A trip to the beach used to be a simple case of sticking an old, sloppy stained tee on with some loose baggy swim shorts and flip-flopping your way to that stripey deckchair. But beachwear, or resort wear as marketeers like to call it, has seriously upped its game in the past decade.
Luxury swimwear brands like Orlebar Brown, Frescobol Carioca, Onia and Vilbrequin have lead the way, significantly smartening the swim short and bringing back a sort of elegant mid-century style that wouldn’t look out of place in an Alfred Hitchcock spy caper on the Riviera.
“There’s now the idea that beachwear is no longer exclusively for the beach or the pool, so consumers have a higher expectation of the pieces they buy, as well as the need for them to be functional & versatile,” notes Oliver Moores, creative director at Frescobol Carioca.
So just how do you traverse this age of grace and decorum in men’s beachwear – sorry, sorry – resort wear? Well, we’ve tied up a few of our pointers in this comprehensive guide. Just don’t, for the love of Poseidon, get those baggy board shorts from your teen years back out again.
Beachwear Style Tips
Certain menswear pieces have stayed popular for a reason. From the upper-body enhancing polo shirt to the slip-on elegance of a loafer, stick to these simple, timeless pieces and you’ll be safe by any mass of water.
And it’s not that it’s particularly wrong per se to wear cargo pants or a neon bum bag on the beach or by the pool, but these sort of on-trend pieces have always looked more at home in town. Beachwear is beachwear, leave the trendy streetwear for the street.
Whether it’s a day trip in the car or a stay in a luxury resort, you might not get a chance to completely change into a second, more formal outfit during your day so it’s important to pick pieces that can work for both the beach and any evening endeavours.
Tailored swim shorts that can go incognito at a waterfront restaurant, smart espadrilles and knitted polo shirts traverse this tightrope well. A long sleeve linen shirt can be worn with sleeves rolled up in the day, rolled down at night or as a smart over-shirt on top of the tee you were wearing in the day. Just don’t be the guy stuck wearing flip-flops as you order your starter.
Past bringing a towel along for the ride you might be wondering how else you can stay dry when going to the beach. Well, it all comes down to the power of the materials you have to hand. Lightweight and fast-drying linen should be an absolute backbone of your beachwear wardrobe, as should smart fabrics like Tencel, a biodegradable fibre spun from eucalyptus sap which feels like silk and is extremely breathable.
“You don’t want your swimwear to feel heavy or stay wet,” says Moores. “You need to feel as comfortable as possible so you can enjoy yourself.”
Opt For Light Colours
There’s a number of reasons why brighter shades work better in the summer than they do winter. Firstly, light colours are thought to reflect heat from the sun keeping you cooler underneath.
They’ll also dazzle when hit by the sunlight and look great when sat alongside your summer tan (more on that later). Look to colours that mimic those of the beach – beige, white and sky blue.
Consider Skin Tone
When you’ve got a whole lot of skin on show it’s important to consider how said skin, or more precisely the tone of it, is going to fit into your outfit.
“If you’re pale, opt for muted tones of blues, pinks, and greens,” recommends menswear stylist Sarah Gilfillan. “If you have olive skin go for rich khakis, oranges, and rusts, and if your skin is very dark go for it with neon brights.”
Cut Is Still Important
“When you’re not wearing many clothes it’s crucial that the ones you have are a great cut and fit,” says Gilfillan. Cut and fit can also smarten even the most casual outfits so if you don’t want to look like a slob on the sands you got to get it right.
“Look for slim leg swimwear if you’re of a slight build, choose darker side panels if you have large hips or chunky thighs and if they have a pattern make sure it’s scaled to your size too.”
Key Beachwear Looks
T-Shirt + Swim Shorts
This is the easiest beach look to nail, says Gilfillan, so long as you build everything up around your swim shorts.
“For the most versatile beach outfit you can take to the beach I’d suggest going for some tailored style swim shorts in a multicoloured pattern which you can then team them with a plain tee for daytime, and switch to a cotton or linen shirt for a slightly smarter look in the evening.”
Take a colour from your patterned shorts and match it tonally in your shirting choice to bring some order to the look.
