Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Swimsuit Shopping or Nightmare in the Dressing Room

The days are getting longer. The weather's getting warmer. Soon, the beaches in our town will fill with families having fun and they'll open up our pool. This can only mean one thing ...

'Time to shop for a bathing suit!

If I knew how to embed sound into my blog, this is where I would insert the eery tinkling soundtrack from Halloween. Or maybe John Williams' famous theme song from Jaws. That might be more appropriate.

Ladies, truly, is there anything more frightening than trying on bathing suits? Oh, the horror! The horror!

Recently, my tween daughter asked if I would take her to buy a new swimsuit. Did she need one? Absolutely not. Did I say, "Yes?" Absolutely! The way I look at it, she only has a few years to enjoy choosing, trying on and buying a bathing suit. After that? Well, I've already explained how I — and every other grown woman I know — feel about it.

Up until now, it was easy to buy swimsuits for my daughter. She had 1-pieces and 2-pieces, racer backs, halter tops, flirty little suits with skirts. The fit wasn't a big concern; whatever I chose simply had to be small enough to stay on and big enough that she wouldn't get a wedgie. I didn't have to worry about how a suit would slide over her curves because, quite frankly, she didn't have any yet.

Contrast this with how I feel every time I realize that I need a new swimsuit. The dread in my gut as I head to the store. The garish dressing room lighting in which my winter skin becomes ghostly white, and every dimple on my cheeks (I'm not talking about the cheeks on my face, friends) becomes a crater the size of the grand canyon. And, let's not forget the ridiculous prices. Seriously, it's not unusual for a suit to cost $125 or more these days. For a piece of spandex in which you feel downright unattractive?

'Talk about adding insult to injury!

I remember the last time I felt slim and confident in a bathing suit. It was right after an 8-month battle with a severe bacterial infection in my GI track, one of those nasty "super bugs" you can pick up in the hospital. I lost 35 pounds and felt like death warmed over. But, man oh man, I looked good in my tankini.

More recently, I found a 1-piece with a flattering surplice top, the kind that crosses over and maximizes what you want it to maximize (and minimizes what you want it to minimize). It had a silly name that some copywriter had come up with: "Slimtastic" or "Slimplification" or "Slimply You." It's not that I felt particularly good in said suit. But, I didn't feel nearly as bad as I expected to. So, I bought it ... I bought it in every color.

Back to my darling daughter. Off we went to the mall to look for swimsuits. She wanted a "real bikini," the kind that looks like three little triangles held together with strings. Browsing through freshly stocked swimwear departments was a pleasure I have long forgotten if indeed I've ever known it. Virtually everything we picked up looked fantastic on her. If something was a bit too tight, she asked what I thought and I told her. We either moved on to another suit or went to find a larger size. No self-recrimination, no desperate vows to diet, no fleeting thoughts of liposuction, no drama.

We ended up with two cute bikinis, one from Kohls and one from Pac-Sun. They had just the right amount of fabric and showed just the right amount of skin. They were sexy but not sleazy. One of them had a reversible top, so we agreed that it was a good deal because we were really getting two suits for the price of one. My daughter looked, and more importantly felt, great in them.

Clearly, when it comes to swimwear departments the current retail system is set up to satisfy thirteen-year olds with their trimmer bodies and not-yet-damaged egos. Here's my suggestion if stores would like their 40-something customers to feel as good (and, consequently, buy as many new suits) ...

Schedule after-hours "girls night out" events. Play soft, relaxing music. Cover the full-length mirrors with flattering, gauzy fabric. Offer a complimentary spray-on tan and dim the lights in the dressing room. And last but not least, ply the customers with extra-strong umbrella drinks.

Yep. The extra-strong umbrella drinks would definitely be the key.


  1. A reader sent in this suggestion:

    "How about this for the over-40 female set? Lobby for a return to the swimwear of the 1920s. You know, the suits that look like you were walking along the boardwalk when you were hit with the urge to go swimming, took off your shoes, and headed down to the beach. Under the guise of retro or nostalgia or renewed modesty, I think that could work. Heaven knows Gotex isn't going to help you."

    Thanks, Gary!!! xxx

  2. Oh, yes. Great post, Alex. I know that I try desperately not to shop for swimsuits if I can avoid it. And I always tell my husband that I want to go back to the 1920's when swimsuits resembled full-body suits. I do have to say that I like the retro suits that are out this summer...better options than in previous years. And it is certainly a lot more fun to shop for swimsuits for my 6 year old. So many fun choices...I hope that it stays that way for years to come.