Muay Thai shorts are incredibly distinct and, besides kickboxing, are rarely seen in any other sport or martial art setting. They are specifically designed for Muay Thai practitioners and are built with materials that enable ventilation, comfort and heat dissipation. The most common construction features satin and an elasticated waistband (how many rows in the waistband varies but 5-8 is common). Some shorts are made of nylon but these are typically low quality and don't hold well when wet. Design wise, they can feature all manner of designs and colours with each brand having their own variations.
Since 2010, there has been an explosion in the variety of Muay Thai shorts and the number of different manufacturers, leading to the creation of Muay Thai shorts for every style and desire. Different brands have their own collections and the variety of colours and level of flamboyancy varies between brands and their individual collections.
Given their particular design and construction, it's unlikely you'll wear Muay Thai shorts for anything but Muay Thai and kickboxing (although kickboxers often prefer much longer legs than what's typical on Muay Thai shorts). They aren't suitable for MMA as they aren't snug fitting enough and some shorts feature embossed sections or tassels which would be unsuitable for grappling.
Most people categorise Muay Thai short types as either standard or retro. Ironically, the retro style shorts aren't old style. It's the standard shorts which hark back to the Golden Era and are often longer than retro shorts (ending over half-way down your thighs) and wider too. Nowadays, the retro style is very popular and many brands are applying their own innovative twists, ensuring consumers get a wide creative selection across various brands.
Standard Muay Thai shorts flare out wide and run long down the leg. Often fighters will roll up the shorts on a particular side to show off their muscles. These are a comfortable short style that allows for plenty of space and ventilation, although they can look quite baggy.
Retro styles are your Muay Thai short short. They are high-waisted with a strong elastic and ride high up the legs on both sides. They often have high cut sides featuring different materials designed to help with ventilation and tightening the fit.
There's not really uniform sizing when it comes to the waist and length of shorts. Different manufacturers have different standards and different styles of shorts influence the length of them.
Waist wise, avoid relying on the S,M,L etc. categories as if the manufacturer is Thai, those sizes correspond to the S,M,L etc. average of Thai people, who are different in size to those in Europe, USA and Africa. Therefore, look for the exact waist size in inches. Be mindful too that when shorts state they are 32” for example, they may actually fit more like 30-31” and will grow out into 32” inches with wear.
Length wise, it can be difficult to determine without seeing and feeling the shorts up close. Style often influences the length of the shorts the most. Retro style and those with side cut vents are often shorter than the others, although this isn't guaranteed. It really just comes down to personal preference here. Although it's worthwhile noting that shorts ride when kicking and kneeing, so if you have shorter shorts, its quite possible that your underwear will end up on show when striking. If your shorts are longer, you can always roll up one side (common practice when fighters want to show off their most powerful striking leg) to make them shorter.
Fit relates to various aspects of the shorts, namely the waistband, the seam that bridges the back to the front and goes underneath your groin, and the space within each leg hole. Again, these aspects can be difficult to determine without seeing the shorts up close and trying them on.
It's also a matter of preference and certain brands have different fit as their standard. Some people like shorts to ride high with a tight waistband, as it minimises movement of the shorts. Others prefer a looser fit so they don't feel restricted. Either way, you'll come to understand your preference the more different types of shorts you wear. Yet you should think about what type you prefer and then narrow down choices accordingly.
As Muay Thai shorts are the only required apparel in Muay Thai, they are a useful form of expression alongside your Muay Thai style. If you're only really interested in comfort and fit, this may not be something you need to consider – although that in a way is an expression of yourself and your requirements. There are countless different colours available on Muay Thai shorts and it's not uncommon for shorts to feature designs made up of many different colours and shades.
You need to consider colours when washing your shorts. All shorts should be washed either by hand or machine with cold water and never tumble dried. However, the colours can impact this method slightly. Avoid washing black or brightly coloured shorts with white laundry as, although the cold water should mitigate the risk, there's a chance of transfer. When it comes to washing shorts, hand-wraps, training towel etc., it's worthwhile doing it all together, at once, without other laundry.
Muay Thai shorts are the only mandatory bit of apparel when competing and are the chief way practitioners can express their personality and artistic preferences outside of their striking style and technical ability.
While designs and colours will be key points to consider when making a purchase, it's important to first think about size and fit, as they will dictate your comfort levels. If you're uncomfortable in your chosen shorts, it doesn't matter how good they look as you'll struggle to strike as well as you could and you'll constantly be readjusting them. Get to know the different brands and their sizing/measurements. You can then find similar brands (with similar fit standards) and enjoy the shorts that they provide, safe in the knowledge that you're happy with the comfort that brand provides (as long as they then don't change their sizing and measurements.)
When you're sure of your preferred fit, pick the Muay Thai shorts you like the look and feel of. Don't think you only need one pair either. Often people buy multiple pairs and you can even have specific pairs for specific types of training. For example, if you have sessions that are specifically geared towards cardio work, you may want looser shorts. Likewise, if you have sparring sessions and you have a particular attitude towards your sparring that day, you can wear your shorts which reflect that.
To find the Muay That shorts which best suit you, take a look at Muay Thailand's collection.