Polo Shirt + Tailored Trousers
For those with an eye towards the evening (as opposed to, say, the banana boat), the polo shirt and tailored trouser combo is a banker. The look comes in varying degrees of formality depending on the cut and type of each piece. Pique cotton polo shirts, for example, are a whole lot more casual than knitted versions.
When it comes to trousers, a wider leg should be contrasted with a tighter fit up top and allow you to more easily roll up the hems for any feet dipping. Slimmer tapered versions edge towards the more formal and won’t look out of place in the bar when the sun goes in.
Printed Shirt + Chino Shorts
Printed shirts are really raging at the moment and offer up an easy chance to get some pattern into your outfits, a difficult task otherwise. Usually cut in a wispy viscose, they’re light, airy and pop in the sunlight, while the deep V-neck will give you ample opportunity to show off the days tan in the evening.
A pair of tailored chinos will keep the silhouette slim and sharp, with a darker pair allowing a blank canvas on which to impress with the elaborate pattern of your shirt.
Key Beachwear Pieces
Unless you have the boundless energy of a labrador, the chances are you’re not going to splashing about in the sea all day. Which means when purchasing your swim shorts you want to be looking for something that will look just as sharp out of action as they do in it.
Quick-drying technology comes in very handy as does a mesh-lining which helps the drying process and stops you frightening fellow beach-goers with any, ahem, slips. In terms of cut, avoid wide fits for this reason but expect slightly shorter cuts than you would wear your shorts on the street, with seven inches around the median.
One of the most contentious items of footwear in the menswear world – second only to the Croc – the flip-flop is in its natural element by the beach, and not the office – stinky Pete in HR take note.
Black and brown flip-flops will without a doubt look less loutish and can pair with pretty much any outfit in the beachwear canon. The more popular slider is a tad more formal – you could just about get away with wearing them at lunch – while allowing you to get a bit of product placement into your ‘fit.
It goes without saying that your brand spanking new leather backpack should not be accompanying you on this seaside sojourn. Leather doesn’t battle the elements of sea and sand very well, so it’s much better to bring a hardwearing tote bag along, one which you can easily delve into when you’re on your back sunning yourself
For a modest amount you can get a stylish one – just look out for a thick twill or canvas option so it will survive the lapping shore.
Unless you’re lounging by the pool or going down to the beach on an overcast day (in which case why are you even bothering?) you will be needing a pair of shades to shield your peepers.
Look for CE on the side of the frames which shows the shades comply to common standards by blocking out 95 per cent of UV rays. Anything less and they’re not doing their job. In terms of style, bold colours and geometric shapes are on trend, while classic shapes and patterns like the Ray-Ban Wayfarer and tortoiseshell are perennial favourites for a reason.
Linen is the quintessential summer cloth, and nowhere does the fabric look as much at home as it does in shirt form. It will look creased though, that’s just the devil-may-care attitude it possesses, so if you are concerned about looking too crumpled look for a blend with cotton which eases out some of those folds.
Linen shirts come in various patterned guises but look best in a single, block colour with anything more looking a bit busy among the elegant folds. They’re also well paired with a crisp bottom half, so look to a pair of thick cotton twill chinos that will stay crease-free.
It pays to play a simple tee game on the beach and leave the graphics for the street. A simple plain T-shirt is a whole lot easier to pair with patterned swim shorts you see and lets you slip an overshirt on top should you want to formalise things into dinner.
If you must go the way of the graphic, get one on the back, like most of the tee options at the king of surfwear, Stussy.
At the risk of sounding like your mum, sun protection is important, so take a hat with you just in case (it’ll also handily cover a frizzy barnet).
The cap is the modern go-to and as long as it’s in a neutral black will suit most smart casual looks. The bucket hat is more on-trend but strays even further into casual territory so only wear with a tee.
If you’re looking to go fully prim and proper there’s the Panama hat. A summer swap for the chunkier fedora, it will look ace alongside a polo shirt and tailored trousers. If you have a round face look for a wider brim to balance out your bonce, while a smaller brim will suit those of a smaller stature.