Men’s Swim Trunks Guide (How They Should Fit and Where to Buy)

This post is all about how men's swim trunks should fit, and where to buy a great pair for your body type.

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

In my opinion, swim shorts that go past the knee are too long, especially for shorter men.

You want your clothing to make your legs to look longer, not shorter. Long board shorts, for example, will have the opposite effect.

We're going to look at:

  1. How men's swim trunks should fit
  2. Which colors and patterns are best
  3. Where to buy swim trunks

To start, here's one of my favorite pairs of trunks:

Brock wearing The Idle Man swim trunks

Hanging out at Saba Rock, BVIs | Trunks from The Idle Man

I love these swim shorts because they're a nice color and have a classic polka dot patterns. More importantly, they fit great.

Men's Swim Trunks Fit

Here's a rundown of how each part of your swim trunks should fit:

Brock at The Baths in Virgin Gorda

At The Baths in Virgin Gorda…what an amazing place!

Waist – Just tight enough that they stay up without having to use the drawstring (I prefer a traditional drawstring over a velcro fly).

Thigh – Not skin tight, but not too much excess material either. Mobility is important, so don't sacrifice comfort for a super slim fit!

Length – 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 because. 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 but, 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: try to avoid super low rise swim trunks. Unless you have super long legs and a relatively short torso, wearing swim shorts down on your hips isn't a great idea.

To learn more about rise and how it affects your look, read this article I wrote for Primer Magazine:

Pants Rise Explained (And Why Low-Rise Isn't Always Your Choice)

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

Colors, Patterns & Style

Now that you've nailed the fit, let's talk color. First off, stay away from large scale patterns, color blocking and thick horizontal stripes.

While you're at it, 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. Since you'll probably only own a couple of pairs of swim trunks at any given time, it might be a good idea to stick with versatile colors (navy, burgundy, grey, etc.).

Brock wearing Idle Man pola dot swim trunks

Navy trunks with small dot pattern from The Idle Man (sunglasses from Warby Parker)

Of course, feel free to have some fun with colors and prints!

To get an idea of what brands might work for you, watch this video of me trying on a bunch of different swim trunks from H&M, Gap, Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss and more:

For quick reference, here's a list of swim trunks that I think are solid choices, especially for shorter men:

These all meet the criteria I've laid out in this article – the fit well and look great on the shorter frame, and they're relatively timeless, in terms of style.

Go get yourself some trunks!

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!

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Comments

  1. I don’t think swim trunks can ever be too short. My ideal swimsuit would look something like this: http://www.freshpair.com/Derek-Rose-Pima-Cotton-Stretch-Trunk-8565DR.html

    On the other hand, for those of us pushing 60, I’d welcome the return of the vintage look: http://www.gentlemansemporium.com/store/002393.php

    • 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

    • Love those swim trunks. Link for everyone else:

      http://37.media.tumblr.com/c080f516dbb29f479f6aaa57680c9409/tumblr_mz8ztzhug51tp0bgjo1_1280.jpg

      But you definitely have to have an athletic physique to pull those off. Any softness or belly and that won’t be a good look.

      • I own a pair of those swim trunks! The ones Daniel Craig wears are from a high end brand called La Perla Grigioperla Lodato with a matching price tag. I got mine from a company called Zaya in an XS. I’m not sure if you can still find them though, since I bought them in 2006 around the same time the CR came out.

        • jimboylan says:

          Since I actually swim in my swim wear, I need something that doesn’t hinder my leg movement nor act like a sea anchor on my hips to slow me down. That means brief style, with the emphasis on brief. I do like a full seat in back, so it doesn’t turn into a thong and try to split my legs apart. Darker solid colors make it harder for the prudish to see the details of what’s in my crotch. The cooler water up here in the NorthEast helps control my growth.

  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’: http://www.frenchtruckers.com/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 😀

  9. OldProf says:

    I’m too old and fat to scare anyone with images of me in swim shorts! When I was MUch younger, more fit and (in my mind) sexier, I want through a speedo phase. Then I turned 30 and finally grew up! I started wearing pretty much what Brock recommends, though I usually went for no more than 2 inches above the knee since I’ve always had big thighs.

  10. Mario B says:

    Thanks for the post. I have to say for you Brock the only pair I thought that worked were the shorter H & M you didn’t seem to care for. Waist fit, length perfect – the others did make you look shorter and the leg width also perfect. I’ve had luck with shorter length Penguin but my absolute favorite hands down are the shorter length Sundeck. They have a multitude of styles and colors. They are a little pricey but I’ve occasionally found them on sale at Nordstrom Rack and at Off 5th. I’m a Florida/California guy so having about 20 bathing suits may seem extreme for some but I just might be obsessed.

  11. Great Post…just in time for summer too!

  12. I don’t shop at H&M much, the fit of their clothes is almost always off for me and my oddly proportioned body (5’7, a rather top heavy, short legs), but last summer I tried their swim trunks by chance and I really loved the fit (I got a solid red pair and a blue gingham one, XS).
    I’d recommend checking out Pull&Bear as well, I’ve recently bought a pair of trunks there, and their S size fits similar to the H&M XS, quality might not be that great but they have some cool prints.
    Younger guys might want to look at Adidas Originals too, their trunks also have a nice fit, a bit baggier but still quite slim and above the knee.

    Looking forward to the next post!

    Cheers,
    Boy.

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