06 Jul 2012
Who knew there was so much choice in swimsuits?
I decided to invest in some new swimwear the other day. Who knew that would be so complicated?
I used to be a keen swimmer at school, and even swam competitively for a time, but like many things in my life, puberty put a stop to that. However, given that the menopause means that my days of being confined to bed for one to two weeks a month with crippling period pain are over, I have been able to take up swimming again. I started about 18 months ago and from my initial four lengths once a week, have worked up to 20 lengths twice a week and am about to add in a third session, plus a summer aquagym, so having the right gear is now something I feel entitled to splurge on a little.
For the past year and a half, I've been making do with two costumes I picked up cheap on Ebay - the bog-standard racerback from Maine at top left, which is a size 14 and comfy, but which has no bust support and is now threadbare with age - and this Shock Absorber, sized by bust size (36C), which is a great bust fit and highly supportive, but which leaves me feeling too exposed by the 'vault' back. With age, this cossie too is starting to bag a little at the lower back, where it can least afford to - something I felt somewhat on Sunday when I, the only woman, got out of a jacuzzi packed with blokes and felt my cossie give way.
When I swim, I should point out, I'm not trying to look sexy. Although I want a costume that is reasonably flattering - and my whole body is firming up nicely, thank you - I'm there to exercise, not show off. My suit has to work efficiently in the pool, giving me freedom to move as I alternate breaststroke and backstroke but I also want enough coverage that I'm not constantly pulling myself about (it's also pretty cold at the pool in winter, so a bit more coverage is very welcome for that reason too). When it comes to colour, I hate patterns and prefer black with some contrast detailing - like almost all the women at the pool, as it happens. And I'm not a competition swimmer, so I don't need fancy tech.
This time round, thinking more about design than about budget for once, I fancied giving a legsuit a try. I've never worn one of these, but they look like a really practical option and on investigation I find, in fact, that Speedo's Myrtle legsuit (left) is one of the best-selling costumes in the UK, which tells you something about real women's needs for swimming, as opposed to posing on the beach.
Legsuits come with different length legs, even down to the ankles, but I only wanted just enough to cover the tops of my thighs - a 'boyshort' length. Besides, I'm not sure that a long-leg suit wouldn't be banned in a French swimming pool under the 'clothing' rule. A woman of my acquaintance was told off last week for having her toddler in a swimshirt and long leggings, and women have been banned for wearing burkinis - the French take this kind of thing very seriously.
Spoilt for choice
When it came to choosing my new suits (I decided to get half a dozen, to reduce wear on each), my first problem was that there was WAY too much choice. Things have come on a long way since I last swam regularly in the 1980s. Who knew there were so many types of costumes? What about different brands and different materials? Why are the back designs so different and what do they mean? Why is the pricing so different?
I quickly found that generally, there is a reason that brands like Speedo and Jantzen are so well thought of for their quality and consistency over the years. Newer brands like Tyr, Maru and Zoggs are also rated, while Slazenger - though familiar to me from childhood - is generally thought to be a bit rubbish. I'm only a recreational swimmer so there was no need for me to go above 50 quid for a costume, but nor did it seem wise to go below about £30 (before discounts) in order to ensure quality, as costumes so quickly deteriorate in their harsh environment. About £33-£35 seems a reasonable guide price for a suit, though you can get them cheaper (as I did) in sales and on Ebay.
The back designs, I discovered, are to enable fit (Simply Swim's website is a godsend for info). You need a gap at the small of the back to have a closer fit, but this is of greatest concern to competition swimmers who are trying to eliminate drag. When it comes to the straps, a racer or crossback gives you more freedom of arm movement and ensures that a suit won't slip off your shoulders, while adjustable bra-type straps enable a better fit on the bust.
Duly armed with a bit more info, I got myself this super Zoggs costume, the Torquay, from Wiggle.com. It's in navy rather than black, which is no longer available, but otherwise it has all the elements I'm looking for: a boyshort leg, shelf bra, a very small gap at the back, racer-back straps and no clips, rings or other paraphernalia to dick around with. Although I am between sizes, on advice from other buyers, I got it in a 12, going on my bust size, which should make it good and tight.
