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!