Pity the Pool Boy. Forced into a summer job by a forceful father that forced him to attend the same joyless Ivy League institution that he once did, this quiet, perpetually hungover college student earns his keep under the baking sun and a near constant gaze. He's grown accustomed to it. From Max Frisch's seminal 1974 novel Montauk to a 19-year-old Matt Dillon in The Flamingo Kid to certain poorly acted sub-categories on PornHub, the Pool Boy has long been in the crosshairs of hot and bothered tourists and moneyed housewives alike. Lately, though, our pity for the Pool Boy has turned into mimicry. In style terms, he's this summer's messiah.
The conditions are perfect. According to data from market research firm Mintel, UK gym memberships are set to hit an all time high of 7 million in 2022. That's a lot of bicep. Preppy leisurewear shows no signs of abating, with brands like Palmes Tennis Society, Rowing Blazers and even Giorgio Armani doubling down on the club whites. That's a lot of shorts. Even the patron saint of low-IQ lust in Barbie's Ken is set to return to the cultural canon, played by Ryan Gosling (who else?) in the upcoming namesake film. That's a lot of thirst.
It's upon this swelling tide that the himbo has become an aesthetic paradigm once more, and menswear has dived right in. But instead of doing the whole 'second home in the Hamptons' wardrobe, brands are steering us in the direction of the staff room. We're dressing like the tennis coach. The personal trainer. And, yes, the Pool Boy.
A uniformed approach to dressing differentiates the Pool Boy from general run-of-the-millionaire
We know he wears a lot of white. Polo shirts, either knitted or cotton, are form fitting, and usually tucked in. Socks ride high under tennis shoes. An embroidered logo is usually part of the uniform, too, whether that's a sunken second-hand treasure from a once legitimate resort, or a well-marketed concoction from labels like health club pastiche Sporty & Rich or the tennis offshoot of Casablanca, that Liberacean homage to the Seventies jetset. And it's this uniformed approach to dressing that differentiates the Pool Boy from general run-of-the-millionaire prep. The multifunctional, matching co-ords are identifiable, and thanks to various configurations from several brands, the Pool Boy can graze all manner of menswearhead. You can't say the same for an oversized striped Oxford shirt and a shoulder robed sweater.
He lends his name to Ron Dorff's most recent collection. The Franco-Swedish sportswear brand has always peddled a covert sex appeal; its signature piece is a classic sweat that spells double entendres in a misleadingly neutered font: 'dad', 'sweat', and, perhaps the biggest eyebrow raiser, 'discipline'. Now, that furtive sexiness touches swimwear in its Pool Boy collection. "Since the beginning, we've had different 'boy' and 'man' prints in our brand; marathon man, working man, beach boy. Now we've got pool boy," says Ron Dorff's co-founder Claus Lindorff. "'Pool Boy' refers to the sexy young guy that takes care of the big pool in a Beverly Hills mansion back in the day, which now could mean the modern guy who prefers lying by the pool rather than going to the beach." That translates to swim shorts which broadcast the best part of your thigh (the chunky middle, if you were wondering) alongside tank tops and beach towels with prints usually found on the signage of a St Barthes boardwalk circa 1982. The Pool Boy starter pack. "I think it all suggests something quite sexy. Pool Boy might be a fully neutral word, but the combination hints at something else, something a bit more tongue-in-cheek."
The Pool Boy can get livelier still. While prep and its offshoots pride themselves on a buttoned-up, conservative (lower case C!) approach to menswear, cult label CDLP (upper case C!) gets steamy. Indeed, the Nordic outfit initially found fame as a maker of very good underwear. Now it's elevating the Pool Boy to a new level. Think five stars in Barbados, but with more bass, more sunglasses at night and more hotel room afters. At CDLP, the Pool Boy parties with the guests. "We design all of our pieces to be a little transitional," says CDLP's co-founder Christian Larson. "We want it to go from pool to lunch to dinner, and it led to the introduction of a standalone pool line, the stuff that sits between ready-to-wear and traditional swimwear." That means crisp, pitch black co-ords with white top stitching alongside ochre gingham checks. "The black is intentionally more formal. We want our Pool Boy to be more elevated, and more tailored. He can be smarter," says Larson.
There's a coolness to the gym instructors and the hotel staff, even how they tuck their T-shirts in
As ideas and standards of beauty rightly expand, the needle still hovers on a traditional idea of Hot. The typical Pool Boy is muscular and thicc, a standard magnified by the hectares of inflatable abs and tree trunk arms on Love Island, and off it on Instagram. For Hotel Poros, an Australian label that dreamt up a fictional getaway to build an entire brand, this sexiness is just as much an attitude as it is an aesthetic – and one that involves weight lifting instructor T-shirts, Hotel Poros gym shorts and branded sweaters that feel a lot like staff merch. "For me, the concept of Pool Boy style has to do with an overall look," says founder and creative director Fotis Tetikis. "His grooming, his look, his clothes. There's a coolness to the gym instructors and the staff of the hotel, even how they tuck their T-shirts in, and the silhouettes. There's a coolness to that."
It has echoes at the top too. Mrs Prada and Raf Simons, once again, peddled short swimmers in a show that celebrated the unlocking of the wider post-Covid world. Dolce & Gabbana downloaded Bejeweled Blitz into the usual Pool Boy attire, sprinkling gemstones and chains upon diamond white shorts and slides. And JW Anderson, Homme Plissé Issey Miyake and Fendi all demonstrated their right to bear arms (and thighs and ankles) in a move that maintains the high temperature in blue chip menswear.
There are many reasons why the Pool Boy breaks hearts – and breeds copycats. The limited reveal of skin is just sexy enough, without going full Versace. TikTok knows just how dangerous a five inch inseam can be. Headier still is the romantic lore to which the Pool Boy belongs. This is a forbidden fruit ripened in the summer heat. Factor in the Yassify filter of a blistering, unknown shore, and the Pool Boy's stock rises further yet; the semi-anonymous transience of a holiday romance makes it burn far brighter than one in real life. This is escapism at its hottest, and, perhaps, its most problematic as socioeconomic fetishes reveal themselves. Capitalism! A love story!
The fantasy here – any fantasy, in fact – is what fuels fashion. It's all cosplay. For the Ivy League Pool Boys, there's Ralph Lauren, and Armani. For the wavy garmers, Alltimers, a brand that even released a baggier Pool Boy short called the 'yacht rentals'. And, of course, CDLP, and Hotel Poros, and Ron Dorff. Which isn't to say it's all true. Like threesomes, mortgages and McDonald's delivery on UberEats, the fantasy of the Pool Boy is perhaps better than the reality. That doesn't stop us dressing like one, though.
The only reality is that the doe-eyed, big-armed Pool Boy doesn't need your pity. On the contrary: "It's the essence of how we want to look and feel in summer," says Hotel Poros' Tetikis. "Ultimately, it's who we want to be."
This story first appeared on Esquire UK.