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Choosing a legsuit

Who knew there was so much choice in swimsuits?

Maine swimsuit

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.

Shock Absorber Shock Absorber back

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.

Speedo Myrtle legsuit

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.    

Back designs

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.

Zoggs TorquayZoggs Torquay back view

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.

Speedo Xylia Full CoverageSpeedo Xylia back view

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). 

Zoggs Lynton legsuitZoggs Lynton back

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. 

Speedo Hydrafit 1-Piece

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.

Speedo Hydrafit legsuitSpeedo Hydrafit legsuit back

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.

Speedo Winner Clipback legsuitSpeedo Winner Clipback legsuit back

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. 

Aquasphere combishortMaru Pro T Legged Suit

Speedo Superiority legsuitYou can find these costumes at: 

Wiggle.co.uk

UK Swimstore

Simply Swim, who also do handy videos on YouTube.  

Monochrome beachwear

For maximum versatility on the beach or in town, the over-40s babe could think about a monochrome scheme this summer.

damart dresses

As aforementioned, once you hit 40, summer dressing can turn into a total nightmare. While most of us look pretty OK swathed in sweaters, manufacturers desert the average woman entirely come summer and produce a plethora of skimpy, low-cut, short bits of nothing that only look good on a 16-year-old.

There's also the tricky issue of colour. Most women's go-to colour is black and black clothing accounts for 76 per cent of all women's clothing sold in the UK, but in the harsh light of summer, it looks a bit dreary to say the least and not everyone wants to dress in screaming shades of pink, blue and yellow as an alternative. Meanwhile, the manufacturers churn out black shift dresses all summer as if we all worked in law firms.

The freshest colour for summer is undoubtedly white, but it takes a brave soul to dress in white from head to foot and it's hardly the most practical colour if you're climbing in and out of cars or public transport or pelting along the UK's crowded, dusty streets.

Monochrome schemes, however - mixing black and white - look as good in town as at the seaside, so if you stick to black and white for your beachwear this winter, when you get back you can continue to wear the clothes throughout the British summer, if it ever arrives. 

shrugThe combination of black and white always looks crisp, which is important when you're wilting like limp celery. You can go for the more formal combinations of block colour and trad patterns like stripes and spots, or alternatively choose florals - or even both: as long as the colour scheme remains monochrome, all the patterns will tie together. Once you've pulled together your basic wardrobe, you can add accessories in any colour you like to make things ever-more summery.

Flicking through the Damart catalogue recently, I noticed how quickly you can build a wardrobe from their offerings of black and white clothes this year, and the prices are very reasonable. Therefore all the pix shown are Damart, but you can probably get this look from any high street store. 

monochrome skirtsI was very taken with the two-pack of dresses above, and the matching two pack of skirts (left), each with one plain black and one monochrome floral. They are all in pull-on cotton jersey for maximum ease of use (and no ironing) and the floral pattern will hide a bit of salt and sand as easily as city dirt. Add in both the black and white versions of this little cotton jersey shrug (above) with its cute fluted sleeve and that gives you many interchangeable outfits. It's good to see a shrug that's suited for daytime use and not just evening.  

swimsuitdamart swimdressCleverly, Damart have also produced a matching swimdress, which means you can simply pull on the floral skirt over the swimdress to be covered for the walk back to the hotel. Or you could try this swimsuit instead, which is toning rather than an exact match. It offers slightly less coverage but a different neckline. 

This reversible skirt is also worth looking at - floral one side, diagonal striped on the other. damart reversible skirtreversible skirtI love reversible clothes when I'm packing and can't take much and although this skirt design doesn't exactly set the world alight, it looks very wearable with a simple tee or short blouse. 

This bias-cut floral dress (below) is very simple and flattering, with a skimming cut that feels comfy in the heat and the diagonal pattern making you look slimmer. Again, it can be dressed up with cardis and shrugs for a different look.  Damart maxi dressbias-cut dressAnd for evening or lounging around, this colour-blocked maxi dress is fabulous, if you have the height to carry it off.  

