Hey gents,

Let me just say, I love this time of year. In San Francisco though, summer is a bit elusive. It starts to tease us around March, hangs out until May or June, then disappears completely during the normal summer months here in the US. The warmth comes back again in October… gotta love those Indian summers.

So what’s a local San Franciscan to do? Escape to warmer locales, of course.

Whether you live in a chilly city like us or not, you’re bound to hit the beach at some point (or a lake, or your neighborhood pool). Making conscious style decisions shouldn’t end just because (most of) your clothes are coming off.

Here’s how to continue looking good even when wearing only one article of clothing.

Shed those pounds

It’s never too late to get in shape. If you’re way off track, start small. I’d say the best way to get noticeable results is to change what you’re shoving down your gullet.

I’m not going to get into details here since this isn’t a diet and exercise blog (though this is one of my favorites, if you were curious), but use common sense.

Here’s what I mean: If your meals consist mostly of processed foods and refined white grains, you’re going to hang onto your bulk. I personally subscribe to a paleo / slow carb-based diet with whole foods (vegetables) and lean meats. Let’s call it “paleslow” (PALE-e-slo). I totally just made that term up right now.

In preparation for our trip to Mexico next week, for example, I refocused my food intake and ate paleslow about 75% of the time, and I dropped from 174.2 lb to 159 lb in about 6 weeks. This is with light exercise and weight training.

Obviously I wasn’t strict about my regimen (I ate out during the weekends), but I still saw results. More important than the number on the scale is the fact that my clothes fit me better now. Some that were bordering on too-snug-for-comfort are now perfect. Some are too loose (and I can’t wear them without feeling swallowed by all that fabric, drat), but oh well. Good problem to have.

Now, I’m not a dietitician or nutritionist. You don’t have to follow my diet specifically, and to each his own. I’m just sharing what works for me.

The main takeaway is this: if you clean up your eating, you will drop weight even without exercise. The best wardrobe in the world can’t cover up an out-of-shape physique, so work on yourself as much as you can before worrying about what you wear.

Get a tan

You don’t want to be the blinding-white pasty guy on the beach, so I suggest working on a base tan before you head out on your trip. Having a base tan will also prep your skin so you won’t get burned as easily.

I’m not saying go crazy like New Jersey Tanning Mom, and I definitely recommend you wear sunscreen. But if you know you’re going to be out under a hot sun during a vacation, having a base tan helps, in my experience.

What do I mean by base tan? Expose that pale body of yours to the sunlight. Go throw a frisbee in the park (shirtless) with your boys, go lay out in the backyard for a little, hit up a tanning salon for a few sessions.

Take precautions and dont go overboard—you don’t want to get burned—but doing any of these a few times will give you a nice base tan.

Wear the right trunks

Okay, this is the part that you can get totally right, or bomb completely. Just like regular clothes, most guys don’t know how to buy the right cut and size of swimming trunks for their body. Most wear oversized, long, loud trunks that hit their shins.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Size and Style

Typically you’ll buy your normal waist size. Still, sizes differ among stores, so make sure to try on a few pairs before buying.

The most flattering style of trunks are the mid-length board shorts with non-elastic waist, ones that button or tie in the front.

Elastic waistbands tend to cinch too much, so if you’re not skinny or in shape, that means your love handles and flabby extras will be hanging off the edge. Non-elastic trunks hit at the hip like normal shorts, and best of all, they don’t cinch.


Never past the knee. Optimal length for your trunks should be anywhere from mid-thigh to two inches above the knee. Again this really depends on your height and body proportions, but in general, make sure you’re in this range.

If your shorts are hitting the knee, they’re already too long in my opinion.


You know me, I love color. Go bright with your trunks if you want, besides, it’s summer.

Just for the sake of argument (and because I like to contradict myself), I have a pair of plain brown trunks and a pair of mid-length blue board shorts, pictured right.

So if you want to be less “look at me!”, try on a neutral or subdued solid pair.

What to wear with it: Upper Body

If you’re walking around a beach town or taking a mid-day break and grabbing some food, you’ll probably want to put a shirt on.

Your basic slim tee will work, either a crew or v-neck. Follow the basic rules of complementing colors just like you would any other day.

Polos are another great option. They come in many price points, colors, and styles. My favorite is the Custom-fit Polo by Ralph Lauren. If you have a slimmer chest and smaller proportions overall, Ralph now makes a slim-fit version. Express surprisingly makes a well-fitting polo shirt as well, and is at a lower price point than Ralph. So does Gap, the last time I checked.

Of course you can’t go wrong with a basic Oxford sport shirt, just roll up the sleeves. If a breeze comes through as the sun sets, roll them down for some coverage. Cotton, linen, and chambray are three popular (and breathable) fabric styles you can look for.

You can also grab a lightweight cotton, cotton linen, or cotton cashmere sweater. I prefer the J.crew V-necks myself, pictured above. They come in plenty of colors and fit great.

What to wear with it: Footwear

Flip flops are just fine, especially in a tropical vacation locale. If you’re done with the beach but still have your shorts on, I suggest switching to closed-toe shoes.

