The five key features of flattering swimwear

'The right swimwear goes a long way in boosting beach confidence – and now is the time to look for it,' writes Graddon
'The right swimwear goes a long way in boosting beach confidence – and now is the time to look for it,' writes Graddon

The last time I felt good in a swimsuit, I was on the coast of Cornwall and several months pregnant. My beach-ball stomach was wrapped in a high-cut one-piece. It’s amazing how liberated you feel when the pressure to have washboard abs is taken out of the equation.

A forthcoming holiday means I’ll be back in swimwear; however, things couldn’t feel more different. After two kids, my body has changed. And while I’ve mainly come to terms with the various different-shaped and -sized parts, the thought of getting them out on the beach is somewhat daunting. Not least because none of my swimsuits fits any more.

You don’t need to have had a baby to feel apprehensive about swimwear. Getting into your smalls in public is an undeniably vulnerable moment, especially when most of the year is spent covered up in jumpers and jeans. And despite body positivity being a popular talking point, the “beach body” ideal still abounds; social media is full of impossibly trim and toned celebrities and influencers in bikinis.

The right swimwear goes a long way in boosting beach confidence – and now is the time to look for it: “Swimwear has had a phenomenal start to the season, over 60 per cent up on last year,” says White Stuff’s trading director, Tracey Verghese. The brand’s signature Splash swimsuit (£45, White Stuff) sold out early in the season, but has happily just been restocked.

White Stuff
White Stuff

Control swimsuit, £45, White Stuff 

As for making the trying-on process smoother, “It’s easier to try on swimwear at home, rather than under the harsh lights and duress of a store’s changing room. Order a couple of sizes and styles from various brands and try everything on at once,” recommends Sarah Tomczak, the editor of Red magazine and a self-confessed swimwear obsessive.

I’m starting from scratch and hunting for a swimsuit that’s comfortable, supportive and stylish. Practical, too: holidaying with small children means plenty of action. Having consulted the experts – and tried on several cossies – these are the five features that guarantee feel-good swimwear.

Sculpting fabric

A saggy swimsuit is never going to make you feel good. Investing in quality fabric that holds its shape is not only flattering, it will last longer, too.

“High elastane content gives a great level of stretch and recovery, ensuring both comfort and durability,” says Lara Mead, the co-founder of Varley. The activewear brand uses 12 per cent elastane and four-way stretch to create its super-sculpting one-pieces (from £105, Varley). Styles are also lined – with light colours double-lined – to give good coverage (no nipple outlines here) and stop seams rubbing on your skin.

Textured top, £77, and bottoms, £69, Varley
Textured top, £77, and bottoms, £69, Varley

Textured top, £77, and bottoms, £69, Varley 

Paper London and Cossie + Co also major in flattering fabrics. The latter’s signature honeycomb fabric is made from recycled ocean plastics, has a mould-to-you fit and luxe matte finish. Use the helpful online fit guide to choose between chic yet practical silhouettes.

Honeycomb stretch bikini top, £75, and bottoms, £75, Cossie + Co
Honeycomb stretch bikini top, £75, and bottoms, £75, Cossie + Co

Honeycomb stretch bikini top, £75, and bottoms, £75, Cossie + Co 

You can find good fabrics on the high street. Boden’s bestselling Santorini swimsuit (£70, Boden) has a whopping 20 per cent elastane, comes fully lined and has boned side seams for extra support. If you’re looking for less structure, Arket’s sleek square-neck swimsuit (£57, Arket) is elastic enough to move when you do, then ping back into shape.

Halterneck swimsuit, £70, Boden
Halterneck swimsuit, £70, Boden

Halterneck swimsuit, £70, Boden 

Comfortable bust support

Whatever the size of your boobs, a supportive top is going to be confidence-enhancing. I spent my 20s in tiny triangle tops; however, now I need more scaffolding to keep things in place.

“Features that give the best support are the underwire, side boning and, most importantly, that you can buy your exact bra size,” says Tona Stell, the founder of Tona the Label, a swim brand specialising in larger busts (samples are based on a size 16 and FF cup). The brand’s tops (from £70, Tona the Label) come with adjustable straps and in a range of stylish designs that can be mixed and matched with briefs (£50, Tona the Label).

