Whether you’re heading to a seasonal pool party or packing for a tropical vacation, you may be looking at your old bathing suits thinking: ‘these look roughed up! It’s time for an upgrade!’ On the one hand you have an excuse to pick the latest styles and unique offerings at swimwear stores. On the other hand you may want something timeless, and classy.
Afterall, who doesn’t want to be the mysterious, elegant beauty behind those giant shades, hiding beneath her wide-brimmed sun hat? You know the look. You know the woman. She’s the one we notice; how does she look so good, yet so comfortable?
It all starts with planning, and choosing your beachwear with the right tastes in mind.
In this article, we’ll discuss tips to achieve the classy and elegant look for the beach and poolside.
Show less skin; focus on fabric with vintage-style swimsuits
It may not be the 1950s or ‘60s anymore, but vintage-style bathing suits are still available on the market. And, they can look so cute, not to mention fabulous. Anyone can pull off a vintage-style bathing suit. They come in one-piece and two-piece, with skirts and all. They are wonderful when you want to hide bulges, since they tuck in your ‘loose’ parts to make you look shapely and contoured.
There are a few key elements to look for in a vintage bathing suit vs a modern bathing suit:
Ruched (scrunched) and folded (twisted) fabric. This gives the bathing suit texture and focus. It also helps to hide body parts we don’t want people to look at. On the breasts, the twists can provide a bit of lift.
High waistlines and hip coverage. The signature mark of the retro bikini is that its bottoms always cover around the hips and down to the start of the leg line, like a boyshort or boyfriend brief underwear. Two-piece bottoms always have a high waist that covers the belly button. They may even look more like high-waisted shorts, in some versions.
Shape, structure and support - retro bathing suits usually provide good shape and support. They feel like wearing a cupped bra and corset. Though nowadays, you can get that structure without uncomfortable, immovable wires. They are also made for getting wet, and they dry more quickly than actual lingerie.
Halter top straps and necklines. These bathing suits often hold up your top portion by wrapping around the back of your neck. Sometimes they require tying a bow to hold them in place, which can be decorative.
Low-key patterns and ‘traditional’ solid colours. Many vintage bathing suits use a plaid, stripe or simple, solid colour in darker-spectrum shades and tones (think: ‘tablecloth’ red, sailor blue, salmon pink, etc. and not neons). The creativity of their design is subtly seen in the twisted folds and ruched scrunches noted above. Or, they use a minimalistic pattern. Bright yellows, oranges, greens or Hawaiian flower designs are not typical of this look.
Little to no jewelry for simplicity, and being ready for a swim
Oversized beach jewelry can look nice, if you’re going for that ‘boho chic’ or Mauri, Aztec and Native Indian style. The geometric shapes, beads and knots can work well in those cases. But they don’t ‘fit’ when you’re trying to achieve the classic, retro, “Monroe” look from old, black-and-white movies. When seeking elegance, less is always more.
On the practical side, large jewelry would be hard to swim in (or they could degrade in water). They can also ruin a tan line (though - tanning is dangerous, so be careful with sun exposure regardless!).
When it comes to fashion considerations alone, they can draw in all the focus, which can overstate their importance in an outfit. Since we’re going for the ‘posh’ look, we are purposely trying to keep all things understated (but still noticeable).
Cover up with breathy linens and cotton whites for being in the sun
Beach kimonos, kaftans, shawls and long shirts (also called ‘cover ups’) can come in many styles. They can be embroidered crochet, polyester lace, translucent chiffon, cotton, trimmed with tassels, open-front or tunic designs and more. They can also be transformed into maxi wrap skirts (sarongs) and dresses, especially when they tie around the waist or chest.
Many of these dress-alternatives can fall in the ‘elegant’ category, depending on personal taste. Though, admittedly, many would look a lot more ‘boho’ and ‘tribal.’ So, below are a few tips to be able to wear these, and still look opulent:
Detail is ok, but not too much detail. Avoid strappy, stringy and overly-ragged styles. Extravagant flares or ruffles may also be too ‘loud.’ Some macrame and woven skirts with tassels can be beautiful for this look, but it depends on how they are matched with the rest of your outfit. One ‘statement piece’ per outfit is a good rule of thumb.
