The long and the short of it.
A guide to the swimsuits you should be wearing at the beach.
Chances are, you’re going to hit the beach this summer. And, like anywhere else, you’ll want to look your best. There are a lot of swimwear options out there. But let’s face it, unless you’re Michael Phelps or Tom Jones your reaction to wearing bikini briefs should be along these lines. That means you’re really only going to be concerning yourself with two kinds of swimwear—boardshorts or trunks/volleys.
A little history.
You should probably consider yourself lucky to be living now rather than a hundred years ago, if for no other reason than the kind of swimwear available to you. Back then, men were required to wear a one-piece (yes, men were supposed to cover up, too) made of wool that looked similar to cut-off long underwear. Imagine getting rolled by a wave and coming up wearing a waterlogged sand bag. Not a pleasant experience.
It wasn’t until the 1930s when Johnny Weissmuller—Olympic swimming champion and big-screen Tarzan—began promoting a one-piece with suspender-like straps did the top begin to shrink. Finally, in the late 1930s, the bans keeping men from baring their chests were lifted and swimmers were free to express themselves.
Boardshorts are the longer of your two choices. The waist is not elastic and they will close in the front with either a snap or a lace-up. The reason for their length—usually ending right around the knee—is that surfers were tired of the wax on their boards sticking to their leg hairs while straddling the board waiting for a wave. Having your leg hair ripped out when you lie on your board as you begin paddling is not most surfers’ idea of how they envision catching the perfect wave. So, the extra length solved the problem.
Boardshorts come in practically every color and pattern you can think of. So, if you’ve been looking for an occasion to wear something with a neon green geometric pattern on it, you’ll be able to do it here. Boardshorts will also usually come with a handy key pocket on one leg with a tie inside where you can secure your keys. They’re also traditionally made of nylon or some other quick-dry material, so you can walk from the ocean to a burger joint and be dry before your order’s up. Oh, and don’t wear boxers or briefs underneath them. Just don’t. Unless you wear socks with flip-flops.
The big differentiator here is the elastic waist and shorter length, versus the boardshort. As to why they’re called “trunks,” the most likely explanations are that they cover your torso or “trunk,” or that the name is derived from the Latin word truncus where the word truncated comes from. Volleys, the other name for these shorts, is easier to explain, as professional players popularized this style during the beach volleyball craze of the mid-1980s to mid-1990s. The shorter length of the volley means there’s less fabric to get in your way while lunging to return a ball just smashed over the net.
Trunks/volleys usually come with a mesh lining, so you don’t have to wrestle with the “should I wear anything underneath this” conundrum that boardshorts present. Colorwise, you’ll be able to find trunks/volleys in practically the same amount of variety that you find with boardshorts. Solids and retro patterns are also very popular. Just remember to tie the string inside the elastic waist before you go swimming. Getting dumped while bodysurfing and staggering to your feet only to see your shorts washing up on the sand in front of you is a vacation low-point that should be avoided at all costs.
Get paired up.
Obviously, this being beach fashion, what you like and feel good in is going to dictate your purchase more than anything. There are a couple things to keep in mind, though. If you’re really tall, maybe you think twice about that extra long pair of boardshorts. Having that much fabric flapping around might not be the best idea. And if you’re a stocky guy who loves a certain pair of trunks/volleys, make sure the elastic isn’t too tight. It can give you the same balloon effect around your waist as ill-fitting pleated pants, and being mistaken for a beach ball isn’t what you want.
Now find your place in the sun.
Buying boardshorts or trunks is usually a lot of fun. Probably because that’s what they represent. They’re worn on those sunny days where your biggest decision is whether to run pell-mell into the surf or have another margarita. In fact, this headlong dash for fun has even resulted in one of beachwear’s most curious offshoots—the cutoff jeans short. But try not to let your beach fever get the best of you. That look only works if your best friend is a dolphin.
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