The 12 Rules of Swimwear Shopping, According to the People Actually Doing the Buying

Living in our swimwear may be one of the highlights of summertime, but the process of shopping for and finding a new bathing suit, for some reason, always feels like a momentous task. Taking stock of trends, narrowing down silhouettes, figuring out whether a one-piece or bikini will actually give you the support you need—it takes a lot of planning. At the height of the season, we're still seeking out the perfect fit (or looking to upgrade our well-worn suits). So we turned to the professionals—swimwear buyers at our favorite retailers—for a little guidance on what to look for, in order to cut down our browsing and, well, maximize our swim time.

We spoke with Maria Williams, senior buyer at Net-a-Porter; Caroline Maguire, fashion director at Shopbop; Maggie Mee, women’s swim buyer at Nordstrom; Coco Chan, head of womenswear at Stylebop; and Sara Mitzner, vice president of creative and branding at Swimsuits for All. And though their tips and tricks vary, there was one piece of advice that reigned supreme: It's time to break out of your rut and try new things. Read on for the 12 main takeaways from our conversations with these industry experts to make your swimwear shopping experience an actually enjoyable one. (Really!)

Don't gloss over fit, fit, fit.
According to Net-a-Porter's Maria Williams, there's but one nonnegotiable consideration when it comes to swimwear: "Fit—don’t even think about buying a swimsuit if it doesn’t fit or can’t be altered." If it’s not working for you, move on.


Norma Kamali swimsuit, $200, Net-a-Porter

Especially if you need support.
Nordstrom's Maggie Mee calls out "adjustability" as another important characteristic in swimwear, especially if you have a larger bust. For shoppers with big boobs, she suggests styles with "a band under the bust (think wide band halter)," that can be adjusted. Coco Chan of Stylebop also points to swim tops with built-in underwire, as well as straps that crisscross in the back, because they deliver on both fashion and function.


Mikoh Alapio bikini top, $110, Net-a-Porter; Mikoh Zuma bikini briefs, $36, Net-a-Porter

Take stock of what you own before buying something new.
Chan recommends coming up with a game plan before you go shopping, the first step of which should be going through your existing bathing suit collection. "Start by trying on the swimwear that you already own, making mental notes about what you do and don’t want from your next purchase," she says. "This will reduce the sense of terror when confronted with a huge array of options."


Melissa Odabash bikini top, $130, Net-a-Porter; Melissa Odabash bikini briefs, $130. net-a-porter.com

Try something you normally wouldn't.
"Be open-minded!" says Caroline Maguire of Shopbop. She encourages experimenting with styles, prints, and color—especially color. ("Never be afraid of color," she stresses.) If you're shopping brick-and-mortar, Mee encourages actually talking through what you're looking for with the salespeople on the retail floor. "They're experts on what suits will fit [each] body type," she explains. Also, don't be afraid to spend a lot of time in the changing room: "It’s going to take more than one or two suits to find the perfect style for you," Mee adds.


Kiini bikini, $189, Stylebop

If there's one trend worth buying into, it's the one-piece.
Mee is all about the retro style for its versatility, both in terms of design and styling. "You can find so many sexy details to make it unique: deep plunge, one shoulder, cutout, or off-the-shoulder," she says. "It can also double as a bodysuit for a new beach-to-bar look—just throw on a jean short or a maxiskirt over it." Chan adds that because the silhouette has been rehashed so many times, there's now one for virtually every body type, for whatever you want to accentuate, and for any way you want to be supported. If you're having trouble deciding which direction to go in, there's one iteration that's slowly creeping up the ranks, according to Williams: the belted one-piece. "We are seeing a lot of these styles coming through for resort 2018," the Net-a-Porter buyer says.


Ashley Graham x Swimsuits for All swimsuit, $64, Swimsuits for All

Find details that highlight what you want to highlight.
Want to show off your décolletage? Try a plunging neckline, says Swimsuits for All's Sara Mitzner. ("It reminds me of Lupita Nyong'o and Kate Hudson, two of my favorite small-busted ladies who often rock a plunging neckline on the red carpet," she notes.) To fill out your bust or draw attention to your top half? She suggests ruffles. Chan concurs with the latter, and adds patterned and embellished tops to the list of features that bring the eyes to this area.


Zimmermann bikini, $315, Shopbop

Consider a preshopping pep talk.
Williams' nonnegotiable in swimwear shopping is fit; for Mitzner, it's a positive disposition. Let her explain: "If you go in thinking you’re going to look great—which you will!—then you’ll walk out with a swimwear wardrobe that will make you want to book your next beach vacation ASAP. I find that most times it’s confidence, not a certain body type or size, that’s keeping women from buying swimwear." Hear, hear!


Mara Hoffman one-piece swimsuit, $240, Nordstrom

Take a friend along for the ride.
"Shop with someone you trust," Mee suggests. “You are your worst critic! However, you want someone that will be honest with you." Mitzner agrees: "I like to bring a supportive girlfriend with me for those moments when I need a reminder that the only thing holding me back is lack of confidence."


Diane von Furstenberg bikini top, $69, Stylebop; Diane von Furstenberg bikini bottoms, $62, Stylebop

Although don't rule out online shopping:
It may come as no surprise that Maguire loves shopping for her swimsuits online, but Shopbop's fashion director has a pretty good argument for it: "You see everything on figure first, and can try on from the comfort and privacy of your own home." Chan echoes the sentiment: "Being able to try several options in the comfort of your own home removes the enemy that is the badly lit changing room mirror!" Fair.


Solid & Striped one-piece, $158, Shopbop

Read the label carefully.
"Sticking to quality fabrics will make the experience of purchasing, and ultimately wearing them, much much easier," asserts Chan. "A quality fabric naturally leads to a better fit, so I can’t stress this enough." As far as what to look out for, Williams recommends "a high content of lycra, an important element that allows a swimsuit to fit and mold to one’s body." Adding this provision to your swimwear shopping doesn't necessarily mean you have to break the bank, though: Mitzner suggests "built-in cups, power mesh lining, and hook-and-eye closures" as built-in swim features available at all price points that make a world of a difference when it comes to fit.


Tory Burch top, $148, Shopbop; Tory Burch hipster, $98, Shopbop

Don't rush the process.
Whether you're browsing for swimsuits at home or sifting through the racks at a brick-and-mortar store, make sure that you're in the right mind-set, says Williams: "For a less stressful experience, don’t have a swimwear session when you are not feeling great, and don’t succumb to beating yourself up about your body." Trying on bathing suits can be a weird experience for some, so she reminds shoppers to take the time to try on a range of styles and ask what they feel good in.


Lisa Marie Fernandez bikini, $395, Shopbop

And also, don't get stuck on what you "can't" wear.
"There's no style of suit you can’t wear—regardless of age, skin tone, or body type," Mitzner reminds us. "You won’t know until you try it, so get out of your own head with thoughts like 'I can only wear a one piece, I couldn’t possibly wear white, or large prints/bold colors will only make me look larger'—these fashion tips of yesteryear no longer apply, and now there are so many amazing suits for every woman and every body." As with everything else: Do you.


Marysia swimsuit, $350, Net-a-Porter

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