Deep breath. Opens dressing room curtain.

This post is about the swimsuits I tried on at the Town Shop last week and my hypotheses about

  • what makes for a successful swimsuit shopping experience,
  • what style of suit supports the best, and
  • the importance of colors and balance.

To find a suit that will make you smile at yourself all summer, my first piece of advice is to shop at an actual store that carries a wide range of bra-sized swimwear. Yes, there’s a small chance you’ll get lucky and find something at Marshall’s or TJMaxx, but I can’t tell you how wonderful it felt to browse Town Shop’s racks (with size dividers like “28 D-J” and “36 D – K”) and find a variety of styles to take to the dressing room. You can also shop online–and some of us must–but it was such a luxury to be able to compare sizes immediately. None of the first three suits that I tried fit. I’m not sure I would have had the energy to exchange them if I’d ordered online.

As it was, I almost didn’t have the energy to try anything else after the first three suits struck out, and this is where my second piece of advice comes in: get help from a fitter. I had no idea that swimsuit shopping was like bra shopping until Eyvette, Town Shop’s senior fitter, saw what I’d tried, took me back to the racks, and said, “You need this style, this style and maybe this style, and you need a 36G or a size 12 and a G or H cup.” Re-energized, I found three more suits to try.

You probably remember from earlier posts that Eyvette is not a hand-holding fitter, but I felt so taken care of by her last Tuesday. I told her from the beginning that I didn’t plan to buy anything, but she treated me like any other customer, and when I squealed with delight that the bikinis fit, she just smiled her I-told-you-so smile without any judgment of my body whatsoever.

Finally, shop early in the season. My size was already sold out in some of the styles, and it’s low in others. I recently spoke to an online retailer who told me that their swimsuits are flying out the door. She has no idea what will remain in stock by July 4th weekend. This especially applies to the largest cup sizes. Unfortunately, although Town Shop has swimsuits up to a K cup in 32-36 bands, they only come in one style: the Panache Isobel in black in either the bikini or one-piece. This tells me that stores tend to begin with a limited inventory in large cups, so shop now while you have the most options. For many of us, this means going online, but if you could take a day trip to a store that carries at least three styles in your size, I highly recommend it. After all, according to our swimsuit survey so far, most of us only buy a suit every 2-3 years. If you’re going to be wearing the same suit for three summers, it could be worth the extra effort.

Next, here’s what I learned about support: cup-sized bikinis do it better. Just take a look at how lifted I am in the Freya Madame Butterfly than I am in the Rosa Faia Caribbean Moment. Cup-sized bikinis have seams and bands that give lift and support. I may have looked less low-slung and compressed in the Rosa Faia if it had princess seams (or if I’d tried it in size 12), but without a true band, I was never going to feel as supported.

busty lift from a bikini top collage

On the other hand, I felt absolutely carefree in the seamed bikini tops that I tried. Based on the Panache Geneva that I reviewed in 2010, I do not think that tankinis provide the same support. Back then, I wrote, “The Panache holds me in place, but I would never wear it as anything but a swimsuit . . . .  If it lifted and supported like my everyday bras, I’d run errands in it during the summer.” I would have no qualms about running errands in the Madame Butterfly, but even though I throw a tee shirt over the Geneva tankini to go to the store or out to eat, I hate the low mound profile that it gives me.

I wish I’d tried the Isobel one-piece to find out if, with a complete band, a one-piece will provide equivalent lift and support. Instead, I did the next best thing and called Town Shop for their perspective and was told that they recommend bikini tops for customers who have a larger bust because they are more supportive. Obviously, never having worn a bikini outside a dressing room, I’m no expert. What cup-sized swimsuit styles have you found to give the most lift and support?

isobel one piece back

Finally, swimsuits are the smallest amount of clothing that most of us will ever wear in public, so it’s funny to think about color and balance mattering for such a minimal amount of fabric, but it really seems to make a difference.

Here are the front views of the Panache Isobel and the Rosa Faia Caribbean Moment. Although I love the lift and support of the Isobel, I prefer the look of the Caribbean Moment. Not only does this one-piece disguise my bulges, but it also creates a vertical line. The black bikini, on the other hand, creates two wide horizontal stripes that slow the eye down and cause it to linger on my torso.

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The Caribbean Moment pattern also fits my personality, while the black Isobel is stark and severe. After we visited Miami Beach in 2011, I proclaimed that one-pieces are aging. In the comments, Les Gros Bonnets corrected me that not all one-pieces make their wearer look old, and I’m now realizing that it could also be black that ages. So unless black looks amazing on you or you absolutely can’t find anything else in your size, look for a flattering color and pattern. (Interestingly, black and floral patterns are currently tied for last place for fabric design preferences. If you haven’t taken our survey yet, please do!)

I was lucky to find two flattering colors and patterns in the Madame Butterfly and the Cleo by Panache Hattie Twist Bandeau. Although they also create two wide horizontal lines, those lines are more interesting than my torso.

I was so ecstatic to fit into a bandeau that I almost bought the Hattie. But the bottoms stopped me.

busty in a bikini print and pattern

I can’t help feeling that they make me look like Hyacinth Hippo in Fantasia.

Hyacinth Hippo

It’s not because I look like a hippo, but because of balance. The bandeau is a mass of fabric that needs to be balanced with bottoms that are at least as substantial. If the bottoms had more to them, I could get away with the ruffle. On its own, the ruffle is no match for my tummy and bust. Perhaps this is because I have a proportional body type? I’m curious whether you think the Hattie would look better on someone with a more bottom-dominant body type.

Finally, here’s my experiment with a more substantial bottom with the Madame Butterfly. I sort of like it, but I also like it with the matching bottoms.

freya butterfly top with panache black skirt bottom

I would LOVE to explore my balance theory with the Tallulah balconnet and high waist bottoms, but I’ve run out of time before we leave for Sarasota. Have any of you tried it? Georgina from FullerFigureFullerBust looked AMAZING in the Tallulah with the roll down bottoms.

Tallulah high waist balconey

Given my earlier pressure on you to buy your swimsuit sooner rather than later, I almost considered having this sent to the place where we’re staying in Sarasota. However, there’s an excellent lingerie store there that I’ve always wanted to visit. They don’t carry the Tallulah, but they do carry the Nancy that Erica reviewed on A Sophisticated Pear recently. Hopefully I’ll be able to report back on that and other styles that I’m able to try.

Who said swimming suit shopping was no fun?