growing a minimalist wardrobe: swimsuit edition.

June 9, 2015

growing a minimalist wardrobe: swimsuit edition | reading my tea leavesNot that swimsuit edition.

Summer is upon us, and so are swimsuits. Well, maybe.

Current states of dress notwithstanding, let me be clear about one thing: this isn’t a post about having a perfect body. Or about having an imperfect body. It’s about being a body in search of a swimsuit. You know, that funny little thing that we stretch over our bums and boobs—or lack thereof—so that we can flop about like fish. A swimsuit is a practical piece of clothing as much as an ornamental one. That anyone might be deprived the pleasure of a cool dip or a warm soak because of pressure to look one way or another when wrapped into polyamide/spandex/nylon/whatever is the problem of our culture at large, and not with what we ate for dinner.
growing a minimalist wardrobe: swimsuit edition | reading my tea leaves While I acknowledge that swimsuit shopping can be fraught, when viewed through the lens of finding the means to an end that is summertime fun, I’m hoping that the body-shaming aspect of the sport can fall to the wayside. So, in support of canonballs, and kayacking, and running through sprinklers, I present a few ideas for sustainable swimwear: growing a minimalist wardrobe: swimsuit edition | reading my tea leaves Like other things, a sustainable swimsuit is probably foremost one that you actually wear, instead of one that you buy and shove into the back of the drawer to languish before buying a second or third or fourth. I’ve almost always been a one-bathing-suit-at-a-time kind of girl, no surprise. Even though that’s sometimes meant needing to climb back into a still-damp suit to take an evening dip. Like the rest of my minimal wardrobe, this stems partially from laziness. Once I’ve found a suit that fits, I’d rather stick it out with my one and only than waste any more time searching. growing a minimalist wardrobe: swimsuit edition | reading my tea leaves Since lots of you guys have asked me for swimsuit ideas from companies that make their suits with some standard of ethical production, I’ve pulled together a little list of swimsuits that do some good, whether they’ve been made right here in the USA, or with recycled materials, or using fair labor.

For transparency-sake, I’ll say that the bathing suit that’s currently in my drawer is a one-piece that I found on the sale rack at Madewell right before my wedding (almost) three (!) years ago (you can catch a glimpse of it in action here). It got exactly zero wears last summer what with giving birth on Memorial Day, but when we made it the beach recently, I pulled it out of semi-retirement. No surprise, Madewell has lots of nice-looking options for swimwear this year too. This suit (in an enviable black) is most similar in shape to one that I have (and it’s on sale). If you had your heart set on a suit that was made in the USA,  this one is more pricey but it’s reversible which almost counts as two-for-one. Yes? Kinda.
growing a minimalist wardrobe: swimsuit edition | reading my tea leaves A few other things on my radar, alphabetically:

American Apparel: Definitely some of the more affordable suits on the list—but they do require a certain amount of getting past the company’s slightly skeevy past. I like the Halter One Piece in black best. (Made in the USA.) Update: American Apparel closed in 2017.

BikyniBikyni just launched in May and they’re selling made-in-the-USA suits direct to consumer, which means more affordable prices on designer-style suits. Bonus points for the super-sleek site. Bikyni swimsuits come in classic shapes that you can mix-and-match—and don’t let the name fool you, they have a one-piece, too. I think I’d go for the Halter Top and Hipster Bottoms. But The Crop is also kind of awesome. (Made in the USA.) Update: I got the Halter and High-waisted bottoms in the summer of 2016. The bottoms are not currently available, but might be restocked in the future.

Boden: More affordable than some of my other dream suits, Boden’s Vintage Boyleg Swimsuit in black reminds me of something my grandmother would have worn (in a good way). And their Sorrento is something of a cult favorite, on sale in limited colorways. (Boden’s Ethical Policy.) Update: The classic Santorini is nice alternative to the sold-out styles from the original post.

Emerson Fry: I really love Emerson Fry’s titanium colored Banded Bikini bottom and Ruched Top. (If you’re looking to pop, the top also comes in hot red.) (Made in the USA.) Update: Emerson Fry doesn’t currently have a swim line.) 

Greenlee Swim/LRB (Little Recycled Bikini): Greenlee makes minimalist mix-and-match swim separates from 82% recycled fibers. If I were considerably cheekier, I’d choose the Retro One-Piece. (Made in the USA.)

