Don’t sell yourself short — tailored swimwear is cut out for sun, sand and showing off
Ten years ago, I was holidaying in Ibiza with my friends David, Tom and Adam. Adam, who had been a photographer ever since I’d known him, had just launched a range of swim shorts. Unimpressed with all the baggy, frat-boy styles, he came up with the idea of tailored and flattering swim shorts which could comfortably see you through, as he explained, from beach to bar.
The shorts looked and felt good, and we each sported a pair that week. Who knew whether anyone else would feel the same, however; Ibiza’s beaches back then tended to be inhabited by board shorts or budgie smugglers. Every couple of hours, when signal allowed, Adam’s Blackberry would buzz to inform us that another pair of his shorts had sold. We would whoop with joy each time. Perhaps, we wondered, we might even see someone wearing a pair on the island.
After a couple of days, Tom spotted a young man sporting a pair on Salinas beach. Let’s go and say hello, Tom said. As we got nearer it became evident that a conversation was not going to be an option. The man’s eyes were spinning in all directions, and his gormless smile was clearly chemically-induced. He may have been off his head on the beach, but he clearly had his wits about him when he’d chosen to buy his first pair of Orlebar Browns.
Like every area of menswear over the last decade, what we want, and what we’ll dare wear, has completely transformed. Friends of Adam’s originally baulked when he said swim shorts should be more fitted and smart; they told him they wanted baggy styles with elasticated waistbands. Adam’s response was they didn’t want baggy chinos or suit trousers with elasticated waists so why should their swimwear be any different? (Ironically, this summer a number of fashion brands are offering baggy chinos with elasticated waistbands.)
Ten years later, Orlebar Brown has become one of the most successful men’s swimwear brands in the world. It would now be a full-time job to whoop with joy every time a pair sells. The tailored swim short, with its signature sidefastener, quickly became a game changer and Adam is now referred to as “the king of swim”. Who knew.
Although Orlebar Brown’s bestseller is the navy mid-length classic Bulldog fit, shorter, fitted swim shorts are now the norm; with bright colours in body-conscious shapes celebrated everywhere. A host of other brands followed Adam’s lead: everyone from Tom Ford and Onia to Frescobal Carioca and Dan Ward offer sexy rather than shapeless shorts. Even Vilebrequin, the colourful swimwear brand founded in the Seventies, now offers its eyepopping prints in a tailored rather than traditionally floppy fit.
There are a number of reasons why today we want the clothing in wardrobes to fit better and stand out more. We tend to be in better shape, as a gender, than we were 10 years ago. Boot camps, Fitbits and smartphones with heart monitors ensure we are all more body-conscious than ever before; veggie options, sushi and salad bars help us eat more balanced meals at our work stations; while Instagram makes sure we want to look camera-ready on holiday.
The latter, in particular, has had a huge sway over our swimwear.
Back in the day, holidays meant you could let it all hang out as no-one but your nearest and dearest would see you with your belly hanging down to your flip-flops. Now, you can barely pick up a negroni without it popping up on someone’s social media platform; and half the pleasure of going away is letting those you left behind look on with envy as they scroll through your Instagram feed. We no longer only need to get beach-ready each summer, we need to get snap-ready, as well. And a neat pair of flattering, brightly-coloured, filter-friendly shorts will help you achieve that. Holidays are about sun, sand and showing off. One reason why, at the time of writing, 13,600 buff men have posted pictures of themselves in their swimwear with the hashtag #orlebarbrown.
By Thunderball!: Sean Connery sweeps Claudine Auger off her feet, Bahamas, 1965