Bikini top, £85, and bottoms, £50, Tona the Label
Bikini top, £85, and bottoms, £50, Tona the Label

Bikini top, £85, and bottoms, £50, Tona the Label 

Don’t want to wear an underwire? Tomczak recommends the Classic Square Neck swimsuit from Australian label Une Piece (£209), which features the brand’s signature InvisiBust Support Technology: a fully lined, panelled bodice designed for a supportive and firm fit. With four sold every hour it’s a regular sell-out; however, it’s currently available in 10 colourways. Particularly lovely are the detachable bows, which give a girly or minimal look depending on your poolside preference.

Removable bows swimsuit, £229, Une Piece; Scallop plunge swimsuit, £35, Marks & Spencer
Removable bows swimsuit, £229, Une Piece; Scallop plunge swimsuit, £35, Marks & Spencer

Removable bows swimsuit, £229, Une Piece; Scallop plunge swimsuit, £35, Marks & Spencer 

Briefs with coverage

No one wants to spend their holiday hoiking swimwear out of their unmentionables, so pants with enough coverage are key. When going for a fuller brief, consider cut too: “A high-leg cut makes your legs look longer and provides the most flattering silhouette,” says Stell.

A peachy-bottomed friend of mine recommends J Crew’s classic full-coverage bikini briefs (£55, J Crew). The filters on the website allow you easily to search swimwear styles by coverage levels.

Hunza G has launched a coverage capsule which offers more modesty than its popular itsy-bitsy styles but still has the clean silhouettes and stretch-to-fit crinkle fabric the label is loved for. The Juno bikini has deeper sides to give extra hip coverage and better grip on your bottom (£175, Hunza G).

Crinkle bikini, £175, Hunza G
Crinkle bikini, £175, Hunza G

Crinkle bikini, £175, Hunza G 

If you have a flat behind like I do, medium coverage gives a perkier effect. Stay Wild Swim’s high-leg Nomad briefs (£70, Stay Wild Swim) have a cheeky cut but with enough coverage to ensure nothing is revealed when you flip over on the sun lounger. The British brand fits its swimwear on a variety of models to make sure each style fits and flatters in every size.

Hidden hold

After two Caesarean births, my lower stomach is slacker than it used to be – something I’d rather not feel self-conscious about on the beach. Just as shapewear has moved on from sausage-skin compression-levels, swimwear that offers hold has become more comfortable, too.

Marks & Spencer’s popular Magic 360 swimwear is a case in point. It features power mesh lining in the front and back, offering firm tummy control and a smooth silhouette. Coming in 49 styles, there’s a good selection to pick from. I tried on the brown and white Square Neck swimsuit (£29.50) and was impressed by how comfy and flattering it was.

If you’d rather a bikini, a high-waisted brief will offer hold and coverage. Ribbed fabrics tend to be a little sturdier to help you feel extra secure. A fellow fashion mum raves about Varley’s Camilla ribbed briefs (£70). Hush’s swimwear is among the best quality on the high street. Have a look at the belly button-grazing Harper ribbed bikini bottoms (£45), which make a chic set with the bestselling Chloe top (£49, Hush).

Ribbed bikini top, £49, and bottoms, £45, Hush
Ribbed bikini top, £49, and bottoms, £45, Hush

Ribbed bikini top, £49, and bottoms, £45, Hush 

Versatile colourway

Pick a versatile colourway and you’ll be wearing your swimwear for years to come. Black is a classic, but if you want to branch out, navy, olive and brown are easy-to-wear alternatives.

However, it’s not all about neutrals. Swimwear is a great opportunity to have fun with sunshine shades. “A block colour in a simple shape feels fresh – Cossie + Co’s Citron and Summer Blue are especially great,” says Tomczak.

Cotton shirt, £69, and trousers, £69, Whistles
Cotton shirt, £69, and trousers, £69, Whistles

Cotton shirt, £69, and trousers, £69, Whistles 

If you’re going for print, timeless motifs (gingham, stripe, ditsy) in a limited palette will still work with your cover-ups. Speaking of which, Whistles’ striped shirt and trousers (both £69, Whistles) can go from pool to lunch. Wrap up in With Nothing Underneath’s hemp sarong (£75) when nipping for an ice cream, adding a co-ordinating shirt for beach bar cocktails.

Cotton linen blend sarong, £75, With Nothing Underneath
Cotton linen blend sarong, £75, With Nothing Underneath

Cotton linen blend sarong, £75, With Nothing Underneath