Here's how to take the torture out of swimwear shopping

Just as every cloud has its silver lining, so every rose has its thorn, and as much as we celebrate the arrival of summer, with it comes the inevitably brain-draining, emotionally deflating task of swimwear shopping.

I’ve said before that the tricky task of finding the perfect pair of denims is similar to running 10km; it takes the same kind of preparation and determination, but at the end of both I feel instantly trimmer and slightly euphoric. Shopping for swimwear, however, is more like navigating an assault course. By the end of it, I’m beaten down and ready for bed.

I thought perhaps it was just me. My skin is the shade of blue cheese, and this has a way of amplifying every lump and bump, especially under those fluorescent changing-room lights, which are about as comforting as a swinging light bulb. But I recently worked with a beautiful Brazilian model whose skin is the colour of caramel, and she admitted she loathes shopping for swimwear
and often leaves the stores empty-handed and empty-headed. How is it that every body-positive mantra we enter a changing room with becomes as inspiring as a grey sky in June in the face of a cut-out swimsuit?

Just like stilton that’s been left out for hours, I look sweaty and uninviting in direct sunlight. Whereas a cheese will last four hours out of the fridge, I’ll survive about 20 minutes in the heat before I have a meltdown, hence beach holidays aren’t my favourite way to refresh and rejuvenate. Last year, I went on my first sun holiday in ten years, and I brought with me a bikini I’ve owned for more than a decade and a plain black swimsuit, which I bought in Dunnes Stores for sea swimming in Dublin and didn’t bother trying before buying (I got lucky), so my experience of swimwear shopping is limited. But I know enough to feel certain that it’s not something I want to spend any more time on than I have over the past ten years.

It’s rare I say this, but sometimes the answer is to throw money at the problem. I bought my one bikini in Topshop, but now that I’m in my mid-forties, I’ve decided that shopping for swimwear in a high street store whose average customer is aged a decade younger than I was when I bought said bikini would be masochistic, so this year I’m looking to premium swimwear brands such as Melissa Odabash, Mara Hoffman and Solid & Striped.  Irish brand Mona Swims (read our interview with its founder Carla Johnson on page 18) offers a luxury beachwear collection that is also sustainable, plus it specialises in retro styles, which are more flattering to a greater number of body shapes. I also think they’re far more glamorous than the tired old string bikini.

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Zahar Skin Ava asymmetric simsuit, €232 at Mona Swims

Thankfully, the SS19 catwalks showcased more female-friendly swimwear options than string bikinis. At Altuzarra, bikini tops were part of matching sets, coming with cropped and fitted jackets as well as skirts with thigh-high splits. Swimsuits are part of a larger beachwear package, and I love this idea of “dressing” for the beach. It’s perfectly reasonable to want to cover up poolside if you’ve got an elegantly co-ordinated three-piece. It doesn’t look like you’re hiding, but a chic game of conceal and reveal. Bikini bottoms were high-waisted and modestly cut at the thigh, which is far more slimming than the hipbone-grazing styles seen at Saint Laurent this year.

Altuzarra SS19

Nobody makes big pants look quite as sexy as Dolce & Gabbana. Paired with cross-your-heart bra tops, the bikinis oozed a Sophia Loren sophistication and a subtle sensuousness. The vibrant floral pattern gave them a notice-me appeal, but for all the right reasons. Similarly, Italian brand Etro injected two-pieces with a multi-coloured, sporty spin, personified by the two professional surfers who walked the spring/summer runway complete with paisley-print boards under their arms. Creative director Veronica Etro said this collection was about “being free, joyous” and isn’t this what the right swimwear gives women? The comfort and support to play, swim and muck around on the beach, rather than just lie flat looking pretty.

This year, Michael Kors was determined to offer his customers something “with a sense of deliciousness” so it’s not surprising that he embraced the colour palette of a packet of Chewits for his SS19 collection. In amongst the Juicy Fruits were soothing tones of vanilla and light-washed denim as well as bright white lace in the form of a balconette bikini top and matching shorts. It was pretty and demure, but fresh and modern too.

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Michael Kors SS19

Each of these designers also made a great case for adding a kaftan to your summer basics. I used to think of these as one-dimensional pieces worn by flamboyant women who holidayed in exotic locations, like Elizabeth Taylor. But over the past couple of years, kaftans have started to look as chic in the city as they do by the pool. Pippa Holt’s range, which as of this summer is stocked in Havana in Donnybrook, is made of naturally dyed woven cotton rather than traditional tissue-thin fabrics, so they can be layered over jeans and T-shirts and feel less like a one-season splurge and more like a versatile staple.

I once thought spending upwards of €200 on a swimsuit was an outrageous idea, especially given how rarely I travel to the sun. Having said that, you can’t put a price on confidence.
And if current street style trends are anything to go by, we’ll all soon be wearing swimsuits with jeans or tailored trousers. That’ll make the cost per wear far easier to justify.

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