As I’ve mentioned a million times before, I came of age at the turn of this century. Style-wise, the eighties had power-dressing, the nineties had chic minimalism… and the aughts had Britney and Justin in head-to-toe denim patchwork on a red carpet step-and-repeat. The 00’s were a decade of many terrible decisions, but two of them for certain were: the popular advent of the Brazilian Bikini Bottom, and the reckless joie-de-vivre with which I approached my summer (and off-season) tanning.
I remember, while picking bathing suits in my 20s, combing the racks for the least covered-up style possible in the hopes of ending days in the sun with the bare minimum of unbaked skin left behind. And I loved them! I can still remember every itty bitty designer bikini I owned, and I vividly remember how skillfully I had to move to keep my x-rated bits covered as I flipped from front to back, back to front, 20 minutes each to build my tan. It was truly a delicate ballet.
The other reason I exclusively owned bikinis between 1990 and 2013 was because all of the marketing I was inundated with in those years positioned one-piece swimsuits as prudish – a solution for people ashamed of their bodies or practitioners of some devout faith. For people who had something to hide. I didn’t have anything to hide, I was a monstrously thin twenty-something with a flat chest! In my young, self-conscious mind, I barely even had anything to show. A one-piece felt, in no small part, a signifier of defeat.
Flash forward to present day, and everything has changed. I apply SPF 30 before I leave the house, even on overcast days, and I actually own not one but two sun hats. I have an aftersun ritual when I leave the beach, and – perhaps most importantly – the idea of lying motionless on a recliner to burn my skin in the sun sounds like complete and utter purgatory. Why on earth would I go to the beach to lie still when there are waves to be surfed, games to be played, dancing to be done? Is it even a beach hang if you don’t bring copious amounts of food? And what, I ask you, is sexier than freedom?
My point is, there is something anti-feminist about bikinis (there’s something anti-feminist about one-pieces, too, but hear me out), with their endless adjustments, their elastic growth, their occasional falling-off in the surf, all these things that keep me from living my best beachy life. Which is not to say that bikinis don’t have their time and place in the sun – I’ll always love a two piece. But this summer, as I plan out my trips to the shore (including what may be an actual beach vacation), I’m looking less for suits that keep me captive and more that are ready for all the excitement I am about to throw their way.
Here are the 5 best brands I’ve found to do the job:
I’ve been a Ward Whillas fan from the get. Designers Rosie Ward and Alicia Whillas developed their highly-edited luxury swim collection using double-faced Italian compression fabrics for sculpted, smooth lines and carefree wear. Their silhouettes are always surprising, sophisticated, and flattering, and reversible fabric means you get a suit twice for one price.
Ward Whillas One-Pieces, available at wardwhillas.com
Image from @palomija
Prism popped onto my radar last week when my Instagram feed suddenly filled with photos from their #PRISMIslandGyals event at Skylark Negril. I tend not to dip my toes into the world of ruching and bust cups because my body is on the less interesting side, but it was easy for me to find more options than I needed. Their one-pieces feel at once grown-up and also playful, like meeting a famous celebrity and finding out they’re actually quite down to earth.
Prism London One-Pieces, available at prismlondon.com
Image from @coverswim
The genius of Cover is not just the super-flattering silhouettes and the thoughtful, versatile colors – the best thing about this brand is that all of their suits are UPF 50+, meaning full sunburn protection anywhere under…. cover. In addition to classic cut one-pieces with your standard scoop-neck/low-back combo, Cover also offers Long-Sleeved Swimsuits and “Swim Ts”, pullovers in the same swim textiles as your suit for the ultimate level of protection. No matter your skin tone, everyone needs protection from the sun, and if you plan on spending a full day messing around at the beach (as I do), this option cannot be beat.
Cover Swim One-Pieces, available on coverswim.com
Solid & Striped
To be honest, I hadn’t ever felt motivated to do a deep dive into Solid & Striped’s offering, and I think I realized why when I was scrolling through their Instagram feed and looking at their website: until their most recent campaign, their lookbook and campaign images were almost exclusively – and very noticeably – extremely skinny, young white models. It kept me from really looking at the product offering, because in my personal opinion, this sort of casting feels outmoded and a little retro. Which is a shame because, under closer examination, the collection is quite sweet. Their one-pieces are cheeky and fun, accentuated by a vibrant color-offering. I would love to see this brand represented by a wider variety of skin tones and body types.
Solid & Striped One-Pieces, available at solidandstriped.com
Nu Swim has only been around for a few years, but is already carried by some of my favorite shops across the world. Their silhouettes and color offerings are simple, classic, and stand the test of time. With this collection, the devil is in the details – slight differences in the strap or the cut of the leg create practically a whole new shape, and the subtlety of the changes communicate an understanding by the designer, New Yorker Gina Esposito, of just how difficult it can be to find that truly perfect fit. Look for me in this citron yellow number next weekend.
Nu Swim One-Pieces, available at nu-swim.com