Cabana Suits: The Summer Outfit of Choice for NBA Stars and Honeymooners

IN JUNE, Travis Wedgeworth, an audio engineer in Dallas, flew to Hawaii with his new bride for their honeymoon. Because it was a celebratory getaway, Mr. Wedgeworth, 32, wanted an outfit that was particularly “bright and eye-catching,” as he put it. He certainly found one: a high-wattage hula-girl-patterned cabana suit by the Toronto-based swimwear brand, Bather.

Travis Wedgeworth, pictured here with his wife, picked out a vivacious cabana set for his Hawaiian honeymoon.

Photo: Travis Wedgeworth

A cabana suit—also known as a “matching set” or “two-piece set”—is a combo comprising a shirt (normally a short-sleeved, camp-collared number) and shorts in the same, often startling pattern. Mr. Wedgeworth’s version caught plenty of eyes, causing strangers on the beach to stop him and say, “I love your outfit—where’d you get it?”

If his set’s many admirers wanted to procure their own cabana suits, they’d find plenty of options across the budgetary spectrum this summer. Fast-fashion labels like Shein and Boohooman offer polyester striped sets for as low as $25—a thrifty way to toe-dip into the trend. At the luxe end of the spectrum, Versace sells silk shorts and a sleeveless shirt in a coordinating starfish motif for $1,720 total, and Dior offers a matching shirt and shorts in a cartoony playing-card print, a collaboration with artist Kenny Scharf, for a combined price tag of $3,400.

For converts, cabana suits are the wearable embodiment of summertime frivolity. “The last year was so heavy, so to have fun patterns and colors that match just brings a lightness,” said Alan Richard Catarina, 34, a professional dancer and choreographer in Los Angeles who recently wore a jolly, pink floral-patterned set from Shein with subtle white sneakers while vacationing in Las Vegas.

Though they might look like novel Instagram fodder, cabana suits date back to the mid-20th century. Companies like bathing-suit pioneer Jantzen sold these easy-on, instant-outfit pairings as resort wear. If you flip through back copies of “Apparel Arts,” an influential men’s style magazine from that period, you’ll see advertisements featuring tanned men unwinding poolside in sets.

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It was a vintage Jantzen set that inspired Kyle Kaminsky, the founder of swimwear brand Bather, to expand into cabana suits. For several years, his brand had done brisk business in patterned camp-collar shirts, and Mr. Kaminsky was looking to capitalize on his customer’s evident interest in patterns. He resurrected the idea of retro-ish cabana suits, but didn’t limit his interpretations to tame stripes. Bather offers creative combos showing roaring tigers and three-armed hula girls which, as he said, “definitely stand out at the pool.”

A Paris fashion-week guest wears a flashy Prada set last January.

Photo: Getty Images

For some, only the most see-it-across-the-resort motifs will do. Sam Lobban, the SVP of designer and new concepts at Nordstrom, called out Versace’s lurid silk sets and Fendi’s logo-dripping monogrammed combos as among the most sought-after designs. These vivacious, vacation-ready numbers have a “romanticized escape-to-Miami vibe,” he said, even if you’re venturing no further than your own backyard.

About a year ago, Desmond & Dempsey, a London pajama label, began offering cabana sets, which now account for 20% of its sales. While the brand sells its shorts and tops separately, co-founder Molly Goddard said items in louder prints—like bug-eyed lemurs and camouflage-esque reptiles—are most commonly bought as a two-piece set.

The secret to the success of these screaming-loud cabana suits might be their ability to pop on Instagram. Mr. Catarina of Los Angeles didn’t just wear his punchy pink set poolside, he posted a photo of himself wearing it, garnering many approving fire emojis. And when Mr. Wedgeworth’s wife uploaded a shot of the couple, many of the comments fixated on his matching set. Said Mr. Wedgeworth, “My wife was like, ‘Man you’re getting more feedback than I am on our honeymoon because of that damn outfit.’”

“Everyone wants to stand out” on their Instagram accounts these days, noted Joseph Au, the creative director of Billionaire Boys Club’s Icecream, a New York brand that sells cabana sets festooned with floating ice cream cones and zingy dollar signs. While not designed specifically with social media in mind, his brand’s kaleidoscopic sets certainly do leap out when viewed on one’s phone.

A not-too-wild cabana combo for beginners. Tiger-print Pajama Set, about $210, desmondanddempsey.com

Write to Jacob Gallagher at Jacob.Gallagher@wsj.com

The Wall Street Journal is not compensated by retailers listed in its articles as outlets for products. Listed retailers frequently are not the sole retail outlets.

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