Privilege Blog

Bathing Suit Coverups (They Matter More Than You Think)

Perhaps you’re thinking of a voyage to sunshine. Perhaps you’re dreaming of summertime’s arrival. Perhaps you live in Australia, where it’s already shown up.

You might be interested in a philosophy for bathing suit coverups. “Wait,” you say, “Philosophies are not required in this realm. Just throw on any dang thing!” But think about it for a minute.

  • If you go on vacation some place hot, very few of those cute shorts and pique dresses will make it out of your suitcase.
  • You’re gonna be in a bathing suit most of the time. (Much better to wear a wet bathing suit until dry, than to remove it and have to put it back on again, still wet. Blurgh.)
  • You’re not going to want to wear only a bathing suit to eat, or walk through lobbies, once you pass the age of about 15.

And there you have it.

A coverup may be worn more often than anything else. Let’s say you don’t bother to bring anything special. No harm done. But that’s a lot of hours logged in the only big t-shirt you own. Which may or may not belong to one of your children, and may or may not sport subversive or profane language.

Now if you purchase without a philosophy, you’re at risk of winding up bedazzled, terry-clothed rompered, or doomed to a bilious shade of lavender. Fashioned of horrid cotton crepe, no less. And don’t even think about buying your coverup in resort-land. They will charge you a premium the likes of which is rarely seen in the temperate zone.

So, should my admittedly somewhat tenuous logic have convinced you, here’s a conceptual framework

A Peripatetic Philosophy for Covering Up Your Bathing Suit.

(By the way, we don’t say swimsuit in my culture. I have no idea why.)

1. If you are on a rustic vacation, i.e. the Swedish Archipelago, Maine, or a mountain lake, wear a button front shirt with long sleeves. After all, you’re hiding from the sun as much as anything else. To say nothing of the possibility that someone might ask you to gut a fish.. Chambray is nice.

Plaid has the tomboy and hipster stamp of approval. You’ll want a bandanna to go with.

2. If you are in a Northern Hemisphere spot during the warm season, or at a neighborhood pool/lake, go sporty. Navy blue and military green are always appropriate near water. Sad but true; borders have been historically risky. Here’s an olive weave.

And a striped navy knit.

3. If you are off to the tropics, wear a floaty tunic. I had always relied on sarongs but frankly one tires of knotted ends and sunburned shoulders. Here’s what I found myself yearning for, in Hawaii. This silhouette is going to look good on most everyone. (Of course, if you are traveling by sailboat, the game changes. A good marinière and some baggy chinos will more than do.)

This one is sedate in fabric and shape, the pattern keeps us in vacation territory.

Secret tip. Don’t buy your coverup to match your bathing suit, per se. Buy it to match your skin tone. Because the suit will be, for the most part, you know, covered up. This one would do my skin tone good – although the transparent silk offers little help with sun avoidance.

One final thought. What about crochet, mesh, or lace? I believe they are fine for certain ages, either under 25 or over 65, but awfully difficult for the rest of us. This I wouldn’t wear anywhere, at any age. Besides, the resultant tan lines are confusing at best.

Feel free to ignore all of the above advice. Water is the great leveler. It’s hard to maintain dignity when you’re soaking wet, and may not be worth the effort. But if you, like me, are pursued by the Devil of Appropriate, I’m happy to deconstruct until the manatees come home.

Chambray via L.L. Bean
Plaid via Steven Alan
Olive Green via Zappos
Navy Stripes via Joie a la Plage
Green Beaded via Bluefly
Blue and Yellow via Joie a la Plage
Floaty Blue via Lotty B.

Shopping For Coverups In 2015

40 Responses

  1. My bathing suit coverup is white cotton, because I’m minimalist that way (although I must say I do like that paisley number). As for gutting fish, there was a time I’d have laughed at the person who suggested I perform that task – these days, I’d just tell them to hand me a knife and show me where to start.

  2. I love your selection of coverups. Tunics are one of my favorite looks. I love colorful ones so much (that last one is fabulous…definitely for the poolside to the night!) Hope you have a wonderful week and Happy Monday!!
    Twirling Clare

  3. My favorite coverups are by Roberta Roller Rabbit. Made of Indian cotton prints, they’re very lightweight, but not see through, long sleeved, pull on over the head, because they’re slit at the neck to about the sternum, and come down to the knee. I always take them on vacation, and often even wear them without a bathing suit for lunch or dinner (as a casual dress.) They’re one of my favorite presents to give as they look great on everyone, and you can always find a flattering color print. I’ve also found them very universal “vacation” pieces, and even wore them on the Amalfi coast and was asked by several well dressed Italian women, where I got them. I don’t like shirts as coverups anymore, because they don’t “coverup” enough!

