Look Good In Any Body (of Water): How to buy and wear swim trunks

by Barron Cuadro  |  in Casual Style

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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