Gerbilling away at the back of my mind was a favourite costume I once had, which had a high neck with a zip front, rather like a wetsuit. I've never had a cossie so comfortable before or since, but could I find this style anywhere? There were plenty of similar suits with zip backs, but I already need help to do up the clip on the Shock Absorber cossie (when my friend E isn't swimming with me, I've had to get strangers to do it), and they don't look much like you could do them up by yourself. These back-zip cossies also universally lack bust support because they are designed to create a cleaner line for competitive swimming, and it's all very well suppressing your pert teenage size As, but when you're a saggy C just swimming for fitness, you want a bit of support, not just compression.
However, at UKSwimstore.com, I finally found a near-perfect version of my old costume - this Xylia Full Coverage from Speedo. It has a high neck, a high solid back, a low leg (so no need to get out the hedge trimmers) and the zip front I was looking for, but crucially, it also has bust support built-in. Yippee, so that went into my shopping trolley.
Since UK Swimstore offer flat-rate shipping to international destinations, it seemed sensible at the same time to get a swimskirt to extend the life of my existing costumes (and in case in some other world I ever find myself on a beach), so I got a 40cm-long Bohn version in black in a 14, which will go with everything. Bohn is a make devised by the owner of the UKSwimstore, Sarah Bohn, and includes long leggings and swimshirts (she has a lot of Muslim clients but also women with scarring, young mums, etc, who want a bit more coverage).
While on the site, I spotted another legsuit I'd been looking at elsewhere but had only found in too-large sizes - the Zoggs Lynton. I really like the go-faster patterning on this, which is very flattering, and although the back gap is larger than that on the Torquay, overall I like the design more. I had to get it in a 14, as a 12 was unavailable, but since I'm really a 13, I figure it will do for fat days or in winter when I tend to pork up. Note also, the much shorter boyshort length compared with the leg on the Torquay suit.
Alongside it I bought a conventional cossie, because this might be useful for hot weather and also just because I thought it was the most beautiful design - the Speedo Hydrafit 1-piece, which comes in the firm's proprietary Endurance fabric, which is meant to be extra-long-lasting. Also available in a legsuit (see below), the Hydrafit 1-piece has a medium leg and subtle detailing, with a crossover mesh front, mesh insert detail and vertical bust seaming. Again it has a built-in shelf bra, and the crossover back and small back gap give coverage but complete freedom of movement.
I thought that was my buying spree over, but then, long after I'd bought all the other suits, I decided on a couple more legsuits simply because the models were being discontinued. Swimsuits are as subject to fashion as any other kind of clothing, unfortunately, and I didn't want to be kicking myself in six months time.
I went for the legsuit version of the Hydrafit, in a black and 'smoke' colourway to ring the changes. The legsuit has a camisole-style top, and although you can't see it in the photograph, the bust design is also different. And my final choice was the Speedo Winner Clipback (below), for its v-neck, very slimming design and pretty back shape, though I daresay I might need help doing up that clip. I was sold on this latter suit by the owner of UK Swimstore saying that she wears this herself, but I actually bought this and the Hydrafit legsuit from Simply Swim (it was out of stock on UK Swimstore).
Other suits that I looked at included the Maru Pro T legsuit, which has longer legs and really beautiful detailing, but I'm not brave enough for this yet as it has a very naked back; Aqua Sphere's Combishort; and the Superiority legsuit from Speedo.
So, phew, that's a serious investment in kit, but I know it will all get worn - and worn to shreds - and I feel pretty good about it as it shows I'm taking myself seriously in the pool. Because of the bust support, the legsuits, btw, are not only suitable for aquagym but also the normal gym, and kayaking, so I may find myself wearing them on other occasions too.
One last thing: before I clicked to pay, I contacted UK Swimstore and asked about sizing and they suggested I buy the Xylia and the Hydrafit in a 12 to be on the safe side. Kudos to them for good customer service - they got back to me in a few minutes and even went as far as measuring a member of staff to ensure I got the right fit. They were right, too - when the Speedo costumes turned up, they were so very stretchy I could possibly have even got away with a 10.
And all vendors were highly efficient, despatching one day after order and my UK Swimstore cossies, ordered on the fourth, turned up on the seventh - an unheard-of speed for postage to France.
You can find these costumes at:
Simply Swim, who also do handy videos on YouTube.