Summer is officially here. That means weekend beach trips, poolside lounging, and–in cities like New York, where open spaces are hard to come by–lots of public tanning in the parks. It’s all very nice and fun. But for women, there’s more to these activities than just doing them. There’s the dreaded anxiety-inducing odyssey of finding a good bathing suit to wear at them–a suit that looks nice, is comfortable, trendy, and does not require a month-long crash diet of 1,000 calories/day followed by three lemonade “cleanses.” Ah–bikini season and its discontents.
For the, say, under-forty crowd, these discontents arise from the social pressure to sport a specific type of suit at the beach: a bikini. More specifically, for the last decade, the trend in bathing suits has been to bare it all with string bikinis. Most women, disciples of the fashion industry and the magazines that parrot its ideas, have followed the trend blindly, and it’s really too bad that they have. The trend was, and continues to be, objectionable for two reasons. First, string bikinis are so revealing that they leave nothing to the imagination. I’m reminded of something Emma Watson said recently about how, when it comes to what women wear, bearing less can be more. Put another way, more modesty is sexy:
I find the whole concept of being ‘sexy’ embarrassing and confusing. If I do a photo-shoot people desperately want to change me—dye my hair blonder, pluck my eyebrows, give me a fringe. Then there’s the choice of clothes. I know everyone wants a picture of me in a mini-skirt. But that’s not me. I feel uncomfortable. I’d never go out in a mini-skirt. It’s nothing to do with protecting the Hermione image. I wouldn’t do that.
Personally, I don’t actually think it’s even that sexy. What’s sexy about saying, “I’m here with my boobs out and a short skirt . . . have a look at everything I’ve got”? My idea of sexy is that less is more. The less you reveal the more people can wonder.
Second, string bikinis–and the general fashion trend of bearing it all–is often aesthetically offensive.
If you’re a model, a size zero, or have a body-fat percentage of zilch, you can pull off a skimpy bikini. In other words, if you have the body of a fourteen-year-old boy, then string bikinis are for you. Click here to see the famously waif-ish Kiera Knightley in one.
If you’re everyone else–that is, if you are a normal-sized woman–string bikinis won’t look good on you. And yet, every year at the beach, there are women wearing bathing suits that are too tiny for their bodies, even if their bodies are fit. It’s an unflattering look. Just because something is in vogue doesn’t mean that all women should wear it.
Jersey Shore‘s Deena Cortese proves my point.
As does Donatella Versace. The point is not that we all should lose weight so we can look good in a certain type of suit. Obviously Versache is very thin. The point is that we need to work with our bodies to find a suit that looks good on us (and this point, of course, applies to our clothing choices more generally).
So the question is: What looks good? Women’s fashion, like during the golden age of Hollywood, used to be about making women look feminine. Again, revealing less is more sexy, as you can see in these pictures of Marilyn, Liz, and Betty. But recently, fashion has trended toward making women look unfeminine, as I’ve written about before.
With that in mind, I want to sing hallelujahs to two recent articles that have pushed string bikinis off the bathing suit pedestal for women. The first one, from the Wall Street Journal, points to a new and better trend in beachwear: the pin-up doll look of the 1950s. The piece contrasts the skimpy look of recent times . . .
…the hard-body look with high-cut legs and plunging V necklines—launched in the 1980s but long-surviving—or the teeny bikinis of recent years. “That high-rise leg is so sexy, but it’s very hard to pull off,” says Jenny Pyle, designer of the 1 Sol swimwear brand. Her customer, she says, is much like herself: “We’re in our 30s. We have kids. We don’t want to have our butt hanging out,” she says.
. . . with a new look, which is actually old:
With summer comes the dreaded season of swimwear shopping. But this year’s retro-glam looks may ease some of the angst.
The latest suits hark back to the relatively chaste looks of Hollywood’s heyday, with low leg cuts, high-waisted bikini bottoms, shirred and gathered fabric, and tops that offer fuller coverage . . .
Ultrafeminine details such as sweetheart necklines, ruching, and ruffled skirts on suits are hot sellers, she says. “The more feminine styles that we put into the line this year, the customer has really gravitated to,” Ms. Bryant says.
Over at Cafe Mom, we have a second piece about the demerits of bearing it all on the beach. Mary Fischer explains women are not the only ones who prefer a more modest look. Men prefer regular bikinis and even one-piece suits to the overly vaunted string bikini:
After reading the results of a poll conducted by Marie Claire based on what types of swimsuits men most like to see women wearing on the beach or at the pool, I’ve gotta admit that I was a tiny bit shocked. I mean, it wasn’t a surprise that out of the 100 men who were surveyed, 93 percent of them preferred a standard two-piece, but the fact that a regular bikini fared higher than a string bikini? Yeah, that surprised me a bit. I guess men aren’t as into the whole dental floss thing as I thought?
And another type of suit on the list that had me scratching my head a little bit? The chic, ’50s-style retro looking suits. Men aren’t exactly fans of those, considering only 21 percent found them to be attractive. (What would Marilyn Monroe say about that?)
And while one-piece bathing suits did better than I expected, with 65 percent of men preferring them, tankinis only pulled in a 53 percent approval rating. Hmm. Guess I’d better think twice about ditching regular two-pieces all together and going for a sportier look this summer.
Judging from these results, it seems as though men prefer suits that are feminine and show off a woman’s best assets without being too terribly revealing. They like skin–but they don’t like too much skin. Huh. Interesting.
Does this mean that we can kiss the string bikini goodbye, in favor of a more feminine and elegant look? I hope so. What makes me even more hopeful is that young women, as well as old, are rallying around the retro-glam look that accentuates our natural hourglass figures, rather than an unnatural and boyish androgyny.