Don’t let a swimsuit challenge your worth

Don’t let a swimsuit challenge your worth

Memorial Day weekend kicks off summer—and pool season—in many parts of the country (mine included).  Today I’m donning my bathing suit and hitting the swimming pool for the first time in months.  And it makes me a wee bit nervous.  So here’s my bathing suit pep talk:  for your benefit and mine.

It’s just a swimsuit: here’s how to buy it

1. Don’t let a swimsuit challenge your worth

You probably own jeans. If you can shop for jeans, you can shop for a bathing suit. Honestly, it’s harder to find the right fit with jeans. Don’t be intimidated by the swimwear department.

2. Get philosophical

People have differing definitions of what feels “appropriate” when it comes to swimwear. (As in, how much skin are you comfortable showing?) It’s helpful to know before you get to the store what your definition is—making this decision in advance will save you tons of time (and frustration).

And remember, this can change depending on context. I’d wear a different suit for a family reunion at the beach than I’d wear at a sexy resort with a private pool.

3. Know your needs

I don’t just mean big bust/long torso/high leg. Do you need a suit you can swim the butterfly in, or will you be sipping iced tea and reading Real Simple? Will you have toddlers grabbing at your straps, or close to zero distractions?

Personally, I need sun protection from my swimwear, so I’ll be buying a (hopefully not too terribly unstylish) rash guard. And a big hat.

4. Pay no attention to that number in the back of the garment

Buy what fits, regardless of size. This is truer with swimwear than any other article of clothing.

5. Spend to your weakness

Spend the money for better quality and fit where you need it. I have a long torso, so I’m prepared to pay extra when I find tops and jackets cut for my frame.

This applies to bathing suits, as well. If you find a $20 Old Navy suit that stays put and looks great, fantastic. But if finding a suit that fits and flatters is challenging (for whatever reason)—it’s worthwhile to pay extra for a better fit.

6. Be careful of going the inexpensive route

A few years back, I bought two tankinis at Target for the price of one good-quality swimsuit from the department store. I was ecstatic to have gotten two suits for the price of one—but the quality of these two inexpensive suits differed dramatically.

One suit was navy with white trim, it was cute and preppy and had a retro feel. It was more than worth the money. The second was bright red with a silk-screen design that looked great in the dressing room but tacky in the light of day—not worth the money.

If you want to save, go for dark colors. In my experience, lesser-quality brights look cheap, but neutrals look just fine. (Except for white. If you’re going to buy a white suit, make sure the quality is top-notch—and that probably means expensive.)

7. Think cost-per-wearing

My mom taught me this rule of thumb:  If you spend six days a week at the pool this summer, you’ll wear a swimsuit 80 times. Your cost-per-wear on a $100 suit would be $1.20. If you go to the pool twice a summer, your cost-per-wear on that same suit would be $50.  I use this little formula a lot to decide if an item is worth the cost.

8. Your mother is right

A bathing suit is not worth buying if it won’t stay on.  More advice from my mom:  when you’re swimsuit shopping, don’t buy a suit unless it passes the deep-knee-bend test.  If you do a deep squat, does it stay in place?  If major readjustment is necessary, keep shopping.

9.  Rethink your assumptions

It’s counterintuitive, but true–those “figure flattering” skirts can add pounds right where you don’t need them. (I think skirted suits are adorable, but I don’t think they make me look adorable.) Just because a suit is called “miraculous” or “forgiving” doesn’t mean it will be for you. Try it on!

Also, don’t assume that a tank suit is the most forgiving style. If bikinis don’t violate Rule #2 for you, try one on—you may be pleasantly surprised. Tankinis and bikinis are customizable in a way that a one-piece can’t rival—unless it’s bespoke.  And that’s not a practical option for most of us.

Final note—if a suit makes you feel self-conscious, it’s not worth it.

10.  My favorite strategy

I love to shop on the internet—even for bathing suits.  I’ll buy three or four suits (often, the same suit in different sizes) from a reliable store with a bricks-and-mortar location nearby, keep one suit, and return the rest to the local store. I’m looking for a good selection, consistent sizing and high quality.  My favorite retailers for this strategy are Lands’ End, Target, and J. Crew.  If I had a Nordstrom nearby they’d be high on my list.

Do you have a tip for making swimsuit shopping a little easier?  Please share it in comments!

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  1. Linda says:

    A subdivision of the cost per wear factor is the years of wear factor. Unlike my children, I’m not going to get any taller (hopefully, I won’t widen either!!). It makes sense to spend on a suit that will give you years of use. If you spend $30 a year on new suits, you spent more than you would have if you spent $70 on a good quality suit that lasts for 5 years. Yes, I’m cheap, er, frugal.

    Happy Summer!

  2. ARGGG . . . . . The season is upon us. It is hot, and now I have to think about this traumatic topic. I’m hoping a suit from the last few years (think baby, weight gain, and present weight loss effort) will fit. If I find I have to look for a new one, this advice will help.

    • Anne says:

      That suit is adorable! The 1940s styles are cute–I thought about going with a vintage-y suit from Shabby Apple this year but decided against it in the end.

      I’m with you on the black–shopping’s not my favorite thing, and a black suit is always in style.

  3. Mama Bear says:

    Can I admit that right after my baby was born last year, the only thing that I could fit into right away were my hubby’s trunks. But then I paired them with a tank-ini top or even a bikini top and I love it! I can bend and chase and swim and dive and never have a wedgie or feel like I wobbling around too much! Plus, I don’t have to worry about the shaving thing! With 3 kids plus more that are always hanging around, this is the best solution for me! (I did cut the netting thing out, though, and sometimes I wear my bikini bottom underneath instead of plain undies because it dries faster!)

    Great pointers, though! Thanks!

    • Anne says:

      Hey, I would much prefer that to wearing my maternity swimsuit postpartum (which is what I did). I just ordered my first pair of board shorts yesterday from Lands’ End Canvas. Glad to hear you like the look–I’m hoping I like it too when my order comes!

  4. SpitFire says:

    I love 1940’s looking swimsuits too! And I’m always drawn to the skirted option, but my butt’s too big to carry them off, lol. This was some great advice though!!

  5. I just bought a maternity swimsuit this weekend and totally thought of this post! Though, my choices seem far more limited than regular suits {unless I buy online}. However, I did score something cute, so that’s all that matters!

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