Empowering Your Best Self

Education

The New Rules: A Modern Guide to Buying a Bathing Suit

Vanessa McGrady Avatar Image Vanessa McGrady
The New Rules: A Modern Guide to Buying a Bathing Suit Hero Image

“Cover and camouflage” used to be the general job of swimwear for those of us without mannequin-perfect bodies. Occasionally, we’d refer to a chart that would direct us to the “correct” features for our body type. Big tummy? Try ruching. Flabby behind? Go for the skirtini. Thankfully, those rules are on their way out. Today, a more positive, beauty-affirming approach removes much of the focus on body type, says Audrey Beaulac, an elite style strategist and the “secret weapon” of prominent executives, entrepreneurs, and change agents.

“Instead of focusing on body type, look at your individual proportions and select your suit according to those—your intended look and lifestyle—and create them with different shapes,” Beaulac says. In other words, accentuate the positive.

And if you fear the dreaded string of fluorescent-lit fitting-room failures, don’t. Go online (Zappos and Nordstrom offer free shipping and free returns) and order anything that looks like a safe bet, plus a few pieces out of your comfort zone.

“Rather than being self-deprecating and going after things you don’t like about your body, start thinking about what your assets are and how you want to highlight them in the swimsuit… Any place you want to use to accentuate something, you want to create a long line with it,” Beaulac says. “If you go in there really focused on the negative, you’ll probably end up getting a suit you don’t like that actually hits those spots precisely.”

Beaulac also suggests setting a mood for when you’re ready to try on your selections at home. “I would make sure my skin’s moisturized. I would put makeup on if I wear makeup to the beach or to the pool. I would probably do my hair. I would try not to increase the odds of disapproving of myself when I look in the mirror,” Beaulac says, suggesting that you could even snap a quick picture with your phone if you need a better angle. “I think a picture is really helpful if you can suspend the self-criticism and look at it from the standpoint of, ‘Does this suit fit this person?’”

Here’s Beaulac’s plan on how to get the most from your new swimsuit—and look like the best version of yourself while you accentuate your best body parts:

● Neck and shoulders: Look for a tank suit that has a scoop neck, a pretty line, and a V-neck shape for the armhole.

● Arms: A halter-type suit will give you a beautiful, long shoulder line that continues through the arm. Keep to vertical rather than horizontal cuts and patterns to continue that long sweeping line.

● Bust: “That lunging V-neck is beautiful. There is also the open keyhole that goes just under the bust and in through the midriff, maybe to the top of the waist,” Beaulac says. She also recommends suits with accents at the bust line such as a jewel or a buckle or clip to attract the eye to that area. She advises steering clear of firm cups (which can flatten) and underwire (which can rust and poke through) and opting for an elastic shelf bra or similar internal support if necessary.

● Waist: “With the waist, that’s where you can really have fun with a suit because you can do different color angles that cut through the torso,” Beaulac says. Look for patterns that have negative or dark space around the midriff that meets a lighter color to bring the waist in. “The other thing I like now, too, is briefs. They’re two-piece swimsuits where you might have more of the athletic bra look on top, and then you have the brief on the bottom, which accentuates the waist and also hides if you have a little bit of a tummy that you don’t want to show,” Beaulac says.

● Legs: To make your legs look longer, find a cut that lifts up slightly in the front of the leg, rather than the thigh. “If you have really long legs, you can do the boy shorts,” Beaulac says.

● Rear end: The bikini bottom is universally flattering for your behind. “That’s what they’re designed for,” Beaulac says. And if you’re really into showing your stuff, try a thong cut.

As you plan your poolside or beach wardrobe, consider include SPF protection—how much skin do you expose? In addition to sunscreen, a rash guard or long-sleeve T-shirt-type suit covers you up if you’re spending a day swimming or surfing. And if you’re looking for a quality suit that will last a long time, go for higher polyester-spandex content, Beaulac says. “Otherwise, chlorine and salt water will break your suit down really fast.” And make sure there’s a liner in a light-colored suit; otherwise, you may be showing more than you meant to when you come out of the water and the suit turns transparent.

As for colors and patterns, figure out if the suit is something you’d wear in your land-lubbing life as well and if it works with your skin tone. “Black is a universally great color for a swimsuit. It just always looks good. That, a big pair of sunglasses, a good toe color—you’re set,” Beaulac says. “Think of it as an outfit. How does it all work together?”