We’ve come a long way since the heavy, shapeless, wool serge swimsuits and knit bloomers of the 1900s. But just as a pendulum swings from one extreme to another, swimsuit styles have gone to extreme when you consider the new wave of skimpy suits featured in fashion and news magazines. Bikinis, super-thin knit and string suits, cutouts, and netting are especially immodest. It’s time to assert your fashion independence and choose what’s right for you, your figure, and your standards of modesty.
As I scouted the swimsuits in department stores, I was delighted to discover that stores are well stocked with fashionable yet modest suits. For the best selection, you’ll have to buy early. You may, however, wish to wait until the end-of-season sales for a better dollar value. Since suit styles vary only slightly each season, they are not likely to go quickly out-of-date. In recent years suits have gone on sale in time for the summer sun.
In selecting a suit, be sure you take the time to try it on, since most suits are not returnable. (It’s rough to get home and discover you’ve got a suit that would better fit your 10-year-old sister.) Swimsuits must be tried on over underclothing, which may interfere with the style of the suit or create bumpy lines. Just remember, those lines will be eliminated; then summon your courage and view yourself in the mirror—from all angles—to ensure an appropriate and attractive appearance. Consider the suit for the freedom of movement it allows; comfort; and a flattering, modest fit.
Freedom of Movement
Unless you won’t be swimming in anything larger than a bathtub, a swimsuit must allow you to move freely, without the worry of ripping a seam or slipping a strap. I recall the pure panic on the face of one fellow when he was informed by another that he had split the back seam of his suit. His 100-yard dash for the nearest towel set new records on the sands of Long Beach!
Serious swimmers need a streamlined, snug-fitting suit. For speed and action, knitted fabrics, such as stretch nylon with spandex, or woven blends of cotton combined with stretch synthetics are best. The trick here is finding a suit that’s not too thin and revealing. Suits made from cotton or cotton-polyester blends are also available, but they allow less action.
Suit yourself for action in swim wear that is lightweight and without bulk. Fabrics that absorb water will only weigh you down. Durable construction, with reinforced or double-stitched seams at points of strain, will increase the strength of the suit as well as your confidence when wearing it.
Comfort and a Flattering, Modest Fit
Whether worn to sun or swim, your suit must be comfortable. Fabrics should not shrink or they will pull and bind. During that try-on session, be sure you bend, sit, and move your neck, arms, and legs to check the comfort. Halter tops and crisscross or tight-fitting straps can create a strain on the neck and shoulders. Quick-drying suits will increase your comfort when out of the water.
A loose-fitting suit is more modest than a snug-fitting style. Swimsuits for girls may be “unconstructed” in the bodice area such as the popular maillot (pronounced “my-Yo”) and depend on the fabric for figure control. The snug-fitting tank styles fit like a second skin and should be limited to competitive swimming.
“Constructed” suits for the gals are designed with darts or seams and offer figure control in the bodice. Girls will want to look for tops lined with nylon or a soft, fiber-filled or bonded fabric that will give the swimsuit extra body and shape. Underwire styles are also available in many styles and come in all sizes to give added support and comfort. Constructed suits come in a variety of styles for a variety of figures and include the loose-fitting blouson and camisole styles, sheath and draped designs, strapped bandeau styles, dressmaker suits, and skirted swim dresses. The choice is yours.
Swimsuits will retain and return to their original shape and wear longer when fully lined. Men’s suits are generally more comfortable with a lining and worn with support. If the suit is white, it’s a must to be lined. It can come as a shock when you come from a swim and discover that your unlined white suit has become totally transparent when wet.
Whether you sink or swim, it’s well worth your time to shop around until you find a suit that covers you modestly. Attention to color, texture, line, and design can help you create the effect you’d like.
Darker and duller colors absorb the light and appear to recede, so darker swimsuits will cause the torso to appear somewhat smaller. Lighter and brighter colors reflect the light and appear to advance, so light-colored suits will cause the torso to appear larger. You can use these color principles to your advantage by choosing a suit that will either accentuate or minimize areas to achieve a more balanced-looking figure.
Small, all-over prints tend to accentuate less than suits of a solid color. Large, bold prints will generally make a large figure appear even larger. Since border prints can call attention to and increase the apparent size of the area where they are placed, they are not a good choice to encircle a wide waist or large hips. But they may be a terrific choice for smaller girls.
Medium weight jersey knits are less revealing than thin knits, and nonknits should be noncling for a flattering fit. Slightly thicker, soft and nubby fabrics or velours increase apparent size and are a good choice to fill out a thin figure or to balance a thin torso and heavy legs.
