What Not to Wear

There was a time not long ago when people just swam naked. As George Borrow writes in The Romany Rye (published 1857):

Swimming, however, is not genteel; and the world—at least the genteel part of it—acts very wisely in setting its face against it; for to swim you must be naked, and how would many a genteel person look without his clothes?

“To swim, you must be naked.” Perhaps in some deep philosophical sense this is still true, but in the kind of places I swim, to swim, you must not be naked; you must wear a swimsuit, a tiny form-fitting garment manufactured of petroleum-based fabric.

Women’s swimsuits–that is, suits for adult women with mortgages and reading glasses–can be divided into two classes: those made for hanging around and those made for actual swimming. The ones for hanging around have skirts and ties and buckles; they have underwire and pads and ruching and all kinds of crazy things. You wear these for reading magazines and watching children, not for swimming. I once tried to do a lap of butterfly in a suit with a little skirt. It went poorly. A suit with a skirt is to an actual swimsuit as a Rose Bowl parade float is to an actual car: the float looks pretty, but it’s not going anywhere fast.

Suit from Splish.


The kind of swimsuit made for swimming is much simpler in construction, although they can still have some personality. For example, I bought myself a lovely Splish suit as a special treat. The pattern is called Tsunami.

Sadly, it lasted just two months before chlorine ate it. I wore it over another suit to extend its life a little, but it was all stretched out. I still covet the Splish suits, though (warning: they run big), and I’m thinking about getting another one for races.

If you swim a lot, you buy suits frequently. This is what I resent most about swimsuits; I would save a fortune if, like Burrows, I could swim naked. Sadly, swimming naked would almost certainly get me kicked out of my pool, and I could not bear it: I would be sadder than Dante, exiled from Florence, eating bread with salt.

If you are hoping to save some money but still get a quality suit that will last, I recommend the grab bag swimsuit. I have been buying them from SwimOutlet, but other retailers sell them too. The process works like this: you select a type and a size, and they send you a suit. Maybe it will be a hideous color. Maybe it will have a horrible and unflattering cut. But maybe it will be just fine, and why be so picky? You pay your money and you take your chances.


Captain American’s shield. Made of vibranium. Image from Wonder World Comics.

The most recent grab bag suit I bought was this one: Speedo Endurance Grab Bag Swimsuit (that link might not work forever: google “speedo endurance grab bag” and you should get lots of options). I was excited when I saw that it was available: the Speedo Endurance fabric wears like iron. I don’t know what it’s made of, but I suspect it’s polyester reinforced with vibranium, the (imaginary) material that makes Captain America’s shield.

Misty Hyman and I have the same swimsuit. Image from USMS.

It just so happens that SwimOutlet sent me a suit that looks a lot like Captain America’s shield; it’s just like the one Misty Hyman is wearing on a recent cover of SWIMMER magazine. Coincidence?

The Endurance suits are expensive at full price, but the grab bag suit sold for half that. It’s not a particularly attractive cut on me. But if I’m swimming fast enough, who can tell?

Do you have suggestions for what (not) to wear?

12 thoughts on “What Not to Wear

  1. Why not this ?
    The most comfortable seriousbusiness swimsuit I ever owned (to date) was a modified version of one for tri-athletes with nicely modest long shorts and actually sized properly through the rise and torso. All black. Looked not unlike a 1920s swim costume. Alas, the fabric didn’t hold up. Would buy one like it again in a heartbeat … provided it fit properly and worn like iron. Fit is really the key on any athletic gear as is understanding the sport for which it will be worn. The two-piece suits perfect for paddling may not be ideal for distance swimming. And those suits don’t work for surfing.
    At least that’s my experience.
    What about a custom suit?

    1. A custom suit would be nice, wouldn’t it? I like the Speedo Endurance fabric, but the suit is rough. I forgot my Body Glide yesterday, and I swam 13,500 yards at the pool: the suit ATE THROUGH my sides. I have impressive abrasions. Maybe any suit would have done it at that distance. Anyway, today I went out and bought two more sticks of the Body Glide so that I can have one in my locker and one in my lake bag all the time.

  2. White suits “loose coverage” faster.

    A “bathing suit” is the one for sitting by the pool with a magazine. A “swim suit” is for real.

  3. Damn chemo brain. I changed lose to loose because I had the image from your original post in my head, not because I was actually thinking….. The white suits become transparent.

    1. I’ve always avoided the white suit because of transparency, but the Splish one was fully lined in black. It lasted reasonably well, considering the amount of time I spend in the water.

      British people always look at me funny when I say “bathing suit.” I’ve been going for “swimsuit” instead. The Australians (and maybe others) call them “cozzies,” short for “swimming costume, ” I think.

  4. It seems the system ate the link in my original comment. Or can you edit so the photo shows? It would be so appropriate given your recent swimsuit experience.

    1. Hmm. I’m not seeing a link or a photo on my end. I’ve checked the settings, and the system shouldn’t have eaten it. Please try again–I’d like to see it.

      1. Sadly, what I really need are swimsuits that will last more than a month. But maybe for a special occasion.

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