Men’s swimsuits: Bye-bye, baggy

Special to the Los Angeles Times

On a recent episode of Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing,” one of the real estate agent cast members went shopping for a swimsuit to wear on a celebratory jaunt to the Hamptons.

The price for the fancifully printed swim trunks at the exclusive Vilebrequin boutique in Manhattan (a Beverly Hills outpost is just off Rodeo Drive)? More than $400.

Men’s swimsuits have become the latest obsession for the well-dressed man, whether he leans toward storied items like Panerai watches, Hermès ties and John Lobb shoes or prefers cutting-edge Givenchy T-shirts, Thom Browne suits and Balenciaga high-tops.

“Swimwear has become a status symbol over the past couple of seasons, and everybody has great ones,” says Tyler Thoreson, editorial and creative director for the men’s fashion retail site Park & Bond, which this season is offering a staggering 150-odd choices.

Vilebrequin’s signature printed trunks with their French Riviera flavor (“a luxury item as well as a fashion item,” Thoreson says, selling for about $230 to $430) gained a lot of exposure in recent seasons thanks to globe-trotting celebs such as Jude Law and George Clooney.


But if anything put men’s swimwear on the map as a fashion imperative, it was the revived James Bond character parting the surf in 2006’s “Casino Royale” in a diminutive pair of sky blue boxers.

“Daniel Craig — that bone-crushingly tough guy — that was a seminal moment,” Thoreson says, adding that once men saw celebrities looking great in trimmer, more tailored styles, they wanted to look like that too.

For aficionados of a slimmer fit and athletic bold color, British label Orlebar Brown is the holy grail. The brand started in 2007 when an unhappy photographer named Adam Brown was lounging around the pool on a holiday “and all the women looked great and men looked terrible. And we all had to change to go to lunch, and I thought that was so stupid.”

Brown looked to English tailoring for his innovation, the Bulldog, a short that one could also use for swimming. The suit, which sells for around $260, comes in quick-drying fabric with side-waist tabs and is based on the traditional 17-piece trouser pattern, with a fit that appeals to both older classicists and younger “Internet fogeys” who lap up all the blogs that trace the vagaries of heritage menswear. And, Brown says, the Bulldog flatters all body types.

Orlebar Brown is kicking off its fifth anniversary on Friday with a series of suits imprinted with vintage photographs of the good life by fabled photographers such as Slim Aarons from the collection of Getty Images, with some proceeds going to the Blue Marine Foundation, which works to reclaim natural habitats.

Adding more heat to the swimwear category are collectibles such as Neil Barrett’s designs for the international surf label Sundek, seen at stores such as Barneys. Barrett’s collection marries his signature trompe l’oeil touches — a photo print of a pair of sunglasses that seem to be dangling from a pocket, for instance — with the label’s retro 1970s’ short, tight fit ($168).

Elsewhere this season, the choices include heritage men’s checks and plaids, striking ethnic prints and gutsy re-colored camouflage patterns, a new men’s classic.

But there is more to consider than labels and design.

“First and foremost, you always have to talk about fit — it’s all part of the broader trend of men embracing clothes that fit, across their wardrobes — and swimwear is the final frontier,” Thoreson says. “Unless you’re a surfer and you’ve got to wear board shorts to the knee, you don’t need to have that much fabric.”

Los Angeles was a little slow to catch on to shorter lengths, according to swimwear designer Ronen Jehezkel of Parke & Ronen.

“When we launched the 2-inch inseam [in 2006], it was almost like a culture shock,” he said of the style, which sells for around $95-$120. “In New York, it was picked up immediately — boom! We had to push men into the dressing rooms here,” he says. Now it’s a bestseller at its Melrose Avenue boutique.

“All in all, the consensus is that short is good right now,” says James Hammonds of American Rag, where the front of the store prominently displays surf-inspired styles.

“We always feature a lot of trunks around Coachella, because so many people are looking for shorts for the festival,” he says, referring to the desert art and music festival that takes place in April. “This season we’ve been selling them so well we’ve left them out a bit longer,” he says.

He cites California surfwear labels like Ambsn (about $64), for the fashion customer, and Analog (about $59), for the guy looking for something a little less flashy, as popular sellers. He’s also big on the all-American answer to a swim short by Aether (about $135) — a four-pocket, quick-dry chino style.

“You just have to be careful to take your phone out of your pocket before you jump in the pool,” he says.