woman in black bikini on water during daytime

A Guide to Swimwear for Women

woman in black bikini on water during daytime

It’s not like lounging on the beaches, but finding a swimsuit that fits women’s size isn’t easy. As if the sizing games and fluorescent lighting in the fitting rooms weren’t enough, there are a lot of styles to choose. There are thousands of choices available in stores and online, from tiny triangle bikinis to long-sleeve onesies.

How can you determine what each name of a swimsuit really means? To break down some of the most popular bathing suit styles and help swimwear shopping go more–ahem–swimmingly, we tapped two style experts, New York-based personal stylist Gayle Perry, and San Diego-based personal stylist Vanessa Valiente, about what you should know before buying.

There are many types of swimsuit tops. You will want to begin at the top, regardless of whether you are buying separates or a set. Coverage and support are the main characteristics to remember.

Swimsuit tops

  • Bandeau/Strapless

Because strapless styles expose your shoulders, they are great for minimizing tan lines. However, you should still apply sunscreen. Valiente states that the term “bandeau” refers to styles with a straight line like a band. Other strapless styles can be sweetheart, cinched or any other “neckline” shape.

  • Triangle

A classic bikini top with two triangle-shaped pieces of fabric, the triangle top is often tied behind the back with string ties and has a halter-style neck. Although the suit is small in size, you can cover it up with a few extra layers if you don’t want to expose too much. Perry suggests pairing a high-waisted bottom with a more coverage style.

  • Halter

This is the most popular style. The straps of halter tops tie around the neck and can either be supportive or painful depending on how wide the strap is and how heavy the bust is.

  • Crossback or racerback

Crossbacks and racerbacks both have straps that run down the back in the form of an “X” shape. This provides extra support for the bust and reduces the chance of the straps slipping. These are popular with competitive swimmers and those with larger busts.

  • Bra top/scoop

Scoop tops are round in neckline. Bra-style tops, which have a vertical strap across each shoulder, can have any neckline shape. Sometimes they come with an underwire to mimic the support and coverage of a bra.

  • Tankinis

Tankinis combine the coverage and material of a tank top with that of a bikini, hence the name. Tankinis are a one-piece that meets the length of bikini bottoms. They provide coverage and functionality with the flexibility of a two piece. People who have different sizes can get a tankini with a better fit.

  • Rashguard

Rashguards were initially designed to protect the skin of surfers from board rash or chafing. The shirt-like garment can be worn as a fashion accessory, but it is also functional. Perry says that rash guards are fun to wear, and can be paired with shorts or high-waisted bottoms. Perry also suggests that the style can be tied at the waist for some interest.

Swimsuit bottoms

Styles of bathing suits for women include high-waisted, deep v, triangle, cheeky and boyshort (top left to the bottom right).

Two attributes define the bottom half of a bathingsuit: Rise (or where it sits relative to your waistline) and Coverage.

  • Standard bikini

This style is similar to a normal pair, but it may have a lower or higher rise, and provide more or less coverage at the rear. You may find it with sides that tie with strings. However, Valiente suggests styles with a wider band to prevent irritation from the string against your skin.

  • Boyshorts

Boyshorts fully cover the back and can even reach down to the legs. Boyshorts are more comfortable than string bikinis because the sides are wider than string bikinis.

  • High-waisted Bottoms

Because they can reach up to your belly button, high-waisted bottoms offer more coverage around your waist. Perry believes there is a return to… old Hollywood glamour. Perry speaks of the retro look that was once popularized by stars like Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Barrot. “A lot of them have a timeless appeal and make you feel good.”

  • Cheeky

A cheeky bikini top exposes more skin at the rear of a standard bikini than a regular bikini, but not as much a thong. Valiente suggests looking for bikini bottoms with elastic at the back. Sometimes referred to as “ruching”, She says that elastic prevents the bottom stretching and sagging. The special stitching also helps to prolong the life of your bathing suit, regardless of its price.

  • Deep V

Image Pamela Anderson, Baywatch. Valiente says Deep-V bathing suits bottoms are “super high up” at the hip bones and “super high cut on the leg”.

  • Thong

The smallest of all bottoms, thongs can be described as a thong swimsuit. They have less fabric than standard bikini bottoms, and even cheeky ones. To avoid uncomfortable burns, be extra careful when applying sunscreen.

Types of one-piece

One-pieces are more formal because the midsection is usually covered. However, this is not always true, as these styles will demonstrate.

  • Traditional or racerback

These one-pieces can be purchased with a range of strap options, just like bikini tops. Classic styles have two straps. They can be crossed or parallel on the back. Racerback styles are preferred by swimmers and other water sports enthusiasts because of their snug fit.

  • Strapless one shoulder, or off the-shoulder

Valiente states that strapless one-pieces are becoming more popular. They provide classic coverage with no tan lines and a classic look without the need for straps. One-shoulder suits have a single strap to hold them up. It also adds visual interest through its asymmetry. Styles that are off-the-shoulder offer a feminine appearance with ruffles that are typically casual.

  • Monokini

Monokinis aren’t meant to be fully covered. The 80s-inspired monokini swimsuit has returned after being out of style for some time. Although technically one-piece, this style is more visible because it has large cutouts at the sides. Perry says that cutouts are a great option for any body type. To create flattering visual contours, cutouts draw attention to the places where the fabric is and isn’t.

  • V-neck/Plunge

If you don’t like cutouts but still want something more sexy in your one-piece, a V neck or plunging neckline might be the best option. Perry suggests pairing a V neck one-piece with a short white skirt or a one-piece with a poof sleeves to make the style more feminine and flirty.

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