Universal Standard reached out last summer and asked if I would like to try out their new Sunny Swim Shorts. This was for an Instagram campaign (seen here). I know many like a bit more coverage with their swimwear and said yes so I could provide a thorough and honest review. What I realized when I received my two pairs is that these may be good swim shorts, but they are, in my opinion, the best size-inclusive active shorts. I decided to write an unpaid honest review of them.
I originally wrote this post in 2021, but after wearing my black Universal Standard Sunny Swim Shorts this past weekend and thinking how much I wore them over the past year, I decided to revisit this review of what I still find to be some of the best size-inclusive active shorts.
I have owned them for almost a year, have worn them dozens of times, laundered them quite often, thrown in the dryer, let them dry over a deck railing in the hot sun, left them to get funky at the bottom of a beach bag, and they're still around for me to truly review and spoiler alert… to truly love.
Why Do I Think These are the Best Size-Inclusive Active Shorts?
As a soft curvy woman, it's hard to find size-inclusive activewear that doesn't just fit but actually performs and works with, not against your body. These shorts really impress me not because they're full of high-tech details, but because of the little details other brands usually don't even think about.
- The waistband is wide and the elastic isn't floating. This means that the waistband won't fold over, and the elastic won't twist around and get weird with wear. These are shorts I found that when I pulled on, they stayed in place on the waist, even when I dove into the pool and pulled myself back out!
- The inner thigh inseam is longer. This means that the shorts are less likely to ride up when walking, causing you to have a better chance for chub rub AKA thigh chafing.
- The pockets are deep. Yes, you can put your iPhone Max in your pocket and it won't fall out!
- The fabric is quick-drying. I wore these in the pool, took them off, lay them in the sun and in less than 15 minutes they were bone dry. I found when wearing for sweaty occasions, they didn't stay damp and kept me feeling cool.
- They're shaped for curves. The curved seam above the rear, the angled hemline, the entire shape and the stretchy crepe-like fabric works with, not against curves letting you move and be as active as you like. Unlike a lot of shorts for curves that accomodate the rear, or the hips, these also accomodate the belly. Do note, if you don't have the bum/belly curves you may find these to balloon too much in the front.
- There is no liner or panty. While a built-in liner or panty may seem like a benefit, it makes fit all the harder, especially if you have soft curves or a long torso. The seam down the center is sewn flat, the other seams are traditional seams so you can choose how to use these shorts.
- They don't require fancy laundering. I have worn the HECK out of my two pair of Universal Standard Sunny Shorts. I've thrown them in an industrial washer with jeans and towels and all sorts of stuff, and then put them in an industrial dryer that was so hot it melted part of another garment.
- They don't hold the funk. You know what I'm talking about, those pieces of activewear that no matter what detergent you use or even if you strip them, they still have that smell of being worn for sweaty activities. I've worn these for seriously funky activities and they smell like nothing even after so many wears.
I am 5'3″ tall and usually wear a size 14 or XL in apparel. In the Universal Standard Sunny Shorts, I am wearing a size XS which is my size with Universal Standard 99% of the time. I think this is the perfect size for me. These shorts are high rise on me, and there is room between my body and the short's crotch, which is normal for me and my petite self. However, I didn't find this to cause chub rub. The shorts are super comfortable, even when it gets hot. My shorts in size XS have a 4.5″ inseam.
Testing Out the Universal Standard Sunny Shorts
To test these shorts, I wore them to the pool. I dove into the pool hauled myself out of the pool not using the ladder, and jumped back in. I did somersaults and the breaststroke and even a few in-pool handstands to test them out.
If you have ever worn board shorts or trunks in a pool, these perform the same. The fabric is a crepe-like finish with a subtle stretch. When you jump in they will balloon like any loose garment in a pool. I didn't find the elastic waist to shift at all with my movement in or out of the pool, the shorts wet or dry.
I can't really review how they were as swim shorts because I don't wear swim shorts, I don't like the feel of them, and this was the only time I wore them in a pool. But I did like how they stayed in place at the waist, dried fast, and didn't look goofy or like I fell in the pool in my streetwear when getting out of the water.
I wore these shorts from Universal Standard to our plot at the community garden on an incredibly hot and muggy day. Sweat was running down my back and legs, my vision was blurred by sweat, it was one of those days where all clothes feel oppressive and the idea of skin touching skin (and rubbing against itself) is utter torture.
These shorts did not ride up, even when I got sweaty. I walked a few blocks to and from the garden plot too, and I think through the whole two hours, I only pulled down one leg once and that was after doing the equivalent of a lunge to reach some weeds.