For girls with thin figures, shop for suits that drape or pleat and feature shirring, gathers, tucks, or ruffles, possibly in a bold print or wide horizontal stripes.
For girls with heavier figures, avoid thin “spaghetti” straps, which cannot provide proper support. Shop instead for constructed suits with a center panel or a skirt that is slightly flared at center front or that falls close to the hips all the way around. Decorative details which direct attention up to the face—such as vertical piping, slightly higher necklines, vertical or diagonal stripes, and small, all-over prints or solid colors—are good choices for a flattering fit.
Swimsuit legs should cover you well. The elastic in the legs should fit snugly but not tight, or it will cut into the thighs and create bulges where you don’t want them. The current trend toward high-cut, French-leg styles can go too far; they are neither modest nor flattering to most figures. Loose, little-boy-leg styles are slightly longer than average and may be a good choice for girls with heavy legs.
Swimsuit styles for the fellows are becoming more subtle. They’re finally getting away from the second-skin look, and we have surfers to thank for that. Bikinis for boys are always a poor choice, and while knitted and fitted stretch racing suits offer streamlined comfort, they’re only for competition. Bermuda-length and boxer trunks offer a fashionable look that’s functional too. You get the freedom of movement and comfort with a more conservative cut. They may be found in colorful cotton or cotton blends; in prints or solid colors; and with elastic, lace-tied, banded, or belted waistlines. The bermuda-length legs offer protection when waterskiing and surfing. For the nostalgia buff, there’s an updated version of the tank suit of the 1890s. While it covers, it also clings and is only for the slim and trim.
Longer Wear with Care
Good care leads to longer wear, and swimsuits are no exception. While you want to select a suit that keeps its finish; is colorfast; is not faded by sun, salt water, or chlorine; and is not ruined by suntan lotion, your swimsuit is bound to take a beating. (Salt and chlorine are both bleaching agents and will damage the fabric if left in the suit.)
After each wearing, wash your suit by hand or on a gentle machine cycle, in cool or cold water, and with a mild detergent. Avoid hot water and machine drying or the suit may shrink. Towel dry and hang or lay your suit flat to dry.
If you spend a lot of your days in the sun and the surf, it’s a good idea to own two suits and rotate them, allowing them to air and regain their original shape. With proper care, you can expect a good suit to last three to four seasons.
While swimsuits are the appropriate attire for swimming, they are not generally appropriate for out-of-water activities. A former student of mine related feeling fine and perfectly modest while swimming in a pool at a party. But later, when seated inside the house for a casual supper, she felt uncomfortable and immodest and she wished for something fun to put on as a cover-up. For those after-swim occasions, a cover-up is not only fashionably modest, but it may be needed for warmth or for protection from the sun, sand, or wind. It will also add to your comfort for lunch or for lounging when you are unable to change back into regular clothing. Quick and slide-on simple is the key to clever cover-ups.
Terry cloth—absorbent and easy care, either heavy or lightweight, and stable or stretchy—may be used for marvelous beach coats, ponchos, caftans, and hooded robes. Long T-shirt shifts offer a lightweight and unconfining yet total cover-up. Velour robes offer you the feeling of absolute luxury, and you can make your own for a more affordable price. For a sportier look and greater warmth, sweat tops with a drawstring hood and waist, paired with pull-on sweat pants, are traditional standbys. You can easily buy or make your own if you like. Tunics are terrific cover-ups and do double duty for nonswim occasions.
Super-sized, sarong-tied scarves offer protection with pizzazz. Girls can shop for a store-bought scarf or buy a beautiful, boldly printed piece of fabric and fashion their own. Tie the scarf at your hips or your shoulders and arrange it in a soft, diagonal drape. They’re easy to pack or carry when folded flat and tucked in a beach bag.
A young man’s swim wear may be coordinated with trunks and a matching shirt; safari jacket; cotton knit, crew neck sweater; zip-front jacket; or bomber vest. But don’t leave the fellows out of the fashion scene, for they can look and feel terrific in a handcrafted caftan just as easily as the girls.
For both fellows and gals, selecting swim wear that’s right for you is essential. Take the time to make sure you choose the right as you look forward to fun in the sun.
Points to Remember
By choosing carefully you can be both modest and fashionable.
Try it on. Make sure you can move freely and that the fit is flattering and modest.
Select materials that do not absorb water yet are not too thin or revealing.
Select prints, colors, and decorative details that flatter you.
Good care of your suit leads to longer wear.
Take along a cover-up for after-swim occasions or for walking to and from the pool or beach.