Generally, men follow two rules when shopping for swimsuits: avoid anything white and anything too tight.
But finding a truly stylish pair of trunks has to do with more than just colour and leg width. Fabrication, inseam length and style of waistband are equally important considerations, not to mention whether a bathing suit's primary purpose is for tanning, swimming or just plain showing off.
The good news this season is that even mainstream stores are moving away from the oversized, riotously coloured board shorts that have been ubiquitous for decades and are stocking up instead on brands that make well-tailored suits in sophisticated palettes that look good on a lot of men, regardless of body type.
One such brand is Onia. Founded by Carl Cunow in 2009, the New York-based label offers five styles of swimsuits, all of which are impeccably cut, although Cunow considers the Charles the most universally flattering. "The elasticized waistband molds to a guy's body, and the seven-inch inseam [essentially a mid-thigh length] is neither too short nor too long," he says.
Similarly wearable are the swimsuits by the French company Swim-Ology. New to Vancouver's Roden Gray this season – which also stocks Onia – the label's quick-drying polyamide zipup, snap-front swimsuits, available in classic seersucker and more daring skull and pot-leaf prints, feature a trim cut inspired by the trunks sported by sun-seeking gents along the French Riviera in the 1960s. They also have side buckles that can be adjusted to fit each wearer's waist.
For the more reserved sort, there's Faherty Brand. Launched last year by twin brothers Alex and Mike Faherty, the line's surf-inspired bathing suits, available in muted solids, plaids and the sort of prints that even exposure-averse men will feel comfortable wearing (interestingly, patterned and printed suits divert attention away from the body), includes something called the All Day Short, which, the Fahertys say, can be worn "from the beach to the street."
Of course there's always the option of following what beach-going men in Rio de Janeiro have been doing for years. When traveling to and from popular beach spots such as Ipanema and Copacabana, they wear board shorts with a sunga underneath. A sunga, essentially a baggier, more forgiving version of a Speedo, offers increased exposure for tanning and is a whole lot easier to swim in than a pair of baggy trunks.
While travellers to Brazil will find excellent versions at swimsuit stores Blue Man and Osklen, sungas can be hard to find on these shores. The stretchy lycra Rétro suit by the Quebec-based brand Shan, however, is a close approximation. Its founder and designer, Chantal Levesque, who started manufacturing men's swimwear in the late eighties, feels that men, regardless of how much time they spend in the gym, will look good in the company's tasteful line of suits that, in addition to the racy Rétro, includes the drawstringwaisted Classique and the subtly sheened plaid Citadin.
The company does not, however, sell thongs, a swimsuit style, Levesque says, "that, unless a man is planning on entering a bodybuilding competition, should be avoided at all costs."