Belle’s Tips for Buying a Swimsuit

Buying a swimsuit is on my list of fun activities somewhere between “having a cavity filled” and “spending an hour with Justin Bieber.”  Swimsuit shopping forces you into a situation that can be exhausting and demoralizing, even if you like the way your body looks.  So how do you make it easier?

Step 1) Buy swimsuits online. I do most of my shopping online anyway, but I would never think of going to a store to try on swimwear.  At home, you can try on the suits at your leisure.  You can walk around in them to see if they ride up or bunch.  You can take as long as you need without being interrupted by a salesperson knocking on the door every five minutes.  And because you’re already in a place where you feel comfortable, it takes some of the anxiety out of the process.

Step 2) Order lots of options.  This season, I ordered eleven swimsuits to try on.  I ordered different styles, different colors and different sizes.  I didn’t intend on keeping more than one or two suits, so I ordered from retailers that have free shipping and free returns like Piperlime and Zappos.

I’m looking to find the best swimsuit for me, and that means trying on a lot of options.  So order a few, pour yourself a cocktail, turn on some music and make an appointment with your full-length mirror.

So which swimsuits am I looking at this season?


Trina Turk Graphic Print Bikini ($59, top and $59, bottoms) // Old Navy Balconette Swimsuit ($30) // Roxy Cropped Tankini ($54) //Tara Matthews Bandea Bikini ($225)

Graphic Prints. A print on a bikini is a fun way to express yourself.  I love this Trina Turk bikini with a geometric print and stripes.  This lemon print from Topshop is a bright, whimsical choice.  I also like this almost-tie-dye Medicine Wheel print from Madewell.  Or you can keep it simple with polka dots or stripes (I own this $20 Old Navy bikini and love it.).

Fun One Pieces.  If you’d prefer a one piece suit, look for one with a fun shape, a bright color or a great print.  Why settle for a simple suit just because you don’t want a bikini?  You can even try some side cut-outs if you want to be daring.  Or if you want the coverage of a one piece with a more youthful look, try a tankini.  I like this printed one and this ruffled halter.

Ruffled Tops. As a small-chested woman, I am always looking for ways to give the appearance of more cleavage as a way to balance out my pear shape.  A ruffled bikini top like this one from Roxy or this one from Splendid helps me do that.  I also like that they cover my bust so I don’t have to worry about a thin suit showing too much.

Bandeaus. I may be alone in this, but I love a bandeau swim top or one piece suit.  If you’re looking catch some rays, they eliminate tanline, and I find them to be very comfortable. (I like the J.Crew twist bandeau best.)  Should you need more support, Freya and Panache both make suits with lift and underwire.

Step 3) Choose the suit that is best for your body.  I’ve read a lot of articles about choosing the best swimsuit for your body type, and I think this one from Self and this one from Real Simple are the most helpful.  But no matter how many articles you read, the best suit for you is the one you feel most comfortable in and the one you want to wear.

My body has changed a lot over the past six years and thus, my taste in swimwear has changed.  So don’t think you have to embrace a trend or choose what other people find sexy or cool, just choose the suit that you think looks the best on you.

Step 4) Check all the angles.  When trying on a suit, look at it from the front, the side and the back.  The best way to get a good angle on your rear view is with a full length mirror and a cell phone camera.  Some suits look great from the front, but are a hot mess in the rear (and vice versa).

Step 5) Skip the “If Onlys”.  A few weeks ago, I was in a shop when I heard a woman say to the clerk, “It’s a nice suit, if only my stomach wasn’t so round.”

When buying a swimsuit, or any piece of clothing, you are dressing the body in front of you.  Not the body you want.  Not the body you had.  The one right in front of you.  And any body can look sexy in a swimsuit if you choose the right one. We all have things about our bodies that we don’t love or would like to change, so play up the things that you like and choose to skip the monologue of “if onlys.”

So what swimsuit styles or swimsuit brands are you loving this season?



  1. LeslieJeannene says:

    I bought this JCrew swing top ( when it was 40% and am loving it…I also have a similar one piece from them from a few seasons back

    July 17, 2013/Reply
  2. Stacy says:

    I bought a bunch of Victoria’s Secrets bathing suits online for the same reason you do, but when I didn’t end up with what I loved, I decided to go to Everything But Water. I just bought this today and love it:

    I’m petite but busty and can’t believe how well it fits and how comfortable it is. I plan on wearing it as a bandeau.

    July 17, 2013/Reply
  3. elz says:

    I bought a Sea Folly retro bikini (on SUPER Sale) from Anthropolgie and love it. No worries about indulging in pool party food & beverages when the bottom has forgiving ruching!

    July 17, 2013/Reply
  4. CH says:

    I too love a bandeau bikini for its no-strap-tan-lines effect. Another tip for buying a swimsuit – if it feels a little loose when you try it on, it’s going to get even looser after you’ve been in the water. It took almost losing a pair of bikini bottoms in the ocean to really take this to heart and buy a suit that fits closely enough.

