The Fat Girl’s Guide to Figure-Flattering Swimwear

27 May 10 - Plus-Size Fashion, Sports + Recreation - Angela - 21 Comments

This season's best swimsuit trends for every plus-size body

Look your best in a suit that both fits and flatters (image by BigGirlBlue)

The arrival of Memorial Day weekend means summer is finally here, bringing with it the hum of air conditioners, an ice cream sweet tooth, the overwhelming urge to run through sprinklers, and (deep breath, ladies) the return of swimsuit season.

Before you hit the eject button on this post and go back to poring over post mortem on “Lost” or debating/defending last night’s “American Idol” results, hang with us for a moment. Here at FGG, we know only too well how the second-skin cling of a bathing suit (coupled, of course, by the awkward necessity of shedding one’s clothes or cover-ups at some point to reveal said suit) can be kryptonite for even the most together girl. And yet, the brave ones among us have learned that feeling confident and attractive makes swimming, soaking, sunning and splashing infinitely much more appealing. Don’t think it’s possible? Whether you’ve previously rocked a swimdress, a classic tank, separates, or an “all my clothes and. . . this towel, thanks!” ensemble, we’ve culled through this season’s most fabulous styles to tempt you with amazing looks for your individual figure. So grab your waterproof sunscreen and a cool drink — surfing for your next suit begins right here.

To swim skirt or not to swim skirt

My best friend and I have debated this topic for years: She’s always been vehemently anti-skirt and, until recently, I wouldn’t set foot in public without one. There’s a lot to love about swim dresses on dry land — they drape nicely, give us a little more coverage and security, and they can make us look hot. But once it becomes waterlogged or begins floating up around your armpits, the skirt grows cumbersome. For me, it got to the point where I loathed my swim dresses and begrudged their extended drying time and refusal to stay under the water when I swam; at the same time, I clung to the notion that the skirt somehow rendered my butt and thighs invisible.

Although I can’t swear I’ll never find myself back in a swim dress, I have made some semblance of peace with my more-than-ample bottom by wearing a one-piece that fully covers me and doesn’t ride too high on my thighs. I’m also enamored with the idea of throwing on a pair of board shorts for romping around in Lake Huron during my summer vacay. (Lighter weight swim shorts bunch too much when I move; I need a more solid material, but your mileage will no doubt vary.)

If you’re not comfortable shedding the skirt — or if you love the way a dress looks and don’t spend as much time in the water — don’t resign yourself to solid, basic black. The possibilities for adorable swim dresses are nearly endless, so let your flirty or colorful side come out and choose something that fits your personality or still allows you to get in the water and move.

Waist-whittling swimsuit styles

Girls with thicker tummies and fewer hip curves are perfect candidates for the tankini style, which often allows you to mix and match bottom and top sizes, colors and styles to find the look that’s best. For an up-to-the-minute look, look for bright splashes of color on a cut that doesn’t cling to the belly but still has a shape to it. Many suits (including some tankini bottoms) will include tummy control panels or a higher percentage of Lycra/spandex to help provide control.

Other ideas for minimizing your midsection: select a one-piece design that visually elongates your body or contours your waist through stripes, color blocks or piping. Or try suits that add shirring or ruching to create the illusion of a more defined waist while disguising lumps; this is trickier, because the right design will be slimming while the wrong one will add bulk.

Pear-shaped swimwear possibilities

If you’re used to hiding in basic, solid colors, consider a daring change of pace and try another one of this season’s hot trends: graphic prints. Paired with a solid, dark-colored bottom, an attractive print on top works beautifully for girls looking to downplay their hips and butt. Whether employed on a tankini top or just the upper portion of a one-piece, prints draw the eye upward and away from your heavier areas.

An eye-catching neckline can also help focus attention on your assets — think shoulders, neck, cleavage and maybe even a collarbone. Deep V-neck styles are big right now, so be bold and flaunt a bit up top while your bottom stays comfortably covered.

Suits for babes with big busts

The “shelf” bra included in many swimsuits doesn’t cut it when you’ve got a larger chest (especially one that requires some additional help to stave off gravity). That’s why girls with big busts (D-cup or above) do well with higher necklines and more support, including underwires. It may seem like a bummer to wear a wire on the beach, but the structure improves your entire appearance by keeping all your parts in their right places and your silhouette sexy. And no one says you have to sacrifice style for support.

In addition, busty babes should look for wide-set shoulder straps that are thicker (avoid spaghetti straps and tube/bandeau tops) and form an ‘X’ or ‘T’ in back, rather than a ‘U’ shape. Halter necklines are often great for larger chests, as well, because they can be adjusted to create more support.

Swimwear for hourglass figures

Retro fashions are everywhere this season, and we think they’re a perfect match for the classic hourglass figure. Don’t be put off by the curve-hugging cuts — or some of our shopping suggestions (they’re available in 2X. . . how could we resist?). If you’ve got a fairly balanced bust-to-hip ratio, these suits are designed to flatter plus-sized bodies like yours. Embrace your curves and have some fun with your figure this summer. After all, these looks were good enough for Marilyn, right?

