough so they don't billow out.

Think about the shape you want to create. You want your swim shorts to follow the natural shape of your body, rather than masking or distorting it.

Let's get some famous short men to help illustrate the importance of fit. Can you tell who nailed it?

Swim trunks fit

Michael = too wide | Ben = too long | Tom = just right

One more thing about fit: don't wear low rise trunks. For most men, this isn't a flattering look. Unless you have super long legs and a relatively short torso, wearing swim shorts down on your hips isn't a great idea.

Instead, wear them a couple of inches below your belly button for a more classy, timeless and manly look.

Now that you've nailed the fit, let's talk color. First off, stay away from large scale patterns, color blocking and horizontal stripes. Also, try to avoid unnecessary bulk, like cargo pockets. Here are some examples of what not to wear:

Bad swim trunks

Instead, solid colors and small scale patterns/prints are perfect. Like these:

Some details, like zip-up pockets or a sunglasses loop (shown in the photo above) are okay. Just keep them subtle.

Summing Up

Swim shorts are just like any other article of clothing. It's all about fit, proportion and scale. Just remember this: no man looks good in long, bulky swim trunks.

Stick to shorter trunks, solid colors and small scale patterns, and don't be afraid to show some leg.

How short is too short? Share your opinion in the comments section!


  1. I don’t think swim trunks can ever be too short. My ideal swimsuit would look something like this:

    On the other hand, for those of us pushing 60, I’d welcome the return of the vintage look:

    • I don’t know if I could pull either of those off, haha. But I bet you could!

    • Ben Karlin says:

      I am pushing 60 and just want to say, You Whippersnapper! You know horizontal stripes are out for us short guys. Grrr.

      On leg openings and billowing: The worst look is wide enough to show all the way up the leg to the crotch. Tight enough to conform to it all, wide enough to give a peek at it all. Neither is really attractive.

      • Hi Ben, I’d love to be a whippersnapper, 60’s looming ever larger on the horizon. Yeah, stripes are bad news, but I’m looking for sun protection and a place to hide the ruins of my waistline : )

  2. Finding a good pair of swim trucks is always a hassle for me. I don’t understand why most guys chose the big and baggy ones I guess comfort and don’t want to look European.
    What to do you think of Daniel Craig ‘s square-cut swim trunks in “casino royale”? Keep in mind he’s 5’10

  3. Thanks so much for pulling this information together. There are so many facets to finding things that are the right scale for the vertically challenged man. I love the photos showing the bad wardrobe choices of Michael and Ben. When you point it out, it seems so obvious, but sometimes it is hard to see. I also appreciate you providing links for things you recommend. Kudos to you for being fit enough to model your own swimwear and keeping it real.

  4. Thanks for this post. Great rules to live by regarding swimwear. Yet another article of clothing I had not given a thought about but now understand. I really appreciate the hard-and-fast “do not” rules.

  5. I’m glad you have this. I wish you would also state this about regular shorts. Those board shorts going down to the knee were designed for basketball players who have really long lower legs, and make we shorter men look like munchkins. I have such a hard time finding shorts that are the right length, which I believe really should be somewhere about 2/3 the way from the crotch towards the knee. You need to show some thigh or you just look like a little kid.

  6. I think the problem stems from what is available in most stores, as well as misconceptions about the names of styles. It’s important to differentiate between a swim trunk and a boardshort. You touched on that in your intro, but a little more explanation would help. This link has a great history of ‘boardshorts’:

    As you can see the original ‘boardshorts’ were from Oahu, Hawaii and were much shorter than what is considered a boardshort today. Times have changed and so have fashions. ‘Vintage’ boardshorts have a cut similar to what would be considered a trunk today, but lack the mesh lining a trunk has. Modern boardshorts are the long, nylon atrocities you’ll find in pretty much any clothing store that also lack a mesh lining.

    It has taken me a few years to find a pair of ‘vintage boardshorts’ I like, trying many ‘trunks’ in the process. Like any piece of clothing, buy something that fits you correctly. Don’t settle for something that was designed to fit a range of body types.

  7. I have a problem, whenever I get up from the swimming pool, my swimming shorts sticks to my body which makes people to see the shape of my private parts… How can I get rid of it?

    • The only thing I can think of is to wear a tighter bathing suit that will hold your anatomy in place.

      You’ll have a bulge where your privates are, but when you come out of the water they won’t be outlined in graphic detail by loose and heavy excess fabric being pulled onto you by the weight of draining water.

  8. ThickGirlsCan says:

    Hey Brock, I’m shopping for my vertically challenged boyfriend. Would you be able to update your link with some currently available options? I’m struggling to find shorts with shorter inseams! Thanks 😀

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