    1. Just checked, they do have an online store. They’re called “Kurtas” for either shorter or longer ones, but I usually buy what they call a “dress”. Some have collars too. Great bags, and other accessories as well. And no, I have no financial interest in the business.

  4. Love the last one. I have a big tropical pareo that I love because I can wear it as a shawl as well as a cover-up. Of course it’s colorful and probably would look out of place in Maine.

    Great topic.

  5. In Hawaii, I live in pareos. Some of them I’ve stitched into coverups resembling the floaties you posted. When I do that, I usually have enough fabric to also make a matching, ever-popular, wet-hair scrunchie:)

  6. Oversized “sun-proof” man’s fishing shirt, as I am completely melanin-deficient. Sigh. I am staring out the window at five inches of snow and feel the blissful sunny memory of 75 degree days at the Cape Canaveral beach slipping away from me like sands through an hourglass…wait, that’s a different post.

  7. nice suggestions! My coverups have been white linen button down shirts, long sleeve, something longer than your chambray shirt. Use them anywhere from Italy to Mexico. Last year I bought a very lightweight shirt from 0039 italy, a silk-cotton mix, blue with white dots. Lovely, but it is so delicate, I scarcely use it…

  8. Being appropriately covered is much less of a challenge for me than sun protection. I always seem to miss a few spots with sunscreen. I look for a long (ankle length) caftan with long sleeves and a not too low neckline. A large hat is also a must.

  9. This is lovely for so many reasons, not the least of which is harkening back to that amazing Swedish vacation, I *loved* reading about that. You chose some lovely pieces, and your point about not trying to match the bathing suit is well made, I may have tried to do that on more than one occasion.

    Sending you a smile,


  10. I’ve tended to white cotton button-fronts mostly, or ethic-print tunics from warmer climes. That chambray is nice though and better for gutting fish than white and I’ve gutted my share

  11. If I ever went on a sunshine vacation, which I won´t because I can´t, as my skin does not tolerate sun at all and I don´t like swimming ( water is not my element ), I´d choose a pareo or two. One for the waist, the other around the shoulders ; )!

  12. I thoroughly enjoyed this post and the comments it engendered. Although I didn’t like any of the patterns, the RRR Kurta idea seems very inspired for this purpose. At one length it could double as a casual dress. At a slightly different one, a top for pants. As I am heading for India, I think I will have one (or several) made, perhaps one with a detachable bottom hem (or even two—one at knee length, one at ankle) so it could be convertible!

  13. I’m a saronged woman, in lightest cotton. Knotting never held me back and I like to adjust the length. In a pinch I’ve even worn a long sarong to dinner. Silk seems just too fragile to me. I saw a woman in India in a white shirt and sarong, very chic.

    My real problem is my head, hats are so hot in the tropics.

  14. It’s been a while since I’ve worn a suit anywhere but where my family members would see. Over the holidays, we visited a spa and although I had brought along my suit and sarong (I have several), the spa instructed us that we needed none of this…

  15. I’ve put in very limited time in circumstances that demand a cover-up — and then I’ve relied on a long-sleeved lightweight shirt or a relaxed-fit tunic/sundress. These are all great choices and have me wishing I could take a week-long sunshine break — I can almost feel that heat!

  16. Coming from the land down under I have spent a great portion of my life in beach attire. Usually a patterned sarong with a loose white cotton shirt. Just lately I am venturing into the realm of caftans because my country women are going mad for this apparel so I’m joining the crowd.
    In the Aust state I live in we call swimsuits ‘togs’.
    I have no idea how they arrived at this moniker.

  17. Such a good topic Lisa…I tend to be lazy and just wear a hoodie and shorts down to the beach but I have an amazing long pink gauze dress that’s a cover-up–way glam and totally impractical. I’ve been wanting a pretty dvf one for awhile now, so maybe this is the season…or design my own?

    What are you wearing for a cover up this summer?

    xo Mary Jo

  18. I have a few of those pareos, rayon with fringe, inexpensive. The knot at the waist isn’t my best look!
    So I folded over once, sewed up each side, cut a hole for head — voila! .. flowy, dries fast, hangs to just above the knee on me.
    And I realize I could do this with any piece of fabric..

  19. “Till the manatees come home” – love!

    I think I’ve always worn a sarong and maybe a cotton t shirt on top, or maybe not. As an hourglass, no-one wants to see my upper legs, but my waist is perfectly presentable.

