Privilege Blog

4 Bathing Suits You Maybe Thought You’d Never Wear

Editors Update: I have just heard back from an inquiry to River Island about charges on returns – in fact they DO NOT accept returns on swimwear. DO NOT buy the jeweled top or high-waisted bikini bottom below unless you are sure you will keep it. Which, WHO WOULD DO THAT? My apologies!


Have you quit a few bathing suit styles forever? Do you scold them as you shop, “No way buster, not in your lifetime!” But do you also find yourself sighing as you put one leg, and then the other, into your old reliable tankini?

I suggested that if you are ever to experiment with swimsuit fashion, this is the year.

  1. Designers now offer almost any combinations you can imagine
  2. Adventurous suits are available at multiple price points
  3. Online commerce means you can indulge in Blitz Shopping, i.e. order 20 suits, try them on at home (where you don’t have to hop around a too small, mirrored, badly lit, box trying to encase yourself in stubborn nylon), return what you won’t wear.

You might ask, adventurous suits even in midlife? And yes, especially in midlife, if you want. With any luck, we know our shapes. With any luck, we are fond of them, either for their geometry or the good job they have done at any number of things. So we can cover judiciously, expose precisely but jauntily, and enjoy our bathing suits as we do our other clothes.

In any case, we’ll never know ’til we try. A few possibilities.

The Bejeweled Top And Pareo, Taking A Page From 1001 Nights

For the small-busted among us, I highly recommend a sparkly bikini top, here, with a cotton pareo, here. I spent decades in flattering and dignified one-piece suits. Then I went to Hawaii the Christmas after my divorce, alone for Christmas Day, eventually joined by my children. As fortification, I bought a sequined Brazilian bikini. I wore it with a pareo when on land, and felt all kinds of alluring and elegant.

Pink Jeweled Bikini Top


Everything But Water Pareo

No one seemed shocked in the slightest, and I found my cleavage and ribcage very reassuring.

A High-Waisted Bikini, Palms Optional

We discussed this possibility, last year, because here at Privilege we are nothing if not trend-spotters. Well, in 2014 high-waists are everywhere. While my friend @kidchamp says Not A Good Look, I can’t help but wonder if that’s always true. River Island makes it easy for we Americans, and the citizens of its home territory, the UK, to give it a try, here.

High Waisted Bikini

Surfer Garb

Surfers and teens have made the rash guard both cool and ubiquitous. Well OK then. A long-sleeved tee, in essence, reducing the need for sunscreen? I can work with that, especially in a ladylike tulip print from Madewell.

Madewell Rash Guard



You had perhaps vowed never to wear a skirted suit. As did we all at the same times as we swore never to own a minivan, never to wear orthopedic sandals, never to be seen in a cloth floppy-brimmed hat. Ah, the hubris of youth. Fortunately, the industry has realized that we might actually want to wear a swim skirt, and we might want to feel stylish while so doing. This ruffled one’s by Gottex, available at Macy’s. They’ve got all kinds of options in all kinds of sizes, ruched, crochet-trim, classic.

Ruffled Swim Skirt

Bonus Recommendation #1: L.L.Bean

And, if you’re thinking, “This woman is off her rocker,  I WANT MY TANKINI MISSY,” or the equivalent, there’s nothing wrong with that. Good news is that L.L.Bean has stepped up their game. Megan, one of our commenters here, works often in swimming pools. Her recommendation?

LLBean Floral Tankini

Bonus Recommendation #2: A Scarf For Your All Important Neck

In closing, A Note On Style, a fashion blog I’ve been reading, recently recommended wearing a scarf on the beach for extra SPF on the neck. Think about it. Might be too much flapping, might be brilliant. But if you see a middle-aged lady on the beach in Hawaii this winter, all scarfed up, promise you won’t be shocked.

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35 Responses

  1. Over the years, I have found the best swimsuits in shops in my vacation destination. The selection is always better than department stores, the staff more helpful(they’ll scurry around to bring different sizes and colors) and they can get you out of a style rut! And you end up with great souvenir to boot!

  2. Thanks for the mention! You’ll thank me later when your chest is burn free…and I promise it doesn’t look as crazy as it sounds. A reader commented that she does the same thing with a pareo, which is also a great idea. Serves triple duty as a cover up, scarf and even a wrap if it gets chilly.

  3. I am loyal to one piece suits and buy mine from Lands’ End….they offer bust and cup size suits which those of us who are too large to wear that pretty sparkly top that you have shown here can wear.
    A gauzy scarf sounds like a good idea when out in the full sun…I wear a wide brimmed sun hat to keep the scorching rays off my face and neck.
    Sounds like you have another Hawaiian vacation planned!

  4. I think the skirts are very feminine and would definitely wear them. I have some very small pareos in addition to the larger ones and I think they really dress up a suit. Larger pareos come in handy as shawl.

  5. Went to Virginia Beach a few weeks ago for a super quick “refresh” of mind, body and soul … lots of beach walking. Saw several women rocking fashionably long scarves loosely wrapped around their neck, some wearing swim suits, others cover-up’s / sundresses. Looked fantastic and not all “spf” clothing does, so a definite to do for me from now on :)

  6. Oh… a post on a subject dear to my heart…only because it (my heart) has so often been broken by faithless bathing suits that look..if not great…at least good in the store. And then… when I see the vacation pictures…Ackkkkk! Long skinny legs… short,ever-thickening body…no bum. Disaster!
    I think my strategy this year will be to take my trusty i-pad mini shopping with me…take pictures of myself in the suits… and adjourn for coffee and time to peruse the pictures before making up my mind.
    Here’s hoping… that this will be the year for bathing suit shopping success. Thanks for the suggestions.