A year later, I can share that if it's too hot to wear my overalls for gardening, I always chose my Sunny Shorts. I knew they'd let me squat easily, dirt would brush off them, they wouldn't cling when I got sweaty or accidentally sprayed myself with the hose. I also liked the wide waistband would keep my top tucked in even if I was bending and squatting over and over.
I wore these shorts for an hour-long walk around my neighborhood. Even huffing and puffing up the highest hills in town, the shorts stayed in place. For comfort, I found a belt bag (I used this one from Girlfriend Collective) was better than having items in my pockets.
I'll be honest, as I wore these more through the summer, these shorts were not the favorite for walks. They are loose, and they would occasionally have one leg ride up. Not enough to cause chafing, but enough that I'd have to adjust. Also the pockets are deep enough to carry your phone and keys for running errands, but power walking around the neighborhood I found items would weigh down the side with the full pocket and would bang against me.
Last summer, I went on a two-week road trip with my family. We visited metropolitan areas, tourist attractions, small towns, and spent a week in a rustic cabin in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. I brought my black pair of Sunny Shorts with me and wore the heck out of them. Above, I'm wearing them in Vermont with a black one-piece suit, which was great when hanging at the pool with my kid but also walking to and from the cabin. I threw a no-iron linen shirt over it and tied it at the waist to have an outfit appropriate to head out to run errands or go out to lunch.
I wore these shorts with sweatshirts, with tank tops, with a Breton top… they went from the pool to the museum to the cafe to the kayak to yard work with ease.
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Universal Standard Sunny Shorts Review
The Universal Standard Sunny shorts have front pockets and they are deep enough that you can put your iPhone Max in one and walk several blocks to the garden or farmers market and it won't fall out or hinder your movement. I found that the weight of the phone caused the pocket to drop lower than the shorts' hemline and peek out. However, the weight did not cause the shorts' waistband to droop.
I have thrown them in the washer and the dryer and they feel, look, and perform like new. Above, I am wearing the Sunny Shorts when I went to Fire Island last August. These shorts were perfect for walking to and from the beach since they prevent chub rub, didn't feel heavy or chafe when wet, and repelled sand even when damp. But here you can see after walking for an hour on the beach, one leg rode up. I didn't end up with chub rub, but it's not the most… elegant look.
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That being said, I went kayaking and canoeing last summer and early fall, every single time I wore my Universal Standard Sunny Shorts because they moved with me, didn't get all bound up on my thighs, the waistband didn't pinch or restrict, yet I felt covered.
I'll be honest, I would have never considered these shorts if Universal Standard didn't gift me a pair. They don't look especially stylish or high-performance or special. But sometimes the most utilitarian item in your closet becomes your most favorite to wear. And let's be honest, it's hard to find durable, quality utilitarian items like this in inclusive sizing.
Are These The Best Size Inclusive Active Shorts for You?
Since writing this review I received mixed reviews from the Wardrobe Oxygen community. Several also loved these shorts… and several did not.
The biggest issue many found was that these are high-rise shorts and they are very full in the lower belly/crotch area. As someone who is 5'3″ with a round booty and a soft round lower belly, I appreciate this volume. But not everyone has the same shape I do. If you are more of a straighter shape, if your curves are more at your hips and thighs, these shorts will fit you differently and you may not like the result.
I think you can tell in these photos that even with me loving these shorts a year later, they balloon a bit in front below the waistband. And this isn't the kind of thing I'd usually be down for, I mean who wants more volume at a place society tells you on the daily should be smaller?
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But Are They Flattering?
I have spent most of my life trying to find clothes that are flattering… meaning clothes that make me look thinner, firmer, taller. And these shorts do not do any of those things. However, these shorts perform. These shorts let me climb in and out of a kayak without thinking I'm going to bust a seam, and if I get sopping wet, I don't have neoprene or jersey or ponte sticking to my skin and chafing me. They are also heavy enough that if they get sweaty, they don't show a sweat stain on my rear or cling to me showing every curve, lump, and bump.
I can wear whatever undergarments underneath that make me feel great. I've even worn a pair of slipshorts underneath to offer additional modesty and chafe protection and it looks athletic, not weird. I've worn them when I am closer to a 12, and when I am closer to a 16 and they fit, function, and are comfortable.
Essentially, these shorts let me live life without thinking about what I am wearing. And when you're a certain age and/or a certain size that ability with clothing isn't easy to come by. They may not be “flattering” but as I get older, I realize that what is flattering is me living life to its fullest, not shifting and adjusting and feeling awkward.
The most stylish thing you can wear is confidence, and the reason I have worn these shorts so much is because they allow me to feel confident in situations where it's easy to feel otherwise.