Add in a couple of pairs of jeans or trousers in white and black, and that's your summer wardrobe pretty much taken care of, and if you want a bit of colour, add in some accessories in red, blue, aqua, gold or whatever other colour takes your fancy.

Have fun on the beach.

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The swimdress - another beach alternative for women over 40

Further to my article on swimwear I found these babies the other day - swimdresses

Wearing a tankini, high-waist bottoms and a swimskirt is a great chop-and-change option for the beach, but if you can only pack one cossie and you like a bit of cover, you could think about a swimdress. As you can see, a swimdress is a more forgiving alternative to a swimsuit, and if you pick your design right, you can have rather looser coverage than wearing a swimskirt - useful if you've got tummy issues.

Somewhere in my heart I knew these things must still exist (I remember my mother wearing one back in the 60s), but it took me a while to find them.

blog imageblog imageblog imageWith a swimdress, you get what you pay for, as with any other costume. Those from Sears (sadly not available in Europe) are at the cheaper end of the market. Sears has numerous designs of swimdresses (I count 24, plus another 10 or so from sister company KMart), offering different features. Some have moulded cups while others have a shelf bra: you can choose ruffles, thick straps, thin straps, tie fronts, halternecks, backless and bandeau. Those that aren't empire-waisted have vertical princess seams and a sewn-in brief. Prices (for the KMart range) start at just under $25. The regular size is US 8, 10, 12 and there's also a plus-size range.

This batik suit (far left) is the type with a separate tank underneath an empire waist overlayer. There's a string tie in the front, the cups are moulded and there is bead trim on the straps. The tank suit underneath has a mesh panel across the midsection for better ventilation, which strikes me as a great idea, given that you're wearing two layers. Sadly, the size range is limited to US sizes 8, 10 and 12. But at $54.60 it's a bargain.

This floral number (middle left) is one of the plus-size models, available in 18W and 20W. It has vertical princess seams and a sewn-in brief rather than two layers and costs the same price - $54.60. My personal fave though is this halter-neck swimdress (left) with contrast bust section (great for women who are small on top but heavier on their lower half) and loose, floaty plain skirt. $47.60.

Best of all at Sears, the firm is linked with My Virtual Model, so you can log on via the Sears site and dress your actual figure in one of these suits to see what it looks like.

blog imageblog imageblog imageIf you've got deeper pockets, check out Orvis, which also has a range of swimdresses, with nicer styling and more features than the Sears dresses, averaging about $90 a pop. This floral one (right) has a faux sarong skirt, which is a very feminine option, a built-in softcup bra and adjustable straps. Many of their models have a built-in tummy control panel, including this soft green and brown batik option (middle right). My favourite, though, is this v-neck version, where the thick straps balance the flirty skirt (far right).

blog imageblog imagePriced in between the two are suits from Spiegel, which offers about 15 designs of swimdress for the mid-70s of dollars, but are currently on sale for about $55. They include moulded cups and power-mesh tummy- and butt-smoothers and some interesting designs, such as this contrast-border black one (far left). Crucially, for British readers, Spiegel will ship to the UK. For more US offerings, check out NexTag.

We Yurrupeans seem to get a bit short-changed generally when it comes to swimdresses, and they are much more expensive. The UK version of Orvis offers the same swimdresses as the US company but for TWICE THE PRICE. The best is this one from Miraclesuit (left), which offers all the usual Miraclesuit goodies, is 32 per cent lycra, so will suck you in, in all the right places, and promises to take 10 pounds off you, but at the moment it's out of stock.

But why, I ask you, should we pay twice the price for the same bloody thing anyway? Log onto Spiegel, or get yourself an American friend instead.

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Swimsuits for the over-40s babe

If you've got a great figure that you're proud to show off, read no further, but if you've got anything to hide, read on...

