How you’ve got your swimwear all wrong

Chances are that like me, you’ve been getting your swimwear all wrong.

You skip off to a department store, pick out some bright stringy scraps of lycra, then remember that unlike the prepubescent model in the ad, you like carbs and wine.

bikini photo
Keep the bread away from me!

Personally, after many shamefully drawn out holidays (including several gap yahs) I’m beginning to realise that there’s much more at stake in the bikini game than just body shape. I asked the experts about the new swimwear rules.

Throw away the fashion mags. While the model in the latest neon number might look fantastic, will you? Do you plan to wear your cossie more than one season? Helen Newcombe, Founder of open water swimwear company Davy J advises, ‘Don’t get swept away by the skimpy trends of the season, they’ll go out of season as quickly as they come in. A classic piece and attractive cut that makes your body feel fab will always be worth the investment.’

When in Rome (or Lebanon). I spent nearly a year travelling in parts of the Middle East where it was custom for women to swim fully clothed, and I did the same.

I asked professional coaching company and authority in British etiquette, Debrett’s, for their view and Associate Director, Lucy Hume tells me: ‘First and foremost, respect the region that you’re visiting and cover up appropriately, adapting clothing to respect the culture of that place’.

While you might not need to swim in cargo pants and long sleeves like I did, it always pays to err on the side of frumpiness caution. If in doubt, grab a kaftan.

Photo: Coco Bay

Beach bum or surf dudette? Whether you’ll be glued to a sunlounger, a surfboard or the beachside nightclub, shop accordingly. Whatever your style, don’t let a swimwear malfunction get in the way. Helen points out, ‘Much of the ‘swim’wear market seems to have lost sight of its ‘swim’ element…. invest in a suit that can keep up with the fun side of you’. 

From my experience, sporty Aussie girls always seem to get it right. Belinda Robinson, Co-founder of luxury beachwear company Coco Bay explains why: ‘the Australians… are widely thought of as pioneers in swimwear design… long sleeve rash vests and high neck bikinis look amazing and offer a practical and stylish way to exercise’. 

Photo: Agathe Bernard Photography for Davy J

A proper fit. Even if the only running you’ll do is to the bar, it pays to get a piece that fits properly. Coco Bay’s Belinda adds, ‘For the British market, swimwear remains much more about comfort, relaxation and minimising on tan lines. The bandeau has been and continues to be our best selling style of bikini top… with more choice than ever before and styles [for] a wide range of shapes and sizes’. 

All good swimwear retailers should offer a proper personalised service. Heidi Klein fits each style seven times just to be sure, while Coco Bay offers a detailed online and telephone fitting service, and Davy J pieces come with handwritten notes from Helen herself.

Photo: Coco Bay

Put your wallet where your bum is. While designer swimwear does come at a premium, in my view it’s well worth it. On holiday I want to relax, not fumble around with shoulder straps cutting off my blood circulation. After years of getting it wrong, I’ve realised that the fitting service, material and double stitching most high end labels offer generally make the extra cost worthwhile.

My trusty Heidi Klein’s come in a thick crepe like material that sucks in my post baby belly, but amazingly still manages to keep me cool. Equally, my DavyJs are my go to when I want to go for a proper ‘nose down, hair wet, get out of my lane’ swim.

I’d like to say I bought them because they’re made from recycled ocean waste, but truth be told it’s because the material, a cross between a wetsuit and evening gown satin, can handle all the chlorine, seasalt and Mojito that I throw at it. As Helen puts it, ‘Go for a high quality material with a heavy lining to ensure the piece retains its shape. No one likes a saggy bum!’

Photo: Agathe Bernard Photography for Davy J

Multitask your cossie. Fifteen years ago my BFF ridiculed me for taking a 30kg suitcase, including diamenté studded stilettos for a hiking weekend in the Highlands. (In my defence I could have bumped into Ewan McGregor, he’s Scottish right?)

Now the kids’ clothes take priority over mine and the more I travel, the less I pack. This season I’m seeing lots of costumes doubling up as bodies with jeans, and bikinis with signature jewelry masquerading as evening wear. The best news? It’s totally acceptable. British Vogue’s June issue was doing it. My Expater buddies in Sydney are doing it. And next week on a Greek island I’ll be doing it.

Lucy from Debretts clarifies ‘Wearing swimwear underneath jeans or a cotton shirt is completely acceptable.’ But don’t get carried away. ‘Avoid wearing only swimwear away from the beach or pool,’ she adds.

necklace photo

Inner confidence. Google ‘bikini’ and you’ll be bombarded by airbrushed models teenier than their dust only diets. But in reality it’s more complicated.

On every holiday there’s always one beach beauty who really stands out. They might not have the flattest tummy, the most golden tan or the trendiest swimsuit. They have ‘it’ though and they know it.

ursula andress photoPhoto by Film Star Vintage

While I struggle from the ocean, sputtering for breath, they glide from the water like Ursula Andress. They hold themselves tall with confidence. I stoop with self-consciousness.

Annoyingly for me, confidence doesn’t come in a bottle alongside the diet, fake tan or designer costume. Helen sums it all up, ‘Wearing a smile and feeling confident make the biggest difference when it comes to swimwear style’. 

With this in mind, Debrett’s’ Personal and Professional Impact for Women course is all about confidence in any situation, including the beach. And the best thing? It includes afternoon tea. Here’s a bikini diet I can stick to.

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