Buying a new swimsuit is on our pre-summer to-do list, but it’s always a challenge. Somehow the suits we see online never fail to be too skimpy, too trendy or downright dowdy. Trying on suits in a store or at home is equally challenging, since the toughest critic on earth — the mirror — is right there with you chanting “Next!” Here are 10 body-positive tips, and one of my suit picks is sure to help you make a splash ... sarong-free.
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PHOTO BY: Amazon; Swimsuits for All; Venus
1. Let a halter perk you up
If there’s one suit that makes grownup women smile, this is it. Halters do sensational things for our breasts by lifting them up and off our rib cage. Instantly our torso looks longer and leaner, our breasts seem firmer and shapelier, any separation or droop vanishes pronto, and we all feel a little sexier. Self-tie styles with empire seaming — like Venus Plus Size Bohemian One-Piece in Denim Lace or Artful Expressions ($79, venus.com), Swimsuits for All Shirred Halter One-Piece Swimsuit in Electric Iris ($70, swimsuitsforall.com) or Daci Women’s Plus-Size Halter Ruched One-Piece in Black Floral or Royal Blue ($60, amazon.com) — provide lift-off control and are always a better choice than preset hook closures.
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PHOTO BY: Old Navy; Kohl's; Talbots
2. Try a swim dress
If you live in untucked tops and tunics, a swimsuit that also goes with the flow and camouflages belly bulge elegantly is a perfect match. Just be sure to avoid shapeless “granny” suits, which do nothing for your body or psyche. Swim dresses that start with a fitted top and a bust-flattering neckline before swooshing to an A-line finish are the way to go. Choose a wrap like the Old Navy V-Neck Wrap-Front One-Piece Swimsuit Dress for Women in Corazon ($57, oldnavy.gap.com) or the Miraclesuit Sanibel Swim Dress in India Ink ($179, talbots.com), both with sweetheart necklines, adjustable straps and flirty flashes of thigh; or the Dolfin Aquashape UPF 50+ Colorblock Wrap Front One-Piece Swim Dress in Black White ($75, kohls.com) with a V-neck, crisscross top draping and very contemporary ombre color block.
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PHOTO BY: Target; Summersalt; Target
3. Go one shoulder
Remember strapless suits? They’re still around, but a one-shoulder suit offers the same confidence-boosting sizzle (and we all have fabulous shoulders regardless of size or shape!) with a more secure torso-stretching fit. In other words, you won’t need to be hiking up the suit, worrying about your breasts sitting on top of your waist or checking for a wardrobe malfunction all day long. For a glam impression, choose a color-blocked style like the Lands’ End Women’s Plus One-Shoulder One-Piece Swimsuit with Adjustable Strap in Paradise Aqua/Lemon Lime ($100, target.com), a floral like the Kona Sol Women’s One Shoulder High Coverage One Piece Swimsuit in Multicolor ($46, target.com) or a bow-topped suit like the Summersalt The Bow-Shoulder Ruched Sidestroke in Sea Urchin & White Sand ($115, summersalt.com).
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PHOTO BY: Nordstrom; Amazon; JCPenney
4. Enhance curves with texture
Shirring. Ruching. These interchangeable terms describe fabric that’s strategically gathered in tiny folds or draped at the front of a swimsuit. It’s used to blur the clingy fit, improve fit at the bust and cleverly disguise jiggles that are revealed in a smooth suit. It’s the toga of swimsuits. Look for a heavily ruched style like the Sonnet Shores Women’s One-Piece Swimsuit Plus in Blackwhite ($86, jcpenney.com), which features molded cups; an underwire style like the Arte a La Rue Monet D & DD Cup One-Piece Underwire Swimsuit in Purple ($150, nordstrom.com); or a classic V-neck like the Aqua Eve Women’s Plus Size V-Neck Retro Ruched Swimsuit in Hot Pink or Wine Red ($33, amazon.com).
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PHOTO BY: Macy's; Kohl's; Macy's
5. Update your tankini
Fans of this duo (and the number appears to be increasing) love the restroom ease and freestyle feeling of a two-piece suit. However, just like swim dresses, loose billowy tankinis can appear dowdy and matronly. They suggest there’s more to hide than there actually is! Start on top with an updated fit that simultaneously camouflages but suggests a shape. Then opt for a bottom of choice — from bikini to brief. Try ruched suits — like the Freshwater Plus-Size Twist-Front Tankini Top in Atlantis and Freshwater Plus-Size High Waist Swim Bottoms in Atlantis ($38 top, $38 bottoms, kohls.com), the Becca ETC Plus-Size Color Code Wrap Tankini Top in Pomegranate and Becca ETC Plus-Size Ruched Hipster Bottom in Pomegranate ($98 top, $54 bottom, macys.com) or the Anne Cole Plus Size Twist-Front shirred Tankini Top and Anne Cole Plus Size High Waist Bikini Bottoms in Teal ($72 top, $64, bottom, macys.com) — that offer the right balance of fit and bulge blurring. For more tankini updates, see tips numbers 6 and 9.
