Swimsuits: What You Need to Know

Answers to your questions about flattering cover-ups and when to replace a bathing suit.

  • Yolanda Wikiel

Q. Why is my suit always riding up in the back?

There are several possible reasons, says Suzanne Bryant, vice president of design at Lands’ End.

  • The bottom is too small (there’s not enough fabric to keep your rear covered).
  • The bottom is too big (the fit isn’t snug enough).
  • The torso is too short (the one-piece doesn’t match the length of your body).
  • The fabric or the elastic is stretched out.
  • The bottom is cut too high.

Do a few lunges to make sure you’re wearing the right size before you leave the store. If the size seems correct but the bottom still rides up, select a style with a lower leg line.
 
 

Q. Which styles are good for swimming laps but won’t make me look as if I’m trying out for the Olympics?

The suit should be aero-dynamic. “If it’s cut low in front, fits a little loose, or has padding, it’s going to catch water and slow you down,” warns Jeanne Ensign, a member of U.S. Masters Swimming for 30 years.

  • Thin racerback or cross-back straps look beach-worthy but won’t slide off your shoulders while you’re perfecting your backstroke, says Ensign.
  • A halter can work if it is securely fastened. But be careful not to tie it so tight around the neck that it pulls up.
  • If you swim often, you may want to invest in a suit made from Xtra Life Lycra fiber, a stretch fabric that resists chlorine, allowing garments to keep their shape up to 10 times longer than those made of regular spandex. Brands that offer Xtra Life Lycra fiber in sporty but fashionable cuts include J.Crew, Lands’ End, and Speedo.

Q. Why do some suits cost so much?

That itsy-bitsy bikini leaves little room for error. “It takes an incredible amount of engineering, multiple fittings, detailed construction, and high-quality fabrics to create a good swimsuit,” says designer Malia Mills. When you then factor in all the extras―bra cups, linings, trims, control panels―the price adds up.
 
“Cheaper-quality fabrics may look and feel nice at first, but they won’t take the punishment of chlorine, sun, and salt water,” says Linda Sassoon of Gottex. Often fabrics are thinned to bring costs down, but that reduces their power of stretch and recovery, says Andrea L. Matousek, marketing manager for swim at Invista Apparel, the company that manufactures Lycra fiber. That means the suit that seemed too good to be true is probably on a fast track to fading and stretching out for good. Basically you have two options: Invest in a high-quality suit to last a few seasons, or buy a cheaper one and be prepared to replace it often.
 
 

Q. Which brands sell tops and bottoms separately to match my proportions?

For different cuts in the same prints and colors, try:

  

Q. My breasts seem to disappear or look droopy in a bandeau. Can this style ever be flattering?

Definitely, as long as you keep your body type in mind.

  • To keep a small chest from looking flat, the top should be padded or twisted or have a ruffle along the top edge to add substance, says Kari Rubin of Sunsplash Swimwear.
  • For C cups and bigger: Try a bandeau with more support, like side boning, underwire, or removable straps, which will offer reinforcement where you need it most.
  • If you have broad shoulders or are petite, it may be best to pass on this cut. The strong horizontal line of a bandeau can make these figures seem wider, not longer.

Q. I’ve been to a bra fitter. Is there a swimwear equivalent?

Yes. Head to a specialty swimwear boutique, where the staff will look at your body objectively and suggest styles that you might have passed up. “I can’t tell you how many gals throw their hands up at a strapless top or a lower leg line and end up loving them,” says Mills. Check out the websites of these specialty stores to see if they have a location near you: californiasunshine.com, canyonbeachwear.com, and everythingbutwater.com. If not, go to landsend.com or speedo.com and type in your proportions. These sites will create a virtual model of your body that can “try on” suits on-screen.
 
 

Q. After I get out of the pool, I usually wrap myself in a beach towel―which always seems to fall off at the most inopportune moment. What are some more fashionable and reliable cover-ups?

That all depends on what you are looking to cover up. If you want to hide your middle, says Linda Sassoon, president of Gottex USA, pick a loose-fitting dress or a pareo tied at one shoulder (if you tie it at the waist, you’ll cut your body in half and only emphasize that area). Pear shapes, on the other hand, look great in a sarong tied at the waist or a knee-length skirt. Busty figures should avoid anything too tight on top and opt for button-down shirts, Empire-waist dresses, and tunics. Straight-up-and-down figures should do the opposite and try more body-conscious styles, like halter or bandeau dresses.
 
 

Q. How can I tell if I need a new swimsuit?

There are a few telltale signs that a bathing suit should be on its way out of rotation. “One of the first things to go is the straps,” says Jeanne Ensign, a member of U.S. Masters Swimming for 30 years. “You’ll know this when you swim a couple of laps and notice that the front of the suit has crept down an inch or two.” Other signs to watch out for: The seat starts to ride up, and the colors fade. You may even see bagging, sagging, and visible broken fibers on the surface of the fabric, which means the material is deteriorating, says Andrea Matousek, marketing manager for swim at Invista Apparel, the manufacturer of Lycra fiber.