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Is There A Good Way To Buy A Bathing Suit, Even If You’re Over-50 Looking For A Bikini, Maybe?

Last December, I tried to buy a new swimsuit. I failed. Even the shop at the Four Seasons Hualalai came up short. Now, as one of my suits has popped a veritable rage of threads,and I’m dreaming of The Carneros Inn, I’m going to try again.

Can Women Over 50, or Over 40 For That Matter, Wear A Bikini?

A slight detour. Have you noticed the Internetting of 50+ women in bikinis? Helen Mirren says she will never live this photo down. Allyson almost broke the internet when she posted a very decorous picture. But maybe we’ll get used to it. Jocelyn is a regular French person, from Tish’s description, and here she is in a bikini, no fuss no muss.

Grechen wore one, here, for the first time in her life. Comfortable, happy. So. yes, bikinis for anyone who wants them.

While (due to personal cultural discomfort) I do not plan to post a picture of yours truly in an itsy bitsy teeny weeny, I am likely to wear one. After years agonizing over the hint of imperfection in my thighs, I am now OK with belly dimples, rear wrinkles, and the flesh on them thar hills. What the heck. It’s the only body I’ve got and it likes the feeling of sun on skin.

Back to the practical.  The key thing is to know your requirements.

Before You Find A Bathing Suit You Have To Figure Out What You Want. For Me, That Means:

  • Modern, with an edge of fashion. Unfortunately, this rules out wonderful options like Land’s End and Athleta.
  • No tie fasteners. I don’t plan to untie my bathing suit unless it’s coming off, and I don’t want the suit itself to decide when that will happen.
  • Revealing decolletage, it’s all good.
  • No underwires. They hurt.
  • Hey! You bikinis! I’ve already decided to bare my aging belly. So, be a real bikini and let the sun touch as much of my skin as possible. No sleeves, no ruffles, no strap-happy structures.
  • However there’s no need for the world or the sun to see the actual cheeks of my rear end. Understood?
  • No neon (I’m too pale), no black (I’m too pale).
  • No crystals, no crab prints, no cheezburgers, no feathers. Yes, those appear to be real suits.
  • And I’m willing to spend money to find a suit I really, really like. Living in California, with a proclivity for vacations in Hawaii, it’s reasonable.

Bikini, or one-piece, either way, this time I tried Shopbop. They support login with Amazon Prime, free shipping and returns, etc. I ordered four options, two one-piece, two bikinis.

The Zimmermann Lucia Check, $185.


The Proenza Schouler One-Piece (similar) $325 reduced to $227,


The Zimmermann Gemma Triangle Bikini, $255.


And the Tory Burch Atelier, top $95 reduced to $66.50, bottom $95 reduced to $66.50.


Sigh. None of them worked. But I did uncover more requirements.

  • One pieces must have waist detail, or ruching somewhere. Loved the Zimmerman one-piece print, but it turned me into a blobby rectangle.
  • I like patterns with a named reference – plaid, toile, Keith Haring – as opposed to the abstract and wallpaperesque.
  • Triangle bikinis cups must sit in the exactly right spot, or you have to be able to move them. Not a whole lotta room for error.
  • Pale people do better in bright white than off-white.

And I ordered again, this time from Net-a-porter, the Lisa Marie Fernandez Jasmine Stretch Terry, $345.

Lisa Marie Fernandez Stretch Terry Bikini

You can’t tell from the front view, but it’s too “cheeky” by half. Nope.

 Why Is Bathing Suit Shopping So Hard For So Many?

Bathing suit shopping is so difficult because:

  • It’s tough to develop any expertise around infrequent activities.
  • Inventory in stores is seasonal (J. Crew doesn’t even have their suits in-store where I live) so if you miss the stocked window, you’ll be picking through mismatched and damaged returns.
  • Department store inventory is aimed at distinct demographic segments – you’re either a teenager or you appreciate serviceable vs. fashionable suits. I fully support your right to this sentiment.
  • Bad lighting and unyielding spandex, on top of decades of Photoshopped commercial images of our bodies, taint the try-on experience.
  • All of the above means we never get a chance to understand whether we’re doomed to settle or we just haven’t found the right brand/shape/print/color/suit yet.