Your beat up Chuck Taylors work fine. So do Vans, Tretorn, Superga… any of your standard casual canvas shoes would be perfect.

I also really love these Rivieras (pictured above). I think these would be the ideal shoes for your typical beach destinations.

Wish you were here!

Hope this article’s helped in figuring out how to look great in those new trunks of yours, and also what to wear with them. Follow-up questions? You know what to do, just leave em below.

In other news, I’ll be in Puerto Vallarta next week, eating delicious tacos and paddle surfing for hours. If you’re in the water, swim on over and say hi.


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18 Responses

  1. BrandonB. on

    I disagree re: length. I find the suggested “optimal length” a bit too long. When I go to the beach, I actually swim. Swimming 400m or so in trunks that nearly reach your knees is not fun. Plus, shorter shorts are classic, in a Sean Connery James Bond sort of way. 

    • Barron on

      You must REALLY disagree to comment both here AND on fb 🙂

      This article is for the casual vacationer / beach-goer. You know, the guy hangin’ with his girl or his buddies, throwing a frisbee around, eating some grilled meats. If you’re there for a specific reason, by all means, wear something that is superior as far as utility goes (it’s always utility above looks, anyway).
      My suggested length is anywhere from mid-thigh to 2-3″ above the knee… not at the knee. That’s too long in my opinion.

      • BrandonB. on

        Not trying to be obnoxious, honest! Only posted in both places because I’ve found in the past that some people post comments on FB that they don’t post on the original website.

        That being said, the revised graphic looks much better, and I have a better idea of where you’re coming from. I have no problems with mid-thigh, though I do prefer a bit shorter. My personal faves are Birdwell 301s. They are quick drying and nearly indestructible. Still made in the US, too.


        • Barron on

          I was just giving you a hard time about posting 2x 🙂 Nice suggestion re: Birdwell. That fits in nicely with my suggestions as far as fit and style. Thanks for sharing!

    • Barron on

      btw, checked out my graphic, and it’s not very clear re: optimal length. so i can see where you’re coming from. must revise.

  2. Bo on

    Hey Barron,

    Nice post, I appreciate it the timing of it as I’m in the market for some new trunks! What stores/brands would you say are the best in terms of being in line with the above suggestions?

  3. Jim on

    I’ve got a lovely set of chicken legs, I was just wondering what kind of trunk would do the best job of minimalizing that fact. I tried on some trunks but they all seem to accentuate the fact that I have small legs. What’s a guy to do?

    • Barron on

      Are you tall and skinny? Or average height? In general, it’s all about proportion. If you have a slimmer pair of shorts that hug the leg, it will look better than baggy shorts (which will make your legs look miniature).

      If you’re tall, you can get away with longer shorts, but I still would stick to the optimal length area, no longer than 2″ above the knee.

      Also it takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you don’t like how you look in shorts.

  4. Blake on

    Been waiting excitedly for a post on swim trunks. Great post Barron! However, I can’t mind much that would fit me w/o a tailor or any alterations. Kids section is usually plagued with oversized and gaudy boardshorts.
    I am 5’4″…and built from high-school sports and weight lifting.  
    I have a 26″ waist, 
    32″ hip,
    9-10″ inseam from 2″ above top of knee, 
    17.5″ thigh,
    13-14″ backrise,
    11-12″ frontrise
    The only options I have off the rack right now is J. Crew, and a MTM company called Mangrove Monkey.
    Any more suggestions or directions would be greatly appreciated! 

    Also, my mom is trying to give me advice to wear designs, a length at or below my knee. She went to the beach over the weekend and gets the expectation that men should wear designs on their shorts and have them hang below their knees. However, the hell with that, I wear clothes only for myself, and   personal enjoyment.

    • Barron on

      You may need to grab the 5-6″ inseam variety to get a good fit as far as length goes. I believe J.Crew has some, as well as a few others you should be able to find via a Google search. thedzdt.com is a local online shop that also sells 5″ shorts in fun colors / prints.

      And yeah, don’t listen to mom in this situation. haha

  5. Dave Hahn on

    Good suggestions. I’ve gone the American Apparel route with my swim trunks the last two seasons and felt a little…. exposed. Also cannot overemphasize changing your diet to drop the lbs. I excercise 6 days a week, cardio and weight training and have put on muscle and gained endurance but haven’t dropped any weight due to the fact that I eat out nearly all my meals and eat like a dude. I just started cooking and bringing my lunch to work and the gut is sliding off quick. Thanks for the rec on the fitness blog! Reading it today.

  6. Nick on

    What about the swim trunks Daniel Craig wore in Casino Royal or Skyfall? If you’ve got that kind of build shouldn’t you flaunt it like that?

    • Barron on

      If I were Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, I’d make sure that at some point, Eva Green would see me in one of the black swimsuits, all the way at the top of this article.

    • Barron on

      Probably, but it depends on your leg length and preference. I’m 5’9″, pretty average leg length, and I usually get a 7″ inseam, which is a few inches above the middle of my knee.