When choosing any piece of clothing, it's important to look past the aesthetics and pay attention to the quality. This goes double for a pair of swim shorts, as it is subject to harsher conditions than regular clothing, like salt water, chlorine and frequent wet-dry cycles.
A durable pair of swim shorts is one that lasts more than a few seasons, retains its shape, doesn't come apart at the seams, and doesn't fade, shrink or pill. What separates high-quality from low-quality manufacturers are the extra steps they took to make sure a garment not only looks great now, but will continue to do so after multiple wears and washes, that it feels comfortable on the skin and is well-fitted. All of these 'extras' take time and money.
It's easy to cut costs and focus on making garments look good in pictures rather than on quality, but it's much more satisfying to make, own and wear items that last and that you can come to treasure. Read on to discover how to spot a carefully considered garment of high quality fabric, neat seams and meticulous detailing.
The most important component of any garment is the fabric. Regardless of the tailoring and craftsmanship involved, a garment made from flimsy, scratchy or pilling fabric will always feel uncomfortable and look cheap.
Manufacturers who use high quality fabrics generally tend to mention this, and for those who do not it usually means they work with lower grade fabrics. Why does this matter? A higher quality fabric will last longer as it is more resistant to wear and tear, it'll be more colour fast (less prone to fading) and dry quicker (a tighter weave has less air pockets to retain moisture) and will typically feel more comfortable.
A quick feel of the garment will usually tell you a lot about the quality of the fabric; cheap fabrics look and feel it. Another simple test is to hold the fabric up to the light - if the fabric lets through a lot of light, it’s a sign that it is not very dense and therefore will not be very durable.
Our bodies are all different and for most garments this means a little tailoring helps to make things fit perfectly. To what extent a brand takes the extra time to do this, says a lot about the overall quality of its collection. General things to look out for that create a better fit for every body include a curved waistband and darts at the seat of the shorts, so they follow the body's contours and curve back to the legs. This way the fabric underneath the seat doesn't bulge or hang.
Proper tailoring also includes interfacing, an extra piece of fabric sewn in between the outer layer and the lining of a piece to support its structure and keep it from stretching out, for instance inside the waistband, along the fly and in pocket welts.
Most mass-produced garments are very wide through the leg, to cater to the thickest legs out there. So for most men this means you'll need to look for slim fit shorts or get your shorts tailored.
As swim shorts are subject to abuse as well as harsh conditions, the quality of the stitching and the thread matters. Especially load-bearing seams, which are under constant tension, ideally have a high number of stitches per inch and should be created using a secure method, like the flat felled seam. A favourite for durability, this workhorse seam is extremely durable and sturdy, and provides a neat finish with two lines of visible stitching. French seams are another sign of a high quality garment, as they take more time to do but are stronger and they give a neat finish.
A quick pull test along the seams can help determine the quality of the stitching; better-quality garments have more stitches per inch and thus have tighter seams, which means there's less of a chance to have the seam come apart.
When it comes to thread for swim shorts or active shorts, ideally a stronger, more durable thread is used like the hard-wearing threads used for better jeans and heavy duty work garments. Gutterman, Metrosene and Amann all make high quality threads.
4. The devil is in the details
Finally we look at the details that make up the clothing. Again, most labels will tell you if they use high quality components. For swim shorts, look for zippers with injection-moulded teeth; they are more durable, resistant to oxidation and less prone to puller damage from grit & sand. Ideally the zippers are self-locking, which means they don't open unintentionally.
Any pockets should have at least one side made of lining, a porous fabric that easily lets air and water through, to avoid ending up with bulging pockets that pop out or balloon. A zipped pocket can be useful to securely store small items that you might easily lose on the beach.
Also make sure that all stress points, like the bottom of the fly, pockets and sides of the legs have bar tacks; a short series of stitches that reinforce stress points and prevent them from tearing.