You owe no particular swimming costume to society. But if you swim, and you like fashion, and you want your suit to, well, suit you, I highly recommend the bulk online ordering method. That, along with home mirrors, gives us the best chance at finding our Platonic ideal.

I was successful, in the end. Both Steven Alan and J. Crew offer bikinis from Araks. J.Crew sold out, Steven Alan had only one style, I went to the source. I’ll be wearing the Yanelis top, in the Fuchsia Engine Combo, $195.
and the Enil bottom, in Fuchsia. $105.
If you’re interested in the line, I wear a Large top, and a Small bottom. This Horace top offers more support, I’m thinking I’ll order that one in blue and black, if it’s available when I’m next in the market. They make one-pieces too. (BTW, I really like this inexpensive ruched one-piece from J.Crew. In navy.)

If you have similar tastes, here are a few more brands and retailers who offer modern, lightweight, and modest-enough swim suits.

  • Nu Swim
  • PilyQ
  • Varley
  • Charmosa (This last is a small local indie designer, from Brazil. Her suits have ties, sequins even, but one of her bikinis has lasted me, fitting all the while, for >10 years.)

See you poolside.  I probably will be eating a burger, probably won’t be wearing its commemorative print.



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54 Responses

  1. I love the one you chose. Love red and fuchsia together. Melissa Odabash and Eres both make great suits as well. Sort of my easy go-to when I need one. I always wear a one piece because I feel it’s one less place I have to put on sunblock.

  2. They are all great looking. I do love the one you chose. But you have such impecable taste that you would look smashing in any one of them and you would “break the internet.” Would love to see you in the one you chose. The colors remind me of a Rudi Gernrich dress I owned.

    1. @jane, Of course you knew about Araks;). The gray Bodas is wonderful. We do get wet on purpose here in CA, we’re indoctrinated early in life.

  3. beautiful choice lisa, i bet that color is stunning on you…
    it is indeed difficult to shop for swimsuits if it’s something you don’t do often, or ever, as in my case – i used to just buy whatever black one piece i liked at target and deal with however terrible it looked/felt on me. now that i have my first bikini though, i will keep in mind a few things for “next time” – namely, not to buy a tie-back top! what was i thinking?? but i will have my tailor remove that, i hope, and all will be well, but thanks for re-iterating that our wardrobes are works in progress, and we build upon what we learn from trying…

    1. @grechen, Thanks! I have just realized, I have always known vivid cool pink is a good color on me, but cannot bring myself to wear it in daily life. So, for a bathing suit, perfect! And what a good idea to have your tailor give you another method of fastening a halter. I wonder if I can find someone to do that for my one-piece tie halter…

  4. I was going to suggest that if you have a good tailor, have your suits made. You know what you like and there are hundreds of choice in material!

  5. I love that one you chose! Great colors and classic shape. Last year before our trip to Hong Kong and Thailand, I stopped into the Canyon Beachwear store at the mall, an act of pure desperation. The sales associate was wonderful and determined to find something I loved. She did after about dozen try-ons, a tankini that actually fits my 30F bust, and that I can swim in without wardrobe malfunctions!

    1. @Susan (une femme), I do think that it’s way easier to find a bathing suit in a boutique than in a department store. Good service can really help, also enough inventory. Glad you found something!

  6. I like your choice,too! And agree completely with all arguments you writed.
    And,as I’m going home after three weeks on the beach with zillions of woman and men in bathing suits,I can report as an expert that you will look gorgeus in your bikini! Maybe 15 % look great and in company with all others we can feel very comfortable in our bikinis ( and I will not talk about men at all :-)!)
    So sisters ,be brave!
    I always have a lot of discomfort trying it in store , but first day on the beach I forget everything!
    We in EU have a brand Palmers,it has great bikinis but it depends from year to year
    I have more mistakes than usually ,writing in the bus :-)
    Have a nice weekend in your beautiful bikini!

