There’s no denying it: swimwear season is upon us. So whether you’ll be getting some sun by a rooftop pool in the city or on a sprawling beach in the Hamptons, stylish suits are a necessity. For some shoppers out there (this writer included), trying on skimpy suits under the fluorescent lights of a boutique with unwarranted input from a salesgirl does not result in a fruitful shopping trip. Luckily, there are more than enough online retailers to peruse, each of which features a nearly endless stock of bikinis, one-pieces, and everything in between.
Trusting the web for such an intimate piece of clothing isn’t without its own issues. Namely, there’s no standard for swimwear. From brand to brand, differences are the norm when it comes to cut, fabric, and coverage. That doesn’t even factor in difficult details like cutouts, sheer paneling, and complicated straps. Luckily, there’s a group of people who are very well-informed on this topic: swimsuit designers.
We polled five of these swimsuit experts on how to properly tackle this pesky topic, and while they each had their own point of view, there was one piece of advice they all encouraged: talk to a customer service representative before you buy.
“Most companies have someone waiting for your questions, so if you want to know how a suit fits or want some guidance on styles that might be great for your body type, definitely ask!” Flagpole Swim’s co-founders and co-designers Megan Balch and Jamie Barker told the Observer. And while you’re chatting with these customer reps, they recommended getting details on the return policy, so you can try on suits in a variety of sizes without being stuck with non-refundable items or pricey shipping charges.
Maria Dobrzanska Reeves, the founder of Marysia Swim, had some more specific customer service advice: “Provide them with your bra size, dress size and pant size. With these specifics, they should have sufficient information to point you towards the right size and style.” Reeves’ label, which includes a handful of scallop-edged bikinis, has gotten plenty of traction this season. Her suits have graced the pages of Vogue as well as getting Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop stamp of approval, all within the last month.
The tagline on Bikyni’s website, a direct-to-consumer label for swimwear, reads “A better way to buy a swimsuit,” so it’s safe to say founder Jude Al-Khalil knows her way around the online world of swim. But when it comes sizing up how a suit looks on a model’s body, she had some words of caution: “The reality is that the suit has been photographed to look its best. Look at the images of models for the aspirational aesthetic qualities of a suit, but try not to compare your body to those you see online.” Instead she suggested looking at the model’s measurements, which will provide you with an educated basis of comparison in order to select the right size. The best online retailers post extra details to take note of such as ‘The model is 5’9 wearing a size xs’.
Al-Khalil also suggested approaching swimwear the same way you would when purchasing a bra. Design details like ruching and dart placement are similar on both and should be kept in mind along with strap placement and cup shape.
One smart option to consider for all body types are adjustable tops and bottoms, like the ones that Annelies De Rouck offers in her Seilenna range. She pointed out that these suits still fit whether you gain or lose a couple of pounds and their variety of straps allow for a few levels of support, perfect for an impromptu game of Pro Kadima. Or an over-indulgent beach picnic.
Flagpole’s co-founders also think it’s a good idea to get a little experimental: “Always try a new shape. You may feel like it’s stepping out of your comfort zone but in our experience most women are pleasantly surprised with the end result!” But they also suggested staying true to your personal style, keeping in mind what you’re first drawn to, despite the many trend-driven cuts and styles out there. “Order for yourself,” they encouraged. “And choose the suit that speaks to you most.”