It is always interesting to see how far the man of style will go with his particular emphasis on and awareness of the importance of dress. What event or circumstance would limit such a man? Would he be put off when potholing? Chastened by cliffwalking? Or indeed, would he adjust his standards for even the most minor, everyday pursuit. I know of men of elegance, boulevardiers of style, whose self-taught panache seems to disappear when sporting activity is on the cards. The lesson, according to the arbiters of apathy, is that the sporting arena is about performance and not appearance. Whilst that may be true, it is never pleasant to contradict your code. I recently had to wear a pair of quite hideous Nike swimming shorts, as I had not travelled with a pair myself, and spent most of the time wading in the water, attempting to conceal their arresting-yet-tasteless luminosity.
Swimwear is generally a forgotten area in the stylish gentleman’s wardrobe. Whether this is a resignation, an acceptance of the paucity of stylish swimwear or rather a rebellion – a shedding of formality and ‘seriousness’, an opportunity to play the clown – I know not. However, I do know that it is possible to purchase a decent collection of swimming shorts that will not compromise the style of a gentleman; he can stand proud at the edge of the diving board, not cowed in the safety of the palm-shaded shallow-end.
Firstly, you will note that I stated the decent collection being composed of ‘shorts’ – avoiding trunks and thongs. For most men are rather modest in nature and are more likely to look for comfort and practicality in swimwear; tight fitting trunks may look fantastic on splendidly built gentlemen but they are made for speed in the water and not comfort on the beach. We need pockets – for currency to buy an ice cream, for the buzzing Blackberry, to carry the yacht keys – and there is nothing so revolting as a hotel guest who swings by the pool bar for a bite wearing a pair of Speedo’s finest nutcrushers.
The second thing to consider is size. Many men, of otherwise good style sense, wear swimshorts that defy the definition of the word ‘short’; the longer Bermuda style are in my opinion for spiky, spotty teenagers only. They remind me of the pirate pantaloon that made the often attractive male leg entirely shapeless. This is an important consideration. Women, and indeed some other men, can find a male leg very appealing. It is strong and has better definition than the female leg – which is why companies like Aristoc use male legs in their photography – and the more of it on display, the better. Longer shorts will make you appear shorter, and juvenile. The perma-bronzed surf-mad beefcake McConaughey tends to cover his powerful thighs with clown-like shorts – making his entire body look top-heavy, when it is anything but. If he were to wear proper swim shorts, the surf fraternity may laugh at him, but he would look far better; the balance would be much improved.
The second consideration is an important one; colour and pattern. Ironically, the men’s swimwear market is dominated by bright colours and floral patterns whereas the women’s swimwear market exhibits remarkable restraint. Hawaii-ism is rife in pattern choice with manufacturers like Vilebrequin (VILEbrequin an acquaintance once quipped) offering a glutton of petal and palm. Although it would certainly be fun to possess a pair of swimshorts covered in martini glasses, I’d never build a collection of such extravagance. Patterns are fine, but the majority of the collection should be composed of plainer models. Navy and mid blues are a good starting point as they will suit all skin tones and look richer in sunlight than black. Lighter colours such as lemony yellow look splendid with tans and richer colours like Ferrari red have great impact. Stripes are also a good idea as they recall some of the nautical notes of earlier eras of swimwear – I once saw a French gentleman in Crete wearing the most perfect Tricolore stripes. Logos, unfortunately, are hard to avoid but logically, the smaller the better.