Swimsuit Shopping (without Weeping and Wailing)

1925 Swimsuit
John Oxley Library via Wikimedia Commons

It’s swimsuit season. Now before some of you utter, “dear God, kill me now,” read on. Because I have some tips on finding a swimsuit to fit the beautiful woman you are without ending up in a crumpled pile in the corner of the fitting room weeping and wailing.

Yeah, some of you have been there. Right?

Pass right by the teen section. You know that area, right? The store puts it front and center, with cute little ruffled bikinis and bright-colored halter tops with boy shorts. Now, if you’re a woman who is that size, stay in that section because it doesn’t matter where you purchase your swimsuit, but rather that you have the best fit. But the majority of women need to look the other way and keep walking because (1) if you’re 36, 46, or 56, you shouldn’t be dressing like you’re 16, and (2) even your 16 year old shouldn’t wear a lot of that stuff as it reveals far too much skin. As I have said before, three triangles and some string do not a swimsuit make.

Don’t wallow that you can’t rock a string bikini. You don’t need to. You need to flatter the lovely lady figure you have now.

Get over the size number. Who stinkin’ cares whether your swimsuit has a 6, a 12, or a 22 on the little tag that no one sees once you leave the store? If it fits, it fits. Be pleased with how it looks on you, not what someone thinks that number says about you. Size numbers vary across clothing makers, and they can even change without us — the public — being forewarned.

Moreover, you might wear two sizes. You may need to purchase a two-piece suit, like a tankini, to get the proper fit on the top and on the bottom. Maybe you’re a size 14 bottom and size 10 top. You can make that work, and thankfully separates are much more common now than they used to be.

If the size you usually buy isn’t working, try a different size. Don’t sweat the number.

Decide ahead of time what you want to feature and what you want to downplay. Take an honest, yet optimistic, look at yourself. What are your best body features? What do you like about your body? And what are you currently (or maybe permanently) less happy with?

Maybe you’re sporting a little more in the middle than you’d like, but you have beautiful breasts. Or perhaps you don’t have much in the way of curves, but your legs are long and toned. Or maybe your husband can hardly keep his hands off your derrière, it’s so fabulous. If you can’t decide what you like about your body in front of the mirror, ask your husband and see what he likes. Decide what parts of your body you most want to feature and which you most want to downplay. (Note: “Feature” does not mean “show”! Modesty still matters. I’m just talking about what you’re comfortable and uncomfortable with. It’s the same equation you’d do with regular clothing.)

You can look online or in magazines for tips on swimsuit styles that achieve the look you’re going for. For instance, suits shirred in the middle downplay that abdominal pooch.

Give yourself a decent budget. Maybe you can’t do that. So if you don’t have the money right now, no worries. Watch for sales or coupons or ask around for the best bargains in your area. But all too often I know women who walk out of the store with a $30 swimsuit, boasting about the bargain they got . . . but the suit doesn’t fit, doesn’t flatter, isn’t comfortable, won’t last.

Like it or not, a quality swimsuit may run more than you expected. It’s far better to have a swimsuit that you like and that makes you look good and to wear it 2-3 seasons than to switch ill-fitting suits season-to-season. If the swimsuit that will make you feel fabulous is $100 or more, and you can afford that by cutting back somewhere else, feel okay about doing that.

Set yourself up to try on a lot of suits. It’s particularly hard with swimsuits to know from how they look on the hanger whether they will cover and flatter your body well. Only once in my life have I ever taken a single swimsuit into the dressing room and it fit. It was a total fluke (I wasn’t swimsuit shopping; just saw this awesome suit on massive clearance), and I doubt that it will ever happen again.

What can get you to tears is trying on suit after suit after suit, and feeling like nothing does or ever will look good on you. Stop expecting to find the right one that quickly! Unless you know the manufacturer, its styles, and its sizes, you’ll likely need to make several trips to the dressing room to try on various suits to find the one that makes you feel both modest and confident about your body.

Mentally adjust your expectations. Take a friend and make a day of it. Break up the monotony by eating a salad lunch in the middle of the day or grabbing a healthy smoothie somewhere to cool off. One full day to find the perfect suit might be just what you need.

Remember to stay biblical. Some biblical advice for your shopping experience:

Your body is wonderful: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:14

Consider modesty: “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” 1 Timothy 2:9-10

It’s fine to wear something that makes you feel beautiful: “Let the king be enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord.” Psalm 45:11

Fashion designers are people too: “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27-28

Cover what needs to be covered. Remember that you need to be able to actually show yourself in public and swim in this suit. If you couldn’t imagine running into your preacher at the pool and having a conversation in that suit, maybe it should go back on the rack. (Yes, I know, that question may depend somewhat on your preacher, but you get my point.) Also, if a particular suit will have you spending more time making certain everything’s tucked in right than swimming or sunbathing, then maybe you need to exchange it for more something less tug-worthy.

That’s my advice. Now what’s yours? What tips do you have for finding a good swimsuit for the summer?

Also check out 6 Questions to Ask about Your Swimsuit.