  7. I buy a bathing suit a decade (and then wear it twice a year), so I got nothin’ (not to mention that I would buy with different needs than you – from a small back / full-bust brand). But I do hope that Helen Mirren never lives down that photo. It’s legendary, IMO.

  8. Should also say, you made a great choice – and I’ll wear a bikini without thinking twice (at the age of 45) as long as it fits well. I mean, it’s just more practical if you have to pee :-)

  9. Hi — good topic! We all have ‘issues’ heaven knows.. For me:
    1. I don’t wax. I don’t shave. So I require a
    certain fit there.
    2. Double mastectomy with no reconstruction. So Lands End and a few others do good things for me.
    Just starting to see some two-piece suits that will work for me.
    I say … onward! .. wear what you like.
    Thanks, dear girl!

    1. @Gayle, Lands End does a good job with mastectomy swimsuits, they have more than just black. It’s more than just a pocket for a prosthesis (or not), post-surgery you can end up with extra skin and scars and it helps if the underarms are cut a little higher.

      Once you’re at the shore or beach nobody is looking you over that carefully, it’s getting out the door of your own place that’s the challenge.

    2. @Gayle, I also had a double mastectomy with no reconstruction! I go flat and don’t wear a prosthesis. I’m venturing out to the beach for the first time next weekend. I ended up with a one-piece from Jantzen. I have a long torso, which is harder to accommodate than no breasts. The swimsuit is low-cut with some folds at the chest that are actually quite flattering. I figure we got this far — let’s just accept the new normal. I could see a day where I might just wear a bottom sporting a beautifully tattooed chest. We shall see.

  10. I swim about four times a week, mostly in San Francisco Bay, and I have to say I’m appalled at those prices. I buy my Speedos from Swim Outlet and have never spent more than $70 on a suit … and they last four or five years.

    I need a high neckline and good back strapping so straps don’t fall off my shoulders. (Remember–I’m swimming, not lounging.) This style will be my next purchase:
    I love that back style!

    1. @Nancy, I have to say that every serious swimmer I have ever known wore Speedos. As far as the price, I think it mirrors the usual difference between utilitarian items and fashion items. Like, say, a Carhartt coverall compared to a high-end denim jumpsuit. Worth it to some, not to others.

  11. I like the one you chose and think it will serve you well.
    It’s difficult finding a suit that fits and flatters…and that does not break the budget.
    Bathing suits from Lands End are what I wear…one piece and I like them because they come in bra and cup sizes as well as the Petite line which fit me better.

  12. Living in Australia, I’ve found Jets and Seafolly both have ranges that are not too matronly and come in a variety of fits

    1. @amanda, Seafolly was also recommended to me, and another Australian company the name of which escapes me, but shipping from Australia if stock in the US isn’t available…

  13. I’m over 50 and I have several bikinis, mainly because they never see the light of day outside my own backyard pool. I need a bra sized top because a large in most suits does not cover side boobage. I’ve had great luck with Bare Necessities, and the last two suits I bought I got both pieces on clearance. So the $99 top was only $22. I’ve also found that their bottoms (the brands they carry) offer good coverage in the seat. I also got a great suit with bra size top at the Tommy Bahama outlet for 70% off…but that was just good luck.

  14. I like the styles you highlight, and think your choice looks like it would suit you. I find one-piece swimsuits difficult, mostly because I need a full bust brand and a long torso to boot, so I mostly wear a bikini or a tankini. There aren’t always a lot of choices that will fit me, but somehow it bothers me less than when I was younger. I don’t really know if that means I just don’t care or I’m more self-accepting. Perhaps both.

