My friend Cy said hitting the beach is “a big production number” for girls. It’s true. My beach prep involves exfoliation, moisturization, deep conditioning, full-body waxing and stressful swimsuit shopping. Unlike men who just pack board shorts (or ugh, basketball shorts) and can’t be bothered with sunscreen, women have to actually prepare.
I once bought an expensive tankini top from a British brand at the mall before online shopping was a thing—a wine-red halter tank top with gold studs, which covered my tummy and showed just enough cleavage. It wasn’t in my budget (it didn’t even come with a bottom), but it was the only thing that I felt good in. The straps gave up after a couple of beach trips.
I love the beach, but buying swimwear has always been a source of anxiety, whether I was a free size then or a plus size now, and it got even trickier when COVID forced me to buy online, which means I can pick only two out of three: nice, durable, affordable.
What exactly am I looking for? The perfect swimwear must be a combination of sexy and cute. It must fit snugly like shapewear but not sausage-y, and must stay on the body especially when wet.
On the beach, it’s the only tiny clothing that covers me, so it must not be translucent under the sun, and should hide flaws since society does not forgive dark spots, imperfect skin texture and cellulite (which are all normal). It must be fairly priced and come in exciting colors so I would look pretty in photos. Like unicorns, the ideal swimsuit exists only in my mind.
Cup size matters
I don’t know if swimsuit makers consider women’s height—and boobs. Some one-piece bathing suits have extra long torsos, while other bikini sets don’t offer mixed sizes for top and bottom. Only hubadera sponge-padded push-up bra tops have support, which is weird because breasts need help. They don’t stay perky for life, you know. Most plus-size swimwear I see also come in dated tacky prints not even matronas would wear.
Last summer in Boracay, I met celebrity mom and frequent traveler Paula Peralejo-Fernandez. She and her family have stayed on the island for almost five months.
“I originally brought three swimsuits, then I had one or two more shipped after a few months,” she said. “I didn’t see swimwear that fit me around the island, but then again, many shops were closed or not in full operation.”
Paula said she usually bought swimwear online, even before the pandemic. “I bought those swimsuits in 2019 from Amazon while I was in the United States. The return policy made it easy for me to just buy and exchange items if I got the wrong size.”
She prefers dark colors: black, navy blue or jungle green. The fabric must not be “see-through” and the style should “not be too revealing.”
“I wear it all day,” she said. “I like one-piece swimsuits because I’m sure it will not fall off while I’m running around or jumping with my son.”
Does she also find it difficult to buy proper swimwear?
“Yes! It’s hard to find a decent quality swimsuit that’s affordable. Either there’s none at all—no sizes available—or you have to go to the expensive stores,” she said.
Locally, Paula bought some swimwear from the brand Float (floatswimwear.com), and recommended accessorizing with bold, beautiful earrings.
PR manager Camille Baria, 25, also shopped at Float and on other Instagram stores such as Sandy Cheeks and hof + (owned by plus-size vlogger Helen Payawal).
“I haven’t really figured out a go-to store for me yet,” Camille said. “My taste in clothing and confidence level change every year, which affects where I buy, but I normally browse through plus-size shops on IG, Shopee and Zalora.”
Camille wears a 2XL, and prefers one-piece swimsuits with low neckline, and V-neck, off-shoulder and halter types, which highlight her nicer features. She matches her swimwear with caps, bucket hats and sunnies.
“I make sure to pack at least one classic black piece, but I also love bright colors like yellow, blue and red,” she said. And she would like to see nude, pastel and bright options for curvy women.
“Every body type is different and we should respect that,” she said. “Swimwear, or any kind of clothing for that matter, is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, so coming up with swimwear lines curated for different kinds of ladies would be a big plus.”
She went on: “I still want to look cute and sexy! But it’s a bit difficult because plus-size options are more on the conservative side. Price points for plus size are also higher.”
I’d probably wear the skimpiest bikinis if I were an extra small, which led me to ask millennial model, creative director and shoot producer Nigel Garcia if it’s easier for her to find great swimwear.
“The challenge in buying ready-to-wear is definitely sizing,” Nigel said. “My upper body is XS-S, but since I have big hips, my bottoms are S-M, that’s why I buy high-cut swimsuits that sit on the hips to make my legs look longer.”
Performance or how “swimmable” the swimsuit is is also important for Nigel, since she surfs and does laps. She had some swimwear professionally altered for sporty activities.
“Some online shops sell sets and don’t allow picking sizes for tops and bottoms. It’s also hard to check the fabric quality from the screen,” Nigel said. “Buying from new IG shops or fast-fashion shops is a gamble, too, because you don’t know if the quality is good. I’ve worn some swimsuits only once because they fit badly, got loose or the color faded fast.”
Nigel’s “perfect swimsuit” solution is customization.
“Custom-made is the best,” she said. “I go to Boom Sason for custom swimwear. Her designs are really flattering!”
Nigel also orders from Sew Local PH and Milla Swim on Instagram for “Baywatch”-style high-leg swimwear. Her off-the-rack choices are from Calvin Klein and Uniqlo for “family-friendly” swimwear.
“I prefer scoop neckline or triangle bikini tops and avoid low-waist bikinis, bandeau/tube tops, underwires and super padded cups,” Nigel said. Black, neon and bright swimwear look best on her skin tone, she said, and she styles them with body chains, gold hoop earrings, dainty necklaces and jewelry, and matching sunglasses.
So how can online swimsuit brands design better for women if both XS and XL find it hard to look for good ones?
“By offering styles that flatter different kinds of bodies—flat-chested women, busty women, girls with big hips, small hips,” Nigel said. “The design should make the wearer look ‘curvy,’ if they wish.”
Nigel added that swimsuits that look cute on the model “should also look good on all kinds of sizes.”
I miss the beach, but I don’t miss the big production and price tag that comes with it. As to why women need so many kinds of swimwear, it’s because people’s bodies change, old elastics don’t hold up, and well, I want to look hot in my pandemic body. It’s like rotating sets of underwear, but that’s another story.
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