Hackwith Design House: HDH came out with a line of super simple suits in shades of white and black this winter. I’m not sure if a brunette can pull off a nude-colored suit (TMI?), but I love the Champagne Two-Piece. (Made in the USA.) Update: Hackwith now has an even bigger variety of swimsuits for wide-range of body types and in new gray, green, and red colors.

Hatch: If you’re a pregnant mama, this Adjustable Bikini could do the trick. (Made in the USA.)

Honest CompanyIf you’re a baby, the Honest Company’s Washable Swim Diapers are my favorites. Faye’s all watermeloned up this year. (Responsibly made in China + Reusable.) Update: We recently discovered the adjustable Nageuret Swim Diaper and have been loving it for Silas; best part, it will grow with him!

Koru: Koru suits are made with recycled polyamide fabric—some of which is made from the leftovers of fishing net production. 

Lisa Marie FernandezSleek, chic, and sporty (and highly aspirational) this Garance Maillot has a fierce rear zipper. (Made in the USA.) Update: If sticker shock is not something you suffer from, this denim swimsuit is made of 66% cotton that will “wear over time like your favorite pair of jeans.”

Nanette Lepore: If you’re more daring in your swimsuit selection than I am, this Havana Tropical Seductress suit might be for you. (Made in the USA.) Update: Just as daring, and still in stock, this Peace Love One-Piece.

Patagonia: The Patagonia Kupala Bikini Top is made with a recycled nylon/spandex blend. I’d probably pair it with the Sunamee Bottoms in the same recycled fabric. Their Reversible Telu Bikini Bottoms and Tuhuata Bikini Tops are also tempting. All of these suits fall on the more affordable side of the spectrum. Update: Not all of these individual products are still available, but the Reversible Mamala Top and paired with the Reversible Telu Bikini Bottoms are solid options and all Patagonia swimwear is now all fair-trade certified.

Rachel Comey: I’m a huge fan of the entire Rachel Comey swim collection. If you’re looking for something cheery, the primary block print Coupe top and high-waisted Keena bikini bottoms are gorgeous. If you’re hoping for something more classic, the Dive and Callisto one-piece suits are A+. (Made in NYC.) Update: Individual styles have changed. This year’s Matriarch suit in canary is particularly great.

Undrest: Undrest’s Seychelles Strapless Maillot exudes old-school glamour and it’s on super sale. (Made in the USA.) Update: No longer available.

Plus a few more updates thanks to reader comments!:

Kore Wear: Lots of colorful and color-blocked options, but the halter one-piece Leto Maillot is my favorite of the bunch. Update: Lots more current styles right this way.

Nu Swim: Super sweet and minimal designs. I love their Straight Top and Basic High Bottoms. (Made in the USA.)

Seea: Retro-style one-pieces and bikinis abound, but their surf suits are particularly eye-catching for any surfing mamas out there. 

What’d I miss? Any other terrific swimsuits out there? And for curiosity’s sake: what’s your take? One-piece or two?

More posts on Growing a Minimalist Wardrobe, RIGHT HERE.

This post was updated in the summer of 2017 to reflect changes in stock and new styles.

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  • Reply Erin Van Genderen June 9, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    This is a great list, Erin. Thanks! I splurged on a (sale) Kore bikini last year – it's a small company, with swimwear made in California. This year, instead of purchasing new, I took my suits from last year and made a few repairs and alterations. The addition of a few beads, a new strap arrangement, and a stitch here and there makes all the difference!

    • Reply Erin June 9, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      Glad to know about Kore! I hear you on the strap rearrangement. I had a suit for years that fit so much better once I tacked the straps in a different place!

    • Reply admin June 9, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      Glad to know about Kore! I hear you on the strap rearrangement. I had a suit for years that fit so much better once I tacked the straps in a different place!

  • Reply omoriala June 9, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    I've owned the Patagonia Kupala top and Sunamee bottoms for several years now and they've both held up very well. The top is stylish but doesn't involve tying too many strings and since both pieces are made for more active wear, I don't have to worry about any "wardrobe malfunctions" (although I am very small busted). Excellent quality from an excellent sustainable company!

    • Reply Erin June 9, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      Glad to hear it! Much love for Patagonia, for sure!

    • Reply admin June 9, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      Glad to hear it! Much love for Patagonia, for sure!

