Utterly Unsuitable: Choosing a Swimsuit for an Older Woman
by Julia Sneden
The week ahead
Holds lots of dread:
I have to buy a bathing suit.
I’d be a dope
To have much hope
Of finding fit (don’t mention cute).
In fact if my long search is fruitless
I may well have to dive in suitless.
It’s an annual chore for most people, this business of buying a bathing suit. For me, it comes around every six months or so. Actually, the one I’m wearing these days has lasted longer than most, but what was once a trim, simple, black suit is now a saggy, baggy brownish body drape covered with odd spots where the color has disappeared altogether, so that dapples of flesh (mine) show through. In a mud-and-sand camouflage contest, I’d be a winner. When other people at poolside start staring and snickering, it’s time for a change.
I don’t mind spending money on a suit if I can find one that I like. In fact, I usually buy two suits at a time, because I have a dread of needing a suit at the wrong time of year when there simply aren’t any in the stores. Besides, a good fit is rare. Alas, when I bought my current suit, it was the only one on the rack that fit me.
With older women and men all across the country doing water aerobics and swimming laps, wouldn’t you think the bathing suit manufacturers would twig to the idea that there’s a huge market out here? Not only do we seniors buy suits; we buy suits more often than even the teenagers do, because we’re harder on them. No clean surf ‘n sand for us, no lying still on a beach blanket for hours, or languidly standing around the lifeguard’s chair. No, we are up to our clavicles in health club pools full of chemicals, stretching our suits (and our bodies) to all sorts of outrageous extremes, sweating inside them even though the water is cool.
It’s a marketing maven's dream: virtually endless demand, a quick turnover, and not much need for endless re-styling.
Which brings us to the problem. Finding a bathing suit in a style suited (!) to someone over 40 isn’t easy. For instance, all those suits cut high on the thigh are supposed to make your legs look longer, but who wants to see more cellulite, or brown age spots, or even (horrors!) a side glimpse of sagging tummy? I can’t imagine why the suit designers think that the term “boy cut” legs is appealing to women over 40, but I have learned to grit my teeth and look for the phrase. I don’t feel like anyone’s idea of a boy, but I do like the plain, old-fashioned suit that comes down to the top of my leg.
Then there’s the plunging back. If you are proud of your love handles, you’re in business, because there’s no way to disguise them when the suit dips to the small of the back. On the other hand (or rather the other side), there’s the low-cut bra, exposing quite nicely what nature has already lowered without any help. You can always yank up on the straps, if you are willing to emerge from your swim with Grand Canyon-sized grooves in the flesh of your shoulders.
And what about straps? Would it be possible to design straps that actually function to hold up the top of your suit and remain in place? Is it an impossible dream to have a strap that doesn’t slide off your shoulder as you do those aerobic arm-lifting moves?
Photo: American actress Dorothy Jordan, 1932, Wikipedia Commons; Bathing edition of magazine Het Leven, 1932.
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