Swimsuits are one of those things that many women over 40 loathe buying. Trying the things on, under unflattering lighting or in crowded changing rooms can be sheer purgatory, and if you don't try it on, then get the thing home and find it's not right, that's even more annoying.

As you get older, and probably a bit saggier, a swimsuit needs to do more for you than the old micro-bikini, but the good news is there are some great designs on the market that take real women's shapes into account.

When looking for a suit, there are several things to bear in mind.

1 The higher the lycra content, the better - the more the suit will hold you in. Ten years ago, most suits had about 8-10 per cent lycra, but now the high-end suits have 23-45 per cent. You do, of course, have to pay more for this, but if your swimsuit is something people are going to see you in, you may as well make the most of yourself. Check the label for the lycra content.

blog imageblog image2 Get one with a proper bra - either shelf or underwire - and with moulded cups if you like them. It does wonders for your shape. This MiracleBra tankini (right) from Victoria's Secret has underwires and even removable padding.

3 Colour can be your friend. Although black is the most slimming option, it can look a little harsh, and a bright colour is often more flattering, especially if you're pale.

4 Pattern breaks up your outline more than a solid - the bigger the better. Look out too for slimming central panels.

5 Separates will give you more options than a one-piece, and allow you to chop and change your look. It's especially useful if your rear end is bigger than your bust (something that plagues most of us), as you can buy the two halves in different sizes. If you like bikinis, the sky's the limit, but if you prefer a one-piece look, tankinis are a great option. It's an old-fashioned idea that the two halves have to match, so just chop and change according to your whim.

6 Don't forget the swimskirt. Swimskirts are great for covering up that fat bit of thigh a lot of us are sensitive about, but they tend to rest on your hips, so if you're sensitive about a flabby tummy too, you need either a swimsuit or tank underneath. Swimskirts come in all kinds of designs, from split to tennis-type to asymmetric. They also allow you to ring the changes - a couple of tankinis and two different bottom halves gives you four different outfits for a beach holiday - but add a swimskirt and that's eight different outfits.

blog image7 A good beach cover-up is worth its weight. Although you may be comfortable lying on the sand in next to nothing, for getting to and from the beach or the pool, or sitting in the icecream parlour, a cover-up preserves your dignity a bit. It's best to get a specialist one, designed to cope with salt and sun and chlorine, rather than make do with an old cotton sarong that retains the damp and fades in the sun. Modern microfibres dry in minutes and are incredibly useful - or try poly chiffon. This yellow halter version is from Victoria's Secret.

There are some great companies online offering swimsuits. Figleaves stocks the a wide range of swimsuits by great bra makers, including Freya, Fantaisie, Ballet and Triumph. All offer degrees of control from light to firm, different necklines and various types of breast support from moulded cups to underwires. Triumph's Doreen swimsuit offers the same support as the superb Doreen bra.

Another great company, perhaps surprisingly, is Victoria's Secret. Victoria's Secret may sell extremely sexy underwear, but they understand the female shape.

blog imageThe Magicsuit range for Victoria's Secret is a range of solids in dark shades like black, chocolate, burgundy and blue. Magicsuits comes in medium or firm control that promise to take ten pounds off you and offer overskirts that can be worn in the water. Calvin Klein (see right) also offers a couple of overskirts that match its tops in solids like black, brown and magenta.

Victoria's Secret's Miraclebra range, however, is fabulous - offering excellent breast support in half a dozen different styles, including halter. As well as bra tops you can buy tankinis, including in longer length, and different styles of bottoms, from Brazilian to full boxer shorts. Crucially, the range includes a high-waist bottom that comes up to your bellybutton and holds you in properly, which goes brilliantly with a contrasting tank. The Miraclebra range also includes overskirts that you can wear in the water, which effectively lengthens your suit into a skirted suit. With five different prints, matched to five different solids, the range gives you a fantastic range of offerings for a two-week beach holiday.

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