  • Reply Kristyn | Laite Jewelry June 9, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Wonderful list! I don't think I realized how many great swimsuit brands are out there 🙂 I've really been loving Nu Swim lately:

    Super simple suits are my favorite. These are produced in CA, and the prices are fairly reasonable 🙂

    • Reply Erin June 9, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      Awesome! Thanks so much for mentioning Nu!

    • Reply admin June 9, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      Awesome! Thanks so much for mentioning Nu!

  • Reply rath June 9, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    Highly recommend Seea out of California.

    From their about page: "Committed to domestic production and sustainable design, Seea suits are a locally crafted, 100% Californian product, right down to the famous breaks they are named after. Even small details, like the hangtags, are vintage made and multi-use, printed by letterpress, and complete with a hair band for your next surf session."

    • Reply Erin June 9, 2015 at 2:43 pm

      Terrific! So glad for the introduction!

    • Reply admin June 9, 2015 at 2:43 pm

      Terrific! So glad for the introduction!

  • Reply Laura June 9, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    Great topic! I love your emphasis on sustainable clothing. Mollusk Surf Shop in California has lots of swimwear that is made in the USA.

  • Reply Ali @ Anything You Want June 9, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    I swim so infrequently that I also typically have only one good suit in my dresser (although I tend to hang on to old ones in case of a beach trip). I probably buy a new suit every 3 or 4 years. My recent acquisition (well, 2 years ago) is a navy and white polka dot bikini from J. Crew. I love some of the new one-pieces though that look modern without showing too much.

  • Reply Ana Mo Shoshin June 9, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    I wish I had this post last week, when I blindly bought some less than best quality suits. Oh well.

    What ever happened to the Tankini? I loved the ones that looked like a one piece, but was a tank and bottom. so practical, but you could also tan your belly.

  • Reply Lianne June 9, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    Faherty makes great, sustainable suits, and is run by good people. I got one of their two pieces (made from recyclable materials) at a sample sale a few months ago, which has come in handy this summer already

  • Reply Archana June 9, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    Thank you Erin. For all the research.

  • Reply Emily June 9, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    Karla Colletto Swimwear is amazing – extremely well made, italian fabrics, made in (of all places, Northern Virginia) and most of the suits have lots of built in support.

  • Reply Jen June 9, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    Any large busted ladies out there with suggestions?!

    • Reply Nikkiana June 9, 2015 at 9:07 pm

      I'd say Panache if you're larger busted. They use bra sizing with their swimsuit tops and go up to JJ-K.

    • Reply Joanna June 10, 2015 at 12:30 am

      Check out — you can shop swimwear by bra size.

    • Reply Jen June 10, 2015 at 7:49 pm

      Thanks Ladies!

  • Reply Minimalist Pinup June 10, 2015 at 11:11 am

    I´m also one-swimsuit-at-a-time kind of gal. Most likely because I do not swim that often so I really don´t see a point in owning many swimsuits. The one I have now is great, construction-wise but lost the colour too quickly. Anyone else have troubles finding a black swimsuit that will stay black (not dark-ish grey/black) for more than a season? 🙁

    • Reply Erin June 10, 2015 at 11:20 am

      I try to stave off fading by trying my best to rinse right after swimming in a pool and to dry out of direct sunshine!

    • Reply admin June 10, 2015 at 11:20 am

      I try to stave off fading by trying my best to rinse right after swimming in a pool and to dry out of direct sunshine!

    • Reply Minimalist Pinup June 10, 2015 at 3:40 pm

      Good tip, now that I think of it, I rarely do this, especially if I go to swimming pool, I try and rinse it but then it goes quickly into a plastic bag and it takes a couple of hours till I get home and have time to properly wash it. Well, the swimsuit is from Marks & Spencers (British high street brand) so I´m not sure whether I am right to be disappointed in the quickly fading colour or not…

  • Reply Kylie June 10, 2015 at 1:26 pm the peplums are amazing. and the owner is pretty rad too.

  • Reply heatherly June 10, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    I swear by Tara Grinna swim suits which are made in South Carolina They consistently make a variety of tops, bottoms and one piece suits in several prints and colours. Once you find a flattering style you can be sure that you will find it again in the future just in a different colour or print.

    I am large busted and my mother is not and we both have found styles to suit us.

    If you are ever down in Conway, SC (next to Myrtle Beach) be sure to stop in their store. The sales staff is lovely and will do your best to make you feel your best. Before I found them I hated swim suit season because I was so self conscious now it is just another well made outfit I own.

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