17 thoughts on “Swimsuit Shopping (without Weeping and Wailing)

  1. Leah

    I prefer to find suits that have some padding in the breast area (not to enlarge, ’cause I DON’T need that) but to cover the nipple area better. I also like to wear surfer shorts with any suit I wear to make me feel more comfortable about being a suit.

  2. happywife

    Women need to realize that swimsuits run small. It’s not uncommon to need to size up 2 sizes for a swimsuit. So if you’re normally an 8, take a 10 and 12 into the dressing room. After you purchase it, you can cut the size tag out!

    1. Bonny Pearl

      This is absolutely true! That’s why your comment, J, to ‘not worry about the number’ is one that particularly needs to sink in. Plus, I also agree that a good suit isn’t cheap and it’s so worth the sacrifice. The fabrics are better and less likely to pull in areas where they need to stay secure.

  3. SSC

    I love your post. Very real as always. A month ago, I hated the thought of having to buy a swimsuit for our vacation. I honestly could not handle the thought of going to the store because I felt like I would end up in a pile of tears in the corner, so I ended up doing some e-browsing and I found some good reviews for swimsuit on walmart.com. One that really caught my eye was the “Catalina Suddenly Slim Women’s Shirred Halter Swimsuit”. I thought sexy and modest was an oxymoron. Somehow, it worked out. I ended up ordering two suits in two sizes and tried them on in the comfort of my own bathroom. I felt really good about them so I went to model them for my husband, he was like “Wow! You looks so classy and sexy!” So it is possible. I’m now a big fan of the Catalina suddenly slim suits because they are nice, comfortable and very affordable. Good Luck ladies. It is possible.

  4. Anonymous

    I tend to skip the swimsuit section all together and go for the fitness section for my swimwear. Due to canoeing and white water rafting quite a few years ago I started getting fitness tops so nothing fell out while rowing a boat and I’ve just stuck with fitness gear as swim gear ever since. Just yesterday I bought fitness shorts that have spandex shorts underneath and a fitness skirt with spandex shorts underneath and the material is exactly the same as a swimsuit but much cheaper. I also bought a loose fitting sleeveless fitness top to wear over my tighter fitting top for walking around or sitting on the beach. I’ve had much better luck in the fitness section then the swim section when it comes to swim suits and I feel alot better in them then in a traditional swimsuit.

    1. KatC

      Oh yes! Me too! Foregoing the swimsuit department and looking elsewhere that is…haven’t tried the white water rafting yet! I found a swimsuit skirt and later a tank top made of the same spandex material as swimwear…since I can sew, I’m going to put in my own lining for the top. Now I’ll have a swim top that doesn’t reveal, nothing will fall out of, and best of all, my tan lines will match!

  5. Larry B

    Timely essay.

    “As I have said before, three triangles and some string do not a swimsuit make.” Great point!

    A one piece swimsuit can be quite attractive on women. Sadly, our society seems to be fixated on revealing more and more skin. That, of course, negates the mystique of the female form.

  6. Berji's domain

    I hate swimsuit shopping! But, one time when I really needed to find a suit I walked into Ross, picked up a suit, tried it on, and perfect fit & it was cute. Unfortunately it only lasted two summers b/c it disappeared in the winter. Commence swim suit shopping again. I do find that it isn’t as hard as shoe shopping though because my criteria are so set. I have to have a 2 piece (long torso, small on top, curvy on the bottom), there is little I want to put on display, halter looks best, I don’t like pink, sparkles or froo-froo, etc. So while my options are limited, I also don’t spend a lot of time trying on suits. 🙂

  7. Joy

    I own a tankini top from Venus. That is about all I would order from them ;)and a pair of swim shorts from Athleta. Keeps me covered and saved me from the inevitable meltdown caused by shopping in stores.

  8. Christy

    My best advice? Dont take your little kids into the dressing room with you unless you really WANT their honest opinion. Ha! 😉

  9. Anonymous

    Retro style swimsuits that flattered curvier women a few generations ago are making a huge come back. Get those and pair them with cute sandals, shades and a wide brim hat for sexy modesty!

  10. Sarah Brice

    Great post! I could not agree more. I found separate pieces at two different stores, a black, skirted bottom at Wal-Mart that actually fits great and hides my thighs, and a shirred black tankini top from Kohl’s. Once on, the suit looks modest, sexy and classic. Most of all, I feel confident and yes, can actually swim in it-not tug at it all day!

  11. D Silveira

    I actually got a swimsuit made. It’s a skirt to my knees with shorts attached underneath, yes a skirt you read that correctly. I don’t wear pants and I love to swim! I get so many compliments on it when I go to the beach.. Mostly by men which is funny. But I’m modest, comfortable and able to do all I want to! I just stumbled across your blog and I love it!

  12. Caryl Anne

    These are great advice tips when searching for the perfect swimsuit! Swimsuit shopping can be stressful and difficult, but with these advice tips and maybe even shopping online, it can help lower the time and stress levels associated with the shopping experience. Thanks for sharing!

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