Here's the skinny: Swim trunks have gone through a shrink cycle, mirroring the sartorial trend for snug suits and narrow jeans. "The trunk of the season," says Kevin Harter, Bloomingdale's vp fashion direction, "tends to be a slimmer, shorter version than what we have seen in seasons past."
A few years back, British upstart Orlebar Brown introduced its game-changing slim swimsuits tailored like a menswear trouser. Its Bulldog style got a boost when a baby blue pair was donned by Daniel Craig's James Bond in 2012's Skyfall. According to Toby Bateman, buying director for online purveyor Mr. Porter, the brand has reinvigorated the men's category and brought a new wave of designer offerings. Among the brands he likes are Robinson Les Bains and Frescobol Carioca, which also offer tailored swim shorts with a fit harkening back to the 1960s.
Now the tailored swim short has become the new standard, seen at L.A. stores from trendy Opening Ceremony to Westside mainstays such as Ron Herman and Malibu's Maxfield.
Whatever the label, swimwear breaks down to four lengths: brief, short trunk, midthigh and board short. Fashion experts say men are best served by a moderate choice that hits that midthigh spot or a touch lower. "It's the most flattering — a happy medium between a short fitted suit and board shorts," says stylist Jenny Ricker, who works with Zac Efron and Aaron Paul.
More cutting-edge guys are now also opting for the trunk, like Orlebar's recently added Springer (a short-short with just a 3-inch inseam). "They are doing very well and will not be leaving the collection anytime soon," says founder Adam Brown. Maybe, but many men, like Orlando Bloom over Memorial Day in Malibu, still cling to baggy, knee-length trunks, whether you call them board shorts, surfer shorts or jams — even with the emergence of more body-flattering, fashion-forward options. "Board shorts are like wearing a backpack. It can look kind of immature," says Ricker. "Unless you're an 18-year-old from Huntington Beach, they're kind of silly."
For an update with a surfer vibe, consider Saturdays Surf's Colin model with its modern trim fit in chartreuse camo, or designer Jonathan Skow's Warhol-influenced print for Mr. Turk. "Graphic florals look great right now, especially in odd color combinations," says Skow.
Even the brief — or the Speedo, as it's generically referred to by American men — is vying for a comeback (exhibit A: Jennifer Lopez's man-candy-littered "I Luh Ya Papi" video). Some of the best come from Eurocentric lines like Hermes and Dan Ward's new eponymous luxury line (he's a veteran of Bally and Calvin Klein and a onetime competitive swimmer). "You have to be in perfect shape, though," says stylist Simon Robins, who works with Jared Leto, "because we've all seen that guy at the beach where you said, 'Oh, no. I wish you hadn't.' "
This story first appeared in the July 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.