Roll call: where to buy plus-sized swimwear

We’ve linked to a number of different sources and examples in this Guide, but for a handy-dandy CliffsNotes list, we’ve found great suits over the years at the following retailers:

No matter your swimsuit size, classics are always in style

It’s important to keep in mind that trends come and go, but the basics of bathing suit fitting never go out of style. It’s well and good for a suit to look cute when you’ve arranged your body into it just right and posed in the mirror, but that’s not real life. Be sure to put your prospective suit through a full-on movement test before taking the plunge; you should be able to walk, bend, stretch, sit, twist and complete any other beachy activities without the suit gapping, pinching (especially at the legs) or requiring tugging or readjustment. And don’t forget a boob test — lean forward and shake the girls around to make sure the neckline is appropriate and the bra keeps you in place.

Finally, remember that guidelines aren’t carved in stone and won’t work for every person. Ultimately,  you have to choose the look and style that makes you most comfortable. After all, the trendiest bathing suit in the world won’t do a bit of good if it stays in your drawer all summer.

Readers: the floor – or should we say pool deck – is yours. Tell us about your “perfect for me” suit — including where you found it. Share the styles that have you excited this season, or clue us in on a store we might have missed.

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Ann says:

Elomi sells a swim bra for those of us who have very large breasts. The bra is worn under swimsuits. They can be found at

Hi, Neat post. There’s a problem along with your site in web explorer, may test this? IE still is the market chief and a huge part of people will miss your great writing due to this problem.

fatso says:

im looking for something pretty that goes down to my knees to cover eveything! i guess they dont make such a thing.

Arndew says:

Many girls don’t seem to understand this, but having bigger hips and a noticeable butt is quite attractive. Before you say it, no not just for black people.

anjie says:

thanks for the links! I did a search for swimwear for fat old ladies and found you…………..I also have the trouble with swim skirts floating up…….. I wish I knew a way around that , they do hide the middle aged spread but……… what a pain, looking to buy one now thanks for the guide and the leads

This is so important:

“Be sure to put your prospective suit through a full-on movement test”

I’ve made the huge mistake of not testing a suit, and it was a disaster.

I have such a hard time choosing plus size bathing suits, thanks so much for these suggestions.

CJ says:

But what about those of us with huge thighs? I guess shorts are the only option, but they’re in short supply in my country this season :(

Barb in Minn. says:

I love suits from H2Owear.
They’re meant for water exercise, so designed to hold everything in nicely. Sizing up to 32 in some styles.
My only complaint is that they’re not kidding about the warranty — the darn thing refuses to wear out so I don’t have excuse to buy another.

Tracy says:

I know I’m coming in late on this one, but I just have to say I LOVE THIS BLOG. Since subscribing, I’ve learned so much, and while I will continue to try to lose weight through healthful eating and exercise, I am coming to terms with my size. I’ve never been a small girl, but I’m okay with that.

Anyway, I’m posting this comment on this post specifically because I finally decided to get a swimsuit that flatters me, and at JCPenney I found the CUTEST swimdress! My husband has always hated those, but I LOVED IT the minute I tried it on, so I bought it anyway, and guess what? He loves it, too. I have a pear shape, with a slender waist. Plus, I have two year old twins and have the dreaded “twin skin” to battle as well as a larger lower belly after pregnancy. Anyway, the swim dress is in an adorable print that completely hides these features, yet flatters my boobs (which are still hanging in there, pardon the pun) and my waist.

I would NEVER have considered a swim dress were it not for this post, so THANK YOU. Keep up the great work to all of the contributors!

Una says:

As much as halter might look good, and give your bust support, I find that a halter and big breasts usually just ends up as neck pain.

Personally, I find spaghetti straps more comfortable than carrying 20 lbs around my neck.

Plus Style says:

Loved your article – but I would suggest that you might want to give the swimdress another chance – has a some super cute plus size swim mini dresses in colors and prints that are trendy and fun. Ruching through the midsection helps to camoflauge the belly while the short kicky skirt is just right for the gracefully covering the upper thighs.

Erin says:

Just bought a suit from lands end website today, cant wait to try it on!

RB says:

Thank you so much for this! It’s a great resource, and I just used it to find a couple of one pieces that I think will fit and flatter me more than the tankini/board short combination I wore all last summer.

I wear a G cup bra, and I find it extremely difficult to squeeze my breasts into most swimsuits, even the ones that are designed for “D cup and above” (which, in my experience, really means “D cup to DD cup, no larger please”) The reviews on many of these sites are extremely helpful for figuring out which pieces will accommodate me, and I’d urge anyone who buys anything from these sites to leave a review of their own once it’s delivered!

Toni says:

Angela, I found this guide so useful, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a wide variety in plus-size swimwear until this season. It’s a welcome change! I needed a suit and ordered a tankini from Avenue that I’d never have found without your article (though the pinup girl ones sorely tempted me), so thanks!

gwen says:

That’s a good point about the water aerobics: I stay away from outdoor jogging partially because I end up turning my ankle/landing weird and having pain later when I do it.

Cat says:

Great timing- I need something to wear to the pool!