As a teenager, I would linger on the beach, tanning myself for hours. That was the 1970s, when people didn't talk about the dangers of exposure to the sun.
But rather than lie prominently on the local beach, I preferred to skulk behind a bathing box. Even when you turn a deep chocolate brown, the sun doesn't transform your body into something it's not. And with long twig-like legs, I preferred, and still do, to cover up as much as possible.
So going in search of bathers, trunks, board-shorts, or whatever you prefer to call them, is considerably more daunting more than three decades later. Unfortunately, my twigs are still there, now with a few wrinkles.
Octopuses and Jets
David Jones in Melbourne and Sydney is a great place to start when you'd rather not be overtly noticed looking at trunks. It's difficult to walk past the Tom & Teddy board shorts, literally crawling with octopuses in red or navy. Priced at $99.95, it's not the price that concerns me, but drawing attention. The Versace-inspired Jets label is as vibrantly patterned in jungle prints or aerial photography. While it's not the photography that concerns me, it's the label 'Men's boy leg' that confuses me. I might have legs that are boy-sized, but how could the manufacturer know such intimate detail?
I was reassured to see the trusty rack of Speedos, from the $60 black swimming trunk to the standard black brief-style for $40. And for those who prefer a dash of colour, the wider Speedos include a few bright stripes on each side. Although common sense might suggest I take the simple black Speedos to the counter to be packaged, I'm not quite ready to throw in the beach towel. Surely, a guy in his 50s has a few more options.
If I regularly left the beach for the bar, I should at least give The Rocks Push a go, although the Sydney-based label with its motto 'from beach to the bar', might be a more attractive proposition for younger guys. Also priced around the $100 mark, there are numerous print options on these trunks from fish, boats, coral and even pink crabs. "These are extremely popular with guys in their 20s," says the store assistant, who steers to me to the plain fabrics. I'm told that older men prefer plain, but feel quite comfortable wearing bright colours on the beach in bright aqua, coral, vibrant green or even a fluorescent yellow: but certainly not this guy.
Raising the bar
For those with more money to spend on trunks, there's Harrolds in both Melbourne and Sydney. It carries two swimwear labels - British-based Orlebar Brown and the global company of American designer Tom Ford. The former was created by Adam Brown in 2007 who realised that while women looked great around the pool, men tended to stick to their old board shorts.
For $240 in plain fabrics, or up to $495 for prints, men can now hold their own at the poolside. Tom Ford's bold prints, in vibrant colours and for a mere $795, will also cause a stir. According to those on Harrolds' fashion floor, the trend in swimwear is getting bolder, with 'statements' contributing to the holiday ambience.
Ralph Lauren's flagship store in Collins Street, Melbourne, also offers some statements for those wanting to make a splash. Its Ralph Lauren Purple Label, conceived at the luxury end, starts at $299. The 100 per cent nylon trunks, complete with liners, can be found in bright plaids or paisley designs, as well as in ginghams in pink or purple. For those with a little less cash to splash, there are the classic Polo by Ralph Lauren in summer brights, from fluorescent yellow and pink to lime green or turquoise blue. Donned with a linen shirt and loafers, this combo easily recalls gentrified life in the Hamptons.
Although the fabrics are beautiful and the trunks well-finished, a statement is not what I'm looking for this summer. As an adult, I'm no longer fearful of showing my body, but I'm also far from ready to scream for attention. So it's with great relief that I see the trunks on offer at Paul Smith's Australian flagship store in Collins Street, Melbourne, some of which are also available at David Jones in both Melbourne and Sydney.
Just arrived, the selection of trunks includes classic 1930s-style black lycra with the distinctive Paul Smith striped detailing on the waistband. Priced at $110, the brief-style trunk isn't prohibitively expensive for something with that extra detail. There's also the black baggy bathing shorts with the striped drawstring for $135. And if you are comfortable wearing colour, these shorts can be found in blue, purple, red and green. Paul Smith's trademark stripes are also on offer, as well as those featuring a digitised floral print, complete with metal buckles on either side.
While the prints and colours will stand out this summer, I'm settling on the Paul Smith 1930s-style trunks, with the subtle rim of stripes Smith is renowned for. I may not be noticed by the pool, or stand out on the beach, but they're both stylish and comfortable, and, importantly, ideal for a man who still has the legs of a boy.