Amongst all options for stylish swimwear cover-ups, board shorts are among the most popular. They’re a practical, flattering way to achieve some extra coverage by the pool. You may have noticed that many use the term “board shorts” interchangeably with “swim trunks”, but is there a difference between the two? To put it simply: yes!
If you’re thinking that swim trunks are more like what your nephew wears, you’re not far off. However, the differences between the two actually go beyond gender. If you’d like to know what exactly distinguishes these two types of swimwear bottoms, read on. And when you’re done, check out Maxine’s simple yet elegant board shorts that you can wear in the water or out on a stroll!
Board Shorts: A Quick History
Precursors to Swimming Shorts
While just as frequently sported by women these days, the board short has its roots in men’s swimwear. Much like women’s, men’s swimwear has undergone quite a revolution in only a century. In the early 1900s, the conservatism of the Victorian era still clung to fashion; full-body cover-ups made of wool were preferred for both sexes.
It wasn’t until the 1920s that shorts became the norm for men’s swimwear –– but they were heavily regulated in public. In fact, the legs couldn’t be shorter than four inches above the knee. It took until the 1930s for two-piece swimsuits to come in style. Men didn’t even go shirtless to the beach until then (at least, not since before the Victorian Era). Women’s swimwear was even more modest, often differing little from an everyday dress.
Surfing USA: The First Board Shorts
Everything changed when modern surf culture took off in the 1950s and 1960s. You only need to take a look at the myriad of beach party movies and Beach Boys songs of the decades to get an idea of the scope of the surf craze.
Hawaiian and Californian surf enthusiasts brought about a demand for something optimally suited for the sport. With big waves and hours in the ocean threatening less sturdy swimwear, surfers searched for something that was as budge-proof as it was versatile.
Japanese-Hawaiian tailor Minoru Nii and his wife –– located in Oahu –– are credited with making the first pair of board shorts. Other tailor shops along Hawaii made their own versions, and surfers flocked to Hawaiian beaches to snag their own pair. These were made of a heavy canvas that was meant to avoid any wardrobe malfunctions, but was rather uncomfortable –– some compared it to wearing wet denim.
Early board shorts featured a belt and a high waist –– a stellar example is Elvis’s belly-button high white shorts from the film Blue Hawaii. Unsurprisingly, once Elvis was seen rocking this trend, it leaped from mere surf gear into mainstream fashion.
The Evolution of the Board Short
Other innovations were made in the 70s in Australia, as surfers on the Gold Coast sought alternatives to the reigning wetsuits of chilly southwest Victoria. Board shorts had to be short enough to be practical, but long enough so that thighs didn’t stick to a waxed surfboard.
Australian brand Quicksilver was the first brand to use two snaps and velcro fastenings, creating an ever-practical design. This was also the time in which other features that we see in today’s board shorts –– nylon material and low waistbands –– came into play.
Board shorts hit another revolution in the 1990s and 2000s. New stretchy, lightweight, fast-drying materials made board shorts attractive not just to sporty surfers, but for the average beachgoer who wanted to lounge by the tiki bar after soaking in the water. The board shorts of the Y2K era were often long and incredibly baggy, following the other popular trends of the time.
Board Shorts Today
Over the years, the impracticality of the overly long and baggy design became apparent. Nowadays, board shorts that are within a couple of inches below the crotch are the most popular. They have grown outside of surf fashion into a popular garment for all ages and sexes. With swimwear becoming more diverse, there are endless styles of board shorts to choose from!
What Are the Differences Between Board Shorts and Swim Trunks?
Now we’ve gone over a bit of history, but you may still be wondering: are board shorts the same thing as swim trunks? The quick answer is: no. There are actually many factors that set these two apart. Let’s go over some of the key differences that make them easy to distinguish.
Board shorts are meant to be more structured than swim trunks, as they are often worn not just for swimming, but for lounging by the beach or pool. You can expect swim trunks to be made of stretchier, even baggier material.
While board shorts are also comfortable and lightweight, they generally have a bit more shape. They are more firm and fitted to the body in the way that regular shorts would be. They also don’t ride up in the way that swim trunks might.
Here’s one major thing to keep in mind that makes board shorts different from swim trunks. Board shorts are often meant to be worn over a swimsuit. Some can double as a full swim bottom and come with built-in panty lining for an extra secure fit. Swim trunks, on the other hand, are supposed to be worn on their own. Many feature built-in mesh for comfort.
Generally, when people talk about swim trunks, they are referring to swimwear for boys and men. Board shorts, on the other hand, have a unisex appeal. There are as many different styles of board shorts for women as there are for men.
One big difference between board shorts and swim trunks is the way they are fastened. Most swim trunks are meant to be pulled on and off quickly.
For ultimate ease, they feature an elastic waistband, sometimes with drawstrings attached. Board shorts, on the other hand, are meant to be more secure. Buttons, zippers, and velcro flies keep them from slipping off in the waves.
In short, board shorts are meant to be more durable. This makes them more ideal for sports and other activities involving a lot of movement, where the possibility for slipping and sliding is high. Swim trunks are often more lightweight and better for casual activities but have the potential for bunching or wearing out quicker.
Length and Cut
While the length for both styles may vary, board shorts are generally longer. While some are a few inches above the knee, longboard shorts can reach all the way down to the knee. Swim trunks can also be quite long, but many come in a short-short style. They have a loose fit, not unlike boxers or basketball shorts.
Board shorts are great for summertime wear as they are not just meant for swimming. Worn outside of the water, they can easily pass for casual, stylish shorts when hitting up the beachside bar or enjoying a picnic with your family. Swim trunks, on the other hand, are meant primarily to be worn inside the pool; they do not have the same versatility as board shorts.
What Do Board Shorts and Swim Trunks Have in Common?
You can’t talk about differences without finding a bit of common ground. Swim trunks and board shorts have often been conflated with each other –– and though they differ in a lot of aspects, there’s a reason for that. Here are some beneficial aspects that you’ll find with either one of these swimwear options.
One great pro that both of these styles of swimwear share is that they are built for practicality. Both board shorts and swim trunks can be worn to swim, wade, or just lounge beside the pool. As with any athletic-type shorts, you can enjoy a full range of movement without the worry of accidentally exposing a little too much skin.
Board shorts and swim trunks are both ideal options for offering a little extra coverage. More so than the revealing brief and even the breezy swim skirt, these are go-to styles when you want a couple of extra inches of fabric. Though they vary in length, you can expect full rear and thigh coverage from both. Some board shorts also provide tummy control.
It’s important to always make sure you’re protecting your skin from the sun’s UV rays. Because of the extra coverage both of these styles provide, you can go easy on the sunscreen around your thighs. You also don’t have to worry about the sun beating down on your legs as you relax on your towel.
Swim trunks and board shorts are both staples of swimwear and beachside cover-ups –– and, if their popularity is any indication, they are both here to say. To avoid confusion between the two, it’s good to know what exactly sets them apart.
To summarize: Swim trunks, most often worn by men, are baggy, stretchy, casual swimsuit bottoms that usually feature a drawstring. Board shorts, on the other hand, are more structured, unisex and can be worn as regular shorts outside of a pool setting. Both are great, comfortable options for some fun in the sun!