    July 17, 2013/Reply
  5. Shirlingtonista says:

    I’d love some ideas for us bustier girls! I need underwire, but finding bathing suits with the extra support that don’t look like something my mother or grandmother should be wearing is hard. Help needed!

    July 17, 2013/Reply
  6. Ginger R. says:

    I like to buy online because I’m two different sizes and the best chance for a good fit is someplace where they have all the sizes. That said, unless you are easy to fit it’s probably too late in the season for buying a swimsuit.

    July 17, 2013/Reply
  7. KMB says:

    I’ve had a lot of luck with Asos, as well. I’m large busted, but small-average size around (I’m usually a 34F or 32G) and Asos has the best selection of reasonably priced swimsuits in my size. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find a bandeau in my size that I like, but I’m still looking!

    Freya is another good resource for larger busted ladies, but it tends to be a little pricier than Asos’ house brand. (Though still not completely unaffordable.)

    July 17, 2013/Reply
  8. Lindsay says:

    I just don’t have the capital up front to buy 11 suits and return 10 of them. I’m in an entry level position at a nonprofit, and it’s just not in the budget. I peruse what’s available online, and then make targeted visits to the store where I can try exactly what I want without wasting time (assuming everything’s in stock).

    I bought my suit this year at Athleta, and was able to find a two piece that didn’t make me feel like my breasts were flattened pancakes or pulled on my neck trying to hold them up. They’re a good place for the large-busted ladies like myself, with several underwire options (around $100 for the whole suit, so a little pricy). I lost a bunch of weight over the last few years, and this is my first swimsuit in a long time that isn’t unflattering AND fits well.

    July 17, 2013/Reply
    • Helena says:

      Belle’s advice also assumes you have the time and diligence to try on a ton of suits and schlep to a UPS/FedEx location return everything that doesn’t fit. With a baby at home, that’s not gonna happen. I recommend one visit to Nordstrom, which was my strategy this year. In 30 minutes, I had 2 suits.

      July 18, 2013/Reply
  9. Linnea says:

    I love the part about skipping the “if onlys” – so so true.

    I picked up this one piece about two years ago – same suit but different color from a past season. I love it – feels so glamorous somehow and is flattering.

    July 18, 2013/Reply
  10. Emily says:

    Belle – how do the J Crew bandeaus fit? I wish J Crew posted fit reviews! I wear between a 30DDD/32DD bra so it’s hard to know what size to buy in swimsuits just based on my measurements. I don’t know if I would need the D cup top or just a regular size. I like that the bandeaus tie in the back so they are adjustable. Thanks!

    July 18, 2013/Reply
    • Belle says:

      I don’t know about the D Cup issue, chat up J.CREW customer service on live chat. I am a 32c and bought a small.

      July 18, 2013/Reply
  11. Amanda says:

    I ordered a suit from Swimsuits For All, and I love it! I wear a 16/18, and it is hard to find suits that aren’t matronly. My suit is a black, one-piece bandeau with fringe on top and I get lots of compliments on it.

    My only complaint with the company is that the shipping packaging isn’t very discreet (comes in a bag with photos of plus-sized ladies in swimsuits). So I wouldn’t recommend shipping to work like I did :).

    July 18, 2013/Reply
  12. Maharani says:

    I shop with my wardrobe consultant/personal shopper (independent, not affiliated with a store-she is also a dressmaker) when buying a swimsuit. Fitting a swimsuit correctly is her specialty, and even with her fee thrown in, it is cheaper than ordering 11 swimsuits online and returning 10. Plus getting rid of the boxes….. Working with a consultant might be a viable option for some-it certainly is for me. We go to a local swimwear shop.

    July 18, 2013/Reply
    • Chelsea says:

      Who’s your consultant? Does she live in the DC metro area?

      July 18, 2013/Reply
      • Maharani says:

        No-Southern California. Her name is Carol Vick.

        July 18, 2013/Reply
  13. ohraq says:

    I would certainly try on 11 suits in store but finding them online, ordering, trying on and returning 10 sounds like a NIGHTMARE

    July 18, 2013/Reply
  14. Capitol Hill SE says:

    This year I got a Victoria’s Secret bandeau top and ruched bottom in hot pink (bright colors look great against tanned summer skin!). They’re good “classic but interesting” pieces that I’ve spotted on a lot of women since.

    My one-piece is a halter in slate grey that I found on the clearance rack at Old Navy! It’s a size smaller than I would have normally bought, which I think is what makes it so flattering. A lot of women feel uncomfortable in a small bathing suit and go for a bigger size, which usually doesn’t look as good.

    July 18, 2013/Reply
  15. BatchMama says:

    Perfect timing – when you posted this I had just returned home from 2hrs in the Tysons Macy’s dressing room (I just moved here and had never seen so many suits in one place!) to no avail. At 32 and post 3 babies, things just aren’t the same as they were at 22! My sweet hubby got online with me and we ordered about $1000 worth of options. 🙂 Here’s to that Hemingway daiquiri and free returns! 🙂

    July 20, 2013/Reply