    I’ve usually had swimming-type holidays in casual places so haven’t needed anything too fancy to cover up with.

  20. When I’m in Newport, I like to cover up in a polo-shirt dress, knee length. Since going to the beach often entails stopping at the farmer’s market or lobster stand on the way home, I like to be a little more dressed. Plus, it’s New England. We’re modest that way.

    But in more tropical climes it’s usually a pareo and tee shirt for me. I like the idea of sewing them into popovers — will have to try that one!

    Oh, and the best advice I ever got about a water-side vacation — bring at least three swimsuits. Then you never have to put a wet one back on.

  21. Such an important yet forgotten piece of clothing! There are so many gorgeous options put there; there’s really not an excuse to have a frumpy coverup! That said, I’ve come just lately to the coverup bandwagon, since up to now I’ve not really gotten to many beaches. Hoping to fix that soon, once younger son graduates from college!

  22. RRR is wonderful!I have several kurtas and they go over a bathing suit, shorts or jeans. I definitely wear them on boats, but not for fish gutting.

  23. Just the thing to help me with my upcoming trip to Cancun.

    It makes me think I should take my slightly-more-skimpy-than-I-like suit with me to wear under the floaty cover-up so I’ll have a quick drying suit underneath when I’m hanging at the pool.

    If I go boating or do something sporty I’ll wear my presentable on it’s own suit.

  24. Jan – I bet you can gut a fish with the best of them!

    Clare – Thank you! And happy twirling:).

    Kathy – Those kurtas are great – so classic and clean cut. I bet the fabric is really nice. Thanks for bringing this to my attention – I would wear them even at Dad’s pool, I think, whereas the floaty silk sort I’d save for the tropics.

    Sam – Thank you. My sarong is definitely not shawl-worthy, yours must be great.

    Hostess – Snow! I tend not to like the heavy cotton knit against my skin when I’m wet…

    msgivens – So glad!

  25. Lara – Ha! I clearly will have to investigate wet-hair scrunchies! My velvet one was not up to the task.

    Staircase Witch – Hehe. Of course, for the truly fair of skin, you’ve got to go with the whole Solumbra approach.

    Fritinancy – So you are a Polar Bear? Whether official or no? I’m thoroughly impressed. A swim parka is a beast of its own:).

    Crissa – I almost included a white shirt, organza I think, but then had to admit to myself I’d never wear anything that nice at the pool. Yours sound like they have the right balance of elegance and practicality.

    DocP – Oh yes. My red-headed daughter lives that life. She spends her life under umbrellas and awnings at beaches and pools. I bet your skin is great.

  26. TPP – Aw. Thank you. Smiles to you.

    Mardel – I am now imagining a post on the best clothes for the gutting of fish and realizing that I am not qualified to write it:).

    Mette – And I’m sure you would look ravishing.

    TNMY – That was a GREAT post. I hope you spawn a revolution.

    Louise – Thanks. I like your idea – any very light high quality cotton voile would work, and you could find a pattern that’s more to your liking.

    Duchesse – You have talent that I do not – I can’t do scarves either. Do you find hats to be too hot? I do not, as long as they are ventilated.

  27. Terri – Well, yes, naked is always preferable where possible:).

    Mater – You all are as close to Hawaii as we are. Just saying. It’s a wonderful place, not only for the sun but for the culture when you find it.

    Annie – Togs. I am going to try to shift my nomenclature:).

    Mary Jo – Oooh. I think you could design a great coverup line. In thin cotton, and silk? Like your art line? I’d buy one – long sleeved, a little bit of shape at the waist, hitting at the high thigh with slits, blue tones…

    Gayle – Interesting! Is the fringe a plus or a minus I wonder?

  28. Eleanorjane – Hehe. Let’s hear it for presentable waistlines!

    Rubi – Polo-shirt dresses are perfect for New England, I agree. I have 2 suits, just never mustered for that third one.

    CashmereLibrarian – I think a second half of one’s life devoted to beaches would not be wasted…

    Patsy – I think you and Jan would hit it off quite well. Gut some fish, crack some jokes:).

    LizY – Oh. Yes!

  29. quintessence – Some of the sites mentioned here have some good long options.

    RoseAG – That sounds like a very good strategy. Don’t you wish they made mathing suits with short sleeves?

    Laura – :).

    La Dolce Vita – I’d go for a Lotty B. and a Joie At La Plage and a Roberta Rabbit – if I lived somewhere beachier than here.

    Beth – Have fun! I see you as a coverup gal, I do!

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