in the Swim


Women think men have it easy when it comes to buying swimwear.

There are no decisions to be made about one- vs. two-piece styles. No debates about whether straps will stay up or hooks stay hooked. And really, how much do men's styles change from one year to the next, anyway?

Torrents, says Tom Julian, fashion director for the Men's Fashion Association in New York, who recently returned from a men's swimwear fashion shoot in hip South Miami.

"There is a lot going on with color, pattern, shape and silhouette, depending on lifestyle," said Mr. Julian.

"Black and white together is very important because it is returning in a graphic, op-art-type way.

"Neon is fading, and we're returning to primary bright colors because of the Olympics. There are a lot of patterns, including fun motifs, beach scenes, color blocking and tropical prints.

"Primitive prints are very important, including ethnic prints, madras combined with geometrics, mosaics and African-inspired.

"And hip, younger men are really going for shorter, tighter-fitting suits if they have the physique for it."

In brief, men will have to wade through plenty of stylistic choices this season when fishing for new trunks. Though there seem to be suits to suit most tastes, some of the biggest waves are being made in updated retro looks from the '50s and '60s and bold prints.

Snug-fitting, short, high-waisted trunk styles -- some with belts -- are among the most fashion-forward. These may remind baby-boomers of styles their dads wore in the '50s. But to younger men with trim builds, they harken back to swim suits worn in such smoldering '50s movies as the 1953 classic "From Here to Eternity." Imagine the brief worn by Burt Lancaster in his famous clinch in the surf with Deborah Kerr, and you get the idea.

The obvious problem with these suits is that the wearer needs the fashion panache, not to mention the body, to look like the type of guy who might share a daiquiri with European models in beachfront cafes.

More forgiving and less avant-garde looks include variations on what the swimwear industry calls the 15-inch-long volley trunks and the 17-inch-or-longer surfer jams.

Both lengths come in "color block" styles, meaning patchworks of contrasting colors, and a variety of prints. Indonesian batik prints are popular with designers, and tropical prints have never gone out of style with men who still identify with the Beach Boys.

Trunks can cost anywhere from $20 for a racing brief to $60 for designer labels.

But for men who disdain fashion sea changes, traditional, mid-length drawstring trunks, perhaps with subdued nautical themes, are available.

And with the recent America's Cup yachting competition in San Diego, anchors-aweigh themes are more fashionable.

"We find most men look for something versatile and comfortable," said Sarah Miller, men's sportswear manager at a Nordstrom. "Traditional nautical styles in navy and greens are popular. We sell a lot of boxer-style trunks with drawstring waists," she explained. "And some have pockets."


Women clearly underestimate the complexity of shopping for swim trunks.

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