Summer is here. Every year, guys resolve to do their part to prepare for the state of undress to come. The first four months become an arduous mix of camote snacking, shakes, and potions and they are transformed. Now, they are ready to show their biceps, pectorals, six packs, and quads—all properly manscaped and tanned. Each one, and their posse, ready to hit the waves of Elyu or Siargao.
More necessary style:
Unfortunately, none of that applies to you and me. We are among the millions of genetically deprived individuals that rely on some form of workout (mine’s crossfit), or an occasional ab sculpt from my favorite dermatologist. My tan will be done at a salon, just to give me some glow, and I will spend the weekends at the pool in my hood, or at an occasional golf game.
Are we ready to do the unthinkable—take off our shirts? Are we mad?
Well of course we can. We are proud of ourselves. Or because we have found the right suit for the occasion—the swimsuit, I mean.
Growing up I can say that I went through a pool (pun intended) of styles for the summer. I am now in my mid-50s, but as a boy and young man I hit the beach in swim briefs. Yes, the Speedo-styled nylon slip that carried me much through early college. But as sleazy bikini contests came to the fray, it became frowned upon to wear the “banana hammock.”
The 80s saw a shop at the old Angela Arcade at Makati Commercial (Now Glorietta 4) selling printed shorts. The company, On Shore, brought with it Oakleys and Zinka, the latter being fluorescent colored skin protection that matched 80s fashion: neon, Crayon shoes, and trilby brimmed hats. They said the former was inspired by some European brand. Our group never let go of the swim briefs, despite our gaining girth; we kept them under our shorts, and would take them off to get the much-needed tan. I always kept to the shorter shorts, rather than the skirt like board shorts that defined the decade after. Quicksilver, Volcom, Hurley, and a host of other brands ruled and dictated a beach surf vibe without the waves. Those long boarders that hung just above the butt crack were all the style.
But like all things, style has a way of reeling in fashion; classic looks just don’t go away, they are just edited for a new market. The shorter short is back. With millennial energy, everyone—us included okay—is imbued with confidence. Despite a slight pinch of the love handles, we can stand out there by the beach—belly and all—and claim “I, (state your name), look good because I feel good.”
All over IG feeds with never ending #VitaminSea, guys are wearing shorts with a clear retro vibe. The look is more fitted and trim, and they will do you justice even if you never bothered with IF cycle work. Hail the body positive swim short! Despite a few pounds over, we can feel like James Bond in Skyfall when he came out in those sky blue shorts. (Those were by Orlebar Brown by the way.) The swim short is here to stay.
But don’t throw your surfboarders just yet. I wasn’t fond of them of them, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be worn by anybody. Honestly, they’re great for tall guys with the right proportions. Anything that hits the knee should be for guys who are taller. The vertically challenged will look like they wore a skirt. And if they’re portly, they’d look like a lollipop.
This is where luxe resort clothiers Vilebrequin and the aforementioned Orlebar Brown come in. Both defined a new market for men’s swimwear, using classic retro styling. With vintage appeal and details like pockets and waistbands, these shorts are like suits for the beach. With an all square-cut design and mid-length inseams, these shorts are for all guys.
I came across Vilebrequin at Neiman Marcus during my days in San Francisco. Its patterns and styles can take you from the pool to a beach bar just by pairing it with a simple polo shirt, sunnies, and a panama. On trips to Cannes, the Croisette had a few large stores, and in St Tropez, I got the full on experience. I was hooked. The brand has been the de rigueur for the champagne sipping Mediterranean yachting set since the 70s. This became a game changer to what we would wear to the beach.
The brand doesn’t come cheap. They average about $200, with limited editions running to about $300. They even released a super premium piece priced at $5,300, which had gold embroidery. (Ab implants, unfortunately, not included.) Vilebrequin boutiques popped in the key cities around world. In Manila, it first made its appearance with the now defunct Itsie-Bitsie at Rockwell, only to come back as part of the SSI group. This style now dominates the men’s swimwear market, from Lazada to the pop ups in Manila.
Why is it good for all?
I advice this style because it is simply flattering. Heavier guys like me are given a break in shape with the shorter inseam and length. More exposed skin always makes you look taller. The gartered waistband is also kind, especially if you loosen them up to prevent more love handles. The Vilebrequin style is just an overall great fit, with large sizing and adjustability. I have varied sizes for different uses: for the water, I make sure the waistband is just right or loose. For the bar or a beach party, I wear one size down to keep it slim. Wear it with a linen shirt, and you can’t go wrong. The sizing for this brand is forgiving, and I have had my pairs for decades, and only occasionally upgrade with a sale. Much the same way you drop money for designer kicks, it is time to grow up and pick up a pair of this classic style.
If you’re looking for a modern look, you should check out Orlebar Brown. Unlike the pattern crazy Vilebrequin, Orlebar Brown describes themselves as selling “shorts that you can swim in.” The brand uses more of the English ethos, tailored akin to suit trousers, with a zipped fly, darts to enhance the derriere, and a waistband with fasteners. Prints and limited editions are classic. My favorite is the James Bond series featuring movie posters printed on space age fabric for a quick dry after a dip. The shorts are more lightweight than Vilebrequin, and are more straightforward. I was also first introduced to them at Itsie Bitsie. I think that these shorts, born a decade ago, are all about classic design. It isn’t place or age specific. No funky prints, just classic styling. These are for those with a more athletic built, but they can run up to size 38. (Online, there might be larger sizes.)
As you decide to pick out a pair for you, think of it as an investment. The choice might turn out to be between the shorts or the holiday itself! Not ready to take the plunge, IG stores like @guppyshorts is always safe, and has made a good name.
As a postscript, I want to make my defense for the swim brief. I know it can be a bare-all in-your-face experience. But my feeling is you don’t have to be so cut to wear one. But wearing baggy shorts won’t help you anyway. I was looking at old beach pics and everyone was wearing it, and they weren’t in the shape we perceive today as great. It’s just about choice; trunks or briefs are about attitude. Brands are using technology to make what we wear look—and feel—better.