  15. I’m a tankini girl myself for the beach. Best of both worlds.

    For boring old laps at the local pool, it’s my built for practicality one piece pair of Speedo racing bathers…

    SSG xxx

  16. Bathing suit shopping truly is hellish and why do so many fit so weirdly? I tried to buy a new one this year, I was going to go for an Eres but I in the end I didn’t do it, instead I removed the straps from my old JCrew Liberty print one piece suits and wore strapless swimsuits, I never realized how much more comfortable they are on the neck. Of course one needs to pay attention they don’t fall down while jumping in the lake ;)

    1. @DaniBP, I have never worn a strapless suit. Precisely because I think I’d be nervous at every moment about wardrobe malfunctions. But I hadn’t thought about their comfort!

  17. After a tentative effort last summer, I’m all for bikinis on my 53 year-old, size 18 on the top and 20 on the bottom, jiggly body. It’s too darn hot in Spain to be wearing a one-piece, ever. I’ve got three now, bought as separates — one black and white, one blue mini-leopard print, and one red/ivory stripe — I find it’s important to have a dry one to change into, since it’s not nice to eat lunch poolside in a damp suit. (Also required: a cute coverup — my current fave is from Old Navy.)

    I really, really hope that women of all ages and sizes can get past the whole “bikini body” nonsense — a favorite meme on FB this year was “How to get a bikini body: (1) have a body, (2) put on a bikini.” If you want to wear a two piece, wear one. And if you want to wear a tank (I still prefer them for certain water activities), do that. But while loving every inch of yourself, regardless of what you have on, please.

  18. Back to say that has lots of cute options for everybody (seriously: sizes 8-34) — one piece and bikini — and are having a nice sale right now.

  19. Lovely choice in both color and style! I think wearing a bikini vs. a swim suit is a personal choice and I don’t think age should dictate which one the wearer feels more comfortable – and more importantly – confident in. You’ve shown some great examples of women wearing bikinis which to me proves that any age group can embrace them. Enjoy your swimming!

  20. Late to this thread but could not resist adding two favorites: Freya, for great bra-sized tops for harder-to-fit sizes (think 32G) that are supportive, functional and attractive; and Malia Mills, for flattering feel-good one piece and mix & match separates that include both underwire and remarkably supportive non-underwire tops… both are pricey but cover the full utilitarian/fashion spectrum. Great bathing suits are out there but still too hard to find!

  21. Late to thread, but wanted to suggest trying “underpinning” stores rather than dept stores or websites. The only suits I’ve liked recently have come from stores like these, which specialize in fitting women of various shapes. And I haven’t felt utterly depressed along the way. I am the opposite of a bikini wearer — happiest in a tankini top and board shorts — but have found excellent variety of all styles, even in my unfashionable city. The other good place to look, of course, is a beach resort…

    1. @bomm,

      Here, there is a store called Blum’s Swimwaer and Intimate Apparel. On the UWS of Manhattan, there is the Town shop, also selling “intimate apparel,” somI guess that is the term, not “underpinning.” These are not like Victoria’s Secret!

  22. I decided it was time to replace my good ol’ standard J Crew long-torso ruched one- pieces after my daughter suggested that they had become a bit stretched-out and were showing a little too much boobage. Who knew?!? So I decided to try something new and purchased the Liberty print for J Crew one-piece, and I was pleasantly surprised to find it in a long torso size. I’ll report back when it arrives! Fingers crossed…Xanax popped…

  23. Just bought my first bikini in easily 25 years this summer, at age 45. It is by Tommy Bahama and is reversible. Kind of a preppy navy and light blue anchor print but fits well. Still haven’t worked up the gumption to wear it at our country club pool, but have worn it at the beach with family.

    I was not in the market for a bikini when I bought it, but my 11 year old daughter was so insistent that I try on bikinis that I decided to set my body image issues aside and try on a few. My daughter was so supportive and kind about the resulting look that I couldn’t help but buy one. She kept texting my husband, “Mom is trying on bikinis!” “Mom is going to buy a bikini!” To which my husband of course responded, “Send pictures!” And she replied, “Oh, I will!” Ha!

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