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Unraveling the Secrets of Men's Status Swimwear with "Fire Island" Costume Designer David Tabbert
June 8, 2022

written by Jason Diamond, Town & Country

If you’ve ever been to Fire Island—the popular beach destination off of Long Island—you know it’s a place where seeing somebody not walking around in a bathing suit feels off. Fire Island, the new movie out now, is no different. But is a bathing suit ever more than just a bathing suit?

On Fire Island (and in Fire Island), men's swimwear is more than just clothing, it's a marker of status. David Tabbert, the costume designer for director Andrew Ahn’s rom-com about friends visiting the island one last time, says the Speedo still reigns supreme there, but beyond simply the cut of a suit, it's often a brand name that says something about the person wearing it.

“A motto for us on the film was 'cropped and chopped; tighter, shorter,'” he says, and that’s why you’ll see Parke & Ronen trunks in Fire Island—because they stand out with prints like swirling pink zebra stripes or a Moulin Rouge-inspired design, and, most importantly for Tabbert, they have a three- to five-inch inseam.

Professionally, Tabbert was happy because he didn’t have to hem the suits to make them look right on stars Joel Kim Booster and Bowen Yang, but he notes that people on the island love the brand because “they could go to the gym wearing them and then go to the pool without having to change. That happens out there all the time.” On an island full of Speedos, trunks send a different kind of message—something more designers are hoping to do with bathing suits these days.

"It’s a way to show status by wearing almost nothing," Fire Island star Nick Adams recently told T&C. "You can show off how much money you have, what part of the island you live on, or even what house you’re living in by wearing very little. David did a great job of illustrating that with little details. In every scene, I’m wearing a thick Dior necklace. It’s a statement piece, and even if you haven’t seen my character’s massive house, you’re seeing his massive necklace."

Fire Island is one of the few places in America where what you wear to the pool has been taken just as seriously as any other item of clothing, but for the most part, men's swimwear has long been overlooked as an important piece of a man’s wardrobe. For example, take Alan Flusser’s 1985 Clothes and the Man: The Principles of Fine Men's Dress, one of the most iconic guides to helping guys dress better. Something I noticed recently in the “Spring/Summer Sportswear” section's photos was that Flusser included everything from a sleeveless tennis sweater to a Brooks Brothers fun shirt and even cotton shorts, but, to my surprise, there was not a pair of bathing trunks to be found. I'm not trying to pick on Flusser, it’s simply an opportunity to show that, for far too long, the swimsuit has been relegated to an unimportant item in a man’s wardrobe. Socks are things to be fussed over, but a bathing suit? Not so much. But times are changing. From Montauk to the South of France, Los Angeles hotel pools, and Caribbean beach resorts, the status bathing suit for men has arrived.

I began to notice the status suit at Cap Juluca beach bar in Anguilla when a woman came up to me and started talking to me about my trunks, a pair my wife bought me as a gift, which were blue with white illustrations of penguins on them. I always thought they looked funny in a tropical setting, but the woman seemed blown away. She told me I was wearing one of the few Vilebrequin brand suits her husband didn’t get in the last decade, and that if I saw him on the beach I shouldn’t be surprised if he offered to buy them from me right there. I told her I’d try not to be shocked by somebody trying to purchase my swim trunks off me and I wouldn’t take offense if the price was right.

Later, as I was walking down the beach, something caught my eye. A small boat transporting a group from a yacht in the ocean was coming ashore. The women all walked onto the sand, and when the men stepped off behind them, I noticed something striking. Even though some of the younger guys were in beat-up tank tops and dad hats (OK, and sporting Submariners), their trunks were uniformly stylish. Some were sporting Vilebrequins, one had on a pair by Tom Ford with an impressive floral pattern I’d been eyeing online a few days earlier, and another rocked a pair with a psychedelic splatter pattern from Dolce & Gabbana. Some guys might not put much thought into what they pack for a trip to the beach, but these guys wanted to make a statement.

“This is definitely an explosive category right now,” Bruce Pask, Men’s Fashion Director at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus assures me. Swimwear is hotter than ever for guys. It could be a tri-colored pair from Missoni or a slightly more refined print from Anderson & Sheppard. Burberry features a pair in its famous check pattern, and from Southampton to the South of France, you're likely never far from a pair of Gucci trunks.

Part of the appeal is that these status suits go beyond being just swimwear. Lurk around the East End of Long Island in the summer, and you’ll notice more than a few guys wearing unmistakable Orlebar Brown trunks with the belt around the waist. Look closer and you’ll likely also clock that the shirt they’re wearing—a long-sleeved toweling polo—matches perfectly with the bathing suit. There’s a simple reason for this: they’re both from the same brand. Pask calls Orlebar Brown’s way of reassessing what the swimsuit can mean in a man’s wardrobe “revolutionary.” The U.K. label recognized that a more quick-drying suit could serve as a tailored swim short, one that could go from the beach to the little seafood shack with the Michelin star just a little down the road. “Their whole ethos is going from poolside to lunch or dinner," he says, "and giving more potential for versatility.”

Start looking for the status bathing suit, and it becomes impossible to not see it everywhere. Of course, what type of status they denote depends in large part on where you are. Sit poolside at the William Vale Hotel in Brooklyn and you’ll likely see Rick Owens’ nylon swim briefs with one side held together by a piece of metal hardware, which make anybody wearing them resemble a haute goth gladiator. On Zuma Beach in Malibu? It might be Tom Ford’s floral patterns as far as the eye can see. If you find yourself in Miami Beach, you’ll likely see plenty of guys in Gucci or Casablanca, but it is still Gianni’s town and wearing a pair of Versace trunks shows not only your place in the world, but also respect.

For Todd Snyder, whose eponymous brand recently released the Riveria swim shorts collection, guys wanting to show off they care about every detail, including the trunks, makes sense. “Coming out of the last few years, people seem to have a higher appreciation for style and the clothing they choose to wear out in the world," he says. "You want to look and feel your best anywhere and this POV should extend to swimwear too.” Snyder says he was inspired by the impossible-to-ignore images from The Talented Mr. Ripley that inevitably populate Instagram as the weather turns warm, and wanted to create something—albeit perhaps not the infamous green Speedo—that you could see the characters wearing in that film. But as Snyder points out, it was more than just his creative vision, but something his customers were hoping to find. “We’ve noticed the trend of swimsuits being more than just for swimming," he says, "and we are answering that with a style that makes you stand out—in and out of the water.”

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