  7. The best bathing suit shopping experience I ever had was 30 years ago when my husband and I visited his grandparents in Ft Lauderdale. I went to a specialty shop where I was fawned over by two elderly ladies for my “fabulous figure”! (They knew how to win points!). I loved that teal Gottex suit with the vee cut to the navel for many years. Now, I go for my J Crew tried and true ruched one-piece because it comes in a long torso size. But a Pareto is my best friend. That and my oversized men’s white Frank & Eileen shirt.

  8. I bought a white swim skirt last season. I wear it more than I thought I would. It’s not for serious swimming, but it’s great for walking along the shore/wading around.

  9. After looking for practical and comfortable bottoms for years, I discovered Hydrochic. Founded by two women who focused on modesty, they offer a wide range of swimwear.
    I would not part with my skirted capris. They go from yoga to swimming–dry quickly and the compression feels and looks great. With a tankini top, it is a flattering look, especially for aging bodies!

  10. I’m very loyal to Melissa Odabash one piece suits that I buy on NAP. I gave up sunbathing a long time ago, and use a suit for swimming, and spend the rest of the time covering up from the sun. I generally wear long Roberta Roller Rabbit caftan type dresses, a hat, and sit in the shade.

  11. Ha, not sure if I’m the only one but my (yellow polka-dot) swim skirt is getting me through swim season these days b/c it saves me several days of shaving “down there” (omg the freedom). You know, as long as I don’t get too terribly close to anyone (I don’t). Only, it’s several years old now and I’m fleshier and it’s getting tighter so when I get around to it I’m definitely replacing the style! luv it <3

  12. I love all of the above! And wear all of it. At the same time, to wit: long shorts, pareo, tunic cover up, scarf, hat. I give The Grey Garden Ladies a run for their money. Cause you can lose weight but gravity at 59 still prevails.

  13. Don’t discount Victoria’s Secret catalog. The last “fashion” suit I bought was 5 years ago… but I was relieved to find tops that were built like bras. Having NO bust (but being slim in the rib cage and waist area), I need substantial engineering to look female, and I could order the top and bottom separately. Of course, a pareo was my constant companion to let the bottom half feel comfortably under wraps and easy enough to slip off for a swim.

  14. timely post lisa as i’m starting to think about packing for hawaii next week. i will prob go with the same bikini i’ve worn for the last 3 years b/c i don’t think there are many things worse than trying on bathing suits. love all the suits you picked! x

  15. I did the mega-try-on at home this spring, when I was still mostly flat, but could manage to get up a few minutes at a time. It was surprisingly fun and I am actually looking forward to going in the water, although I’ll probably be mostly covered up on shore, being the kind of person who burns easily.

  16. Some years ago I remember having the most amazing experience in the dressing room,…suits that looked great and flattered. Then I got home, and realized that wearing panty hose might have helped…I looked as tan and toned as I ever would. I still laugh about it. A little mantra here “life is not a fashion show :) “

  17. Ayyiyi, bathing suit time. I wear a black bikini bottom and tank tops.

    I was raised on rivers and lakes and am not an ocean swimmer but an ocean goer.

    When not tying pareos over my furniture to lighten them up for summer, i wear them at the beach along with a hat and a shirt or a tshirt.

    I get all my sun in the garden. I wear more clothes on the beach then I do in my day to day life.

    Though that bejeweled top is pretty enticing.

    xo j

  18. Here we have maybe two months where you can truly hit a beach, plus that Montréal vibe, so you would not appear in a longsleeve t-shirt on a beach, obviating the point of finally getting sun. (We do wear sunscreen!) Those rashguard tees are useful for canoeing or rafting- but they do not breathe.

    My knock on many suits is an inadequate or poorly-designed bra. Larger-breasted women have a hard time of it, especially if they want some lift yet do not want to fall out of the top.

  19. A tankini top and skirted bottom (much like the one you posted here from Macy’s) has been my go-to style for a few years now. I still hate my knees but otherwise find the look comfortable and the picture problem resolved.

  20. I bought some swim suit pieces from Lands End. I was able to return to Sears what I didn’t want.

  21. I love the jewelled bikini top idea; I like those surf short things, they cover up my broken veins and other unsightly bits…also you can pretend you are an ace windsurfer, just make sure no one actually sees you trying to do it (if you are not)

  22. Is it not normal for companies to refuse returns on swimwear? It is here. Swimwear and pants (underpants/knickers) are often non-returnable. Which makes sense I think

    1. @Philippa, It used to be the case, but now swimwear comes with an attached paper panel, they ask you try it on while wearing underwear, and many retailers let you send it back

  23. Very nice selections – The tankini with cup support is a nice option for large breasted women. I really like the pretty colors and patterns you showed, lovely!

  24. Some great options here and I particularly love the fact that you’ve thought about thigh coverage. Most of those ‘swimsuits for every body’ features focus on covering the tummy. My tummy is pretty good, but my thighs are not pretty so a pair of swim shorts or a skirt and a bikini top are good for me.

  25. Best place to buy swimsuits bar none is Landsend. You can buy a pile of items, try everything on at home and return all the pieces that don’t fit or don’t suit you. I often buy a couple of sizes. No return problems ever. I would never look for a suit anywhere else.

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