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PHOTO BY: Bare Necessities (2)
6. Opt for bra-enhanced tankinis
Those who have larger chests or a major disparity between cup and band (like a 32 band, G cup) can wear underwire bras with everything from tank tops to floaty dresses and T-shirts all summer long. But when it comes to swimsuits, things get a little trickier. One proven solution is to go the mix-and-match route with bra-sized two-piece suits. Look for tankinis that feature adjustable stretch straps, underwire cups, ruched tops and multiple hook and eye closures like the Panache Eclectic Boho Underwire Tankini Top in Boho Print ($82, barenecessities.com) and Panache Eclectic Boho Classic Bikini Bottom ($38, barenecessities.com), a double strap over-the-shoulder style; or Birdsong Hibiscus Ruffle Halter Underwire Tankini Top in Hibiscus ($99, barenecessities.com) and Birdsong Basic Bikini Bottom in Hibiscus ($56, barenecessities.com), a halter-top combo. Bra-sized suits are hard to find, but tankinis once more are proving to be so worth it.
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PHOTO BY: Everlane; L.L.Bean; Walmart
7. Choose a top with a V neckline
Known as “the transformer,” any suit featuring wide-set straps straddling a broad V neckline powers up the upper body. It’s a crucial suit detail for those with what we used to call a “pear” shape in the days before body positivity. The inverted triangle neckline creates the illusion of sculpted shoulders that balance width at the hips and thighs for an hourglass look. Start by restricting suit browsing to V necklines. Then select the style that works for you, from a minimalist suit like the Everlane The V-Neck One-Piece in Bright Red or Pepper ($70, everlane.com) to a feminine ruffle-trimmed look like the Time and Tru Women’s Plus Rich Black Ruffle Strap One Piece ($25, walmart.com) or a bold print with extra control like the L.L.Bean Women’s Slimming Swimwear Tanksuit Print in Plus Size Black Ikat ($109, llbean.com).
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PHOTO BY: Tommy Bahama; Tommy Hilfiger; Summersalt
8. Depend on a wrap
Wrap dresses never fail to shape us up fast, and neither do its swimsuit versions. This is the suit for any woman who wants a chic suit to hide a few extra pounds fast. It’s the crossover detail that whittles and restores a waistline, firms the middle and turns extra curves into an asset. Look for a design that uses a color-block theme like the Summersalt The Perfect Wrap One-Piece in Hibiscus & Grapefruit ($95, summersalt.com) or the Tommy Bahama Island Cays Colorblock Wrap-Front One-Piece Swimsuit in Vivid Palm ($165, tommybahama.com), or stripes like the Tommy Hilfiger Striped Tie-Belt Swimsuit in Sail Away Stripe ($108, macys.com).
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PHOTO BY: Kohl's (2); Macy's
9. Switch to a high-neck suit
Whether your goal is modesty, sun protection or swim-ability, choose a high-neck swimsuit. (But skip the sleek-as-a-seal styles like those the athletes wear unless you are one.) High-neck styles that also incorporate body-friendly inner/outer construction and fashion details are the better choice. Try the MICHAEL Michael Kors Plus-Size Animal-Print Shirred One-Piece Swimsuit in Khaki ($144, macys.com) with helpful shirring, tummy control and removable cups; the Bal Harbour Women’s Draped High Neck D-Cup One-Piece Swimsuit ($64, kohls.com) with draped striped cups, keyhole cutout, crisscross midriff and color-blocked bottom in black; or the A Shore Fit Plus Size Avalon High-Neck Tiered Tankini Top ($56, kohls.com) with soft cups and a fit-and-flare tiered top to pair with any black bikini bottom.
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PHOTO BY: Kohl's; Chico's; Kohl's; Amazon
10. Trend up your basic black swimsuit
For some of us, just updating our reliable black suit is more than enough change right now. Many women still feel slimmer and more confident in a black suit than in colorful styles and prints. Those are good reasons to stick with it, but do your body a favor and treat it to a flattering update like the Freshwater Women’s Plus-Size Ladder-Trim One-Piece Swimsuit in Black ($56, kohls.com), featuring a deep V-neck and teeny border cutouts; the Mazu Swim Women’s Swim Body Sculptor Grecian Skater One-Piece Swimdress in Black ($98, kohls.com), with ruching, a V-neck and power-mesh lining beneath; the Gottex Contour Lattice Surplice Swimsuit in Black ($158, chicos.com) with crossover blouson top and built-in underwire; or the Tempt Me Women’s Cutout One-Piece Halter Swimsuit in Black ($34, amazon.com), a sexy halter suit with lots of fashionable details such as a high waist and ruched cups and midriff.
My final word: I know many readers are put off by the lack of swimsuit models age 50-plus ... I am, too. However, in my search to find the best suits for all I have tried to stick to brands and suits that work for our diverse needs and photo imaging that’s realistic. Some of us will splurge on hard-to-fit styles or extra features from construction to UPF 50, and others will find low-cost suits with exactly the updates they need to feel like a mermaid this summer. Be kind to your body. Criticize the suit, the photo ... never yourself.
Lois Joy Johnson is a beauty and style editor who focuses on women 50 and older. She was the beauty and style editor at Ladies’ Home Journal and a founding editor of More magazine. She has written three books: The Makeup Wakeup, The Wardrobe Wakeup and The Woman's Wakeup.
Editor's note: This article was originally published June 3, 2021. It's been updated with new information.
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