Bikini buying guide (for people who ‘can’t’ wear bikinis)

headerI know that there will be readers among you who will be disregarding this post almost as soon as you see it, having decided that your time for wearing a bikini has long passed. I know I’m a personal stylist and therefore all about the body confidence and wearing what you feel good in regardless of age, but I genuinely do believe that bikinis can be more flattering than one piece suits for a huge number of women, regardless of age, size or shape.

NB: If you prefer a one piece, please don’t think I’m trying to force you into a bikini. This post is for those of you who wish you could still wear a bikini but feel they can’t.

The fact is, whatever your size, neither a bikini nor a one piece is going to leave you much of a place to hide. The difference of a bikini is that it gives you far more flexibility when choosing your swimwear, as you can choose appropriately shaped top and bottom halves according to what flatters you the most. You can cover or disguise areas you are less fond of, but also draw attention to areas that you like (and we all have some bit of our body we’re ok with) with a more daring cut or colour in that part.

I’m not a big one for grouping you into one definite category, so I’m not going to talk in this post about apple shapes, pear shapes, banana shapes or the dimensions of any other sort of fruit, but rather about the problem areas of your body that you might want to make as good as possible. Feel free to combine tips for different areas, try variations on tips, or try out your own solutions if this gives you some new ideas (and if you do, please share them with the class so we can all benefit!). What I want to do is give you the confidence to go and try some bikinis and discover that actually you still look pretty darn good in the one that’s right for you.

Rule one for bikini shopping is, obviously, buy your bikini in one of your best colours. If you’re not wearing very many clothes, you might as well keep those clothes in colours that really work for you and make you feel your best. If you’re feeling less than totally confident, go for your dark neutrals or darker brights rather than your boldest colours, but please believe me when I say that buying a flattering bikini in your best brights can really lift your mood and make your confidence soar, regardless of whether you are a size 8 or an 18.

Having established that, let’s look at some of the biggest pitfalls with bikini buying in terms of body shape, and how you can solve whichever issue/s apply to you.

Problem 1: Large busta

String bikinis are the enemy here. You will end up with sores from tying them too tightly in an effort to gain some support. Likewise, bikinis that come in the standard 10/12/14/16 sizing system are unlikely to cut the mustard – ideally you need bikinis that are cup sized, with mix and match bottoms so you can choose the perfect combination for you. Go for halter neck styles with wide straps to flaunt your curves while offering support, or for retro longline bra styles. You will find the occasional cup sized bandeau bikini that will work, but on the whole bandeau styles add width without adding any support to your bust. Assuming you aren’t hugely disproportionate, don’t shy away from bold prints top and bottom (although stripes in any direction can get distorted and become unflattering) , but if you are top heavy, consider a plain top with a brighter or lighter bottom half, to draw attention downwards to a slim lower half.

Problem 2: Small bustb

You probably don’t need vast amounts of support, but going too tiny in the cup can highlight your smaller bust, so keep the level of coverage sensible without being frumpy. Details such as ruffles, frills or beading all add the illusion of size, or even simply going for a bold print with lots of movement (such as a swirling or floral print). Bandeau styles can also work well, as long as they aren’t too narrow. You may also want to consider a top with light padding, but in most swimsuits and bikinis anything more than light padding isn’t just hot but also becomes painfully obvious as soon as the bikini gets wet, so consider how much water-time you’ll be having if you are looking at a very padded bikini top.

Problem 3: Pear shape/carrying weight on thighs


Your best option here isn’t to add a great big pair of high waisted boy short bikini bottoms here, as they will highlight rather than disguise, and the horizontal lines will cut you off in all sorts of unflattering places, but to choose a pair with slightly higher sides so there aren’t horizontal lines across your thighs, and with either some ruching or side panel detail. Tie sides also work brilliantly if you are brave enough, as they make your body look only as wide as the triangle of fabric. They also give room for adjusting the sides to fit (often sing up and tightening the sides a bit can work really well). Choosing a top half in a bolder print or style will draw attention up and away from your bottom half, and balance out your proportions. A bandeau style will add the most width up top, while print or metalwork details draw the eye upwards.

Problem 4: Wobbly tummyd

High waisted styles are your friend here. Perfect for showing off good legs accompanied by a less than perfect tummy, a retro style bikini will flaunt your figure while hiding the bit you are least confident about. Go for vintage style prints to embrace the full look, or choose a darker bottom and brighter top if you are really cautious about your tummy. If your wobbly tummy is also accompanied by one of the large hips/large bottom problems we’ve mentioned elsewhere, consider a follower style rather than a retro style, as it will still give you a little more tummy coverage when unfolded, but will have more flattering high legs rather than the straighter cut vintage styles.

Problem 5: No waist/athletic shape


If you are athletic, you can go wild with bikinis here. Go for bikinis with strings to really highlight your amazing figure – the skimpiness will add curves, especially in a print or with added details such as ruffles or ruching. If you are slightly larger, going for styles that add the illusion of curves – halter neck tops and higher cut bottoms (making sure that on the top line of your bikini bottom, the bit over your hips is slightly higher than centre front and centre back also adds the illusion of curves) will give the impression of a curvy figure. If you want to embrace your boyish figure rather than disguise it, bandeau styles and boy shorts create a really interesting androgynous look that you might find you love.

Problem 6: broad shoulders and narrow hips


Go for halter neck styles to flatter your structured upper body – a traditional bra shape will look too skimpy and make your shoulders look disproportionately broad. Depending on bra size you may be able to get away with a ‘standard’ halter neck, or you may need to take the cup-size advice in number 1 above. On your bottom half, boy shorts can add width and draw attention, but can feel less feminine and are unflattering if you are long bodied and short legged, so try bottoms with details such as ruching, belts, metalwork, beading or an attention-drawing print.

If you have any bikini buying or body confidence tips, we’d love to hear them!

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