Maintain light shades in breathable fabrics. White is classic for the beach, but it may not go well with a classic, black bathing suit. In that case, go for beige or a similar dull accent colour. Always opt for breathable, ‘summery’ fabrics like cotton and linen. The silk kimonos in dark shades can look more like robes or indoor loungewear. Polyester can feel very hot in warm weather.
Keep patterns subtle. Some of these kaftans can be patterned in tye-dye, Hawaiian prints or rustic designs. They look very ‘beachy,’ but in a touristic way. For classic elegance, you want to look like your cover-up is something you belong in - not something you picked up at the souvenir shop. It should look thought-out, yet effortless. Pick a solid, light colour or a minimal pattern that is not too ‘busy.’
Wear it loose but not baggy. These swimwear cover-ups are meant to be loose, so you can dry your bathing suit underneath them, after a swim (or avoid sweat stains). However, some of them look like long, baggy monk robes (especially when they are tunics reaching to the ankles). Avoid excessive bagginess on these. Try to maintain your shape, without looking restricted.
Remember: there’s nothing wrong with a loose oxford shirt. Otherwise known as a collared, button-up dress shirt (which doesn’t have to be ‘dressy’ per se), these can be worn as summer cover-ups. Some are made to be oversized for this reason. But, if you have a cotton shirt you can wear like an open cardigan over your bathing suit, it can fit with your effortless-yet-elegant style at the pool.
Choose your footwear wisely, and make your feet presentable
When you choose a classy and elegant look for the beach and poolside, you’ll have to make sacrifices if you’re used to sporty, velcro sandals or rubber-looking Crocs. Those may be fine for hiking or gardening, but not for fashion upkeep.
Of course, you want to be well-supported and comfortable with the footwear you choose - don’t get us wrong. Simple, black rubber flip flops or strappy, slim espadrille sandals can be both comfortable, and graceful. If you want to take things up a notch, go for skinny, leather strapped or buckled sandals.
If you really want that high-strength comfort to go with your elegant beachwear, there is a last-resort option. A solid-colour Birkenstock or similar cork sandal could work. Just don’t choose the wide-looking, ‘sporty’ ones; opt for the thin, feminine, thong or strap styles. Some even come with wedged heels now.
While you don’t need to use nailpolish to look good in bare feet, we would suggest a pumice-stone scrub and a nail buff, at least. Foot care can be done at home easily, in the shower too.
Accessorize with practicality and summer style in mind
Accessories for the beach or poolside can include jewelry, as we’ve mentioned above. But it’s not just that; scarves, sunglasses, hats and bags all count, too. These are not just fashionable additions to your outfit; they provide practical function for your day in the sun.
Here are our accessory tips for classic beachwear:
Choose a wide-brimmed hat. Woven, straw-style hats with a scarf band are excellent. They not only look chic, they protect your face from harmful UV rays, which can lead to aging.
Wear oversized sunglasses. These will protect your eyes and the skin around your eyes, provided they are UVA and UVB protective. Avoid sunglasses with a lot of design work in their frames. Go for solid colours, to be safe.
Carry a water-resistant handbag. Stuff gets wet and dirty at the beach or poolside! Plus, there is a lot to bring; sunscreen, snacks, towels…it all needs a place. Our Terra-fabric (hemp-based canvas) tote bag is a perfect fit for this use. The solid, black colour matches with any outfit, and can be discreet at the pool, too.
Use a long, large, versatile scarf. A large scarf can be used to sit on, or it can wrap around your shoulders to prevent sunburn. Pick an elegant pattern that matches your outfit. Tie it around your bag’s straps to keep it accessible, but out of the way.
To conclude: elegant beach style is all about discrete, yet timeless design
As we’ve seen above, achieving the classy and elegant look at the beach or poolside comes down to:
- Modest, vintage swimwear
- Little to no jewelry
- Light, breathable and not-too-baggy cover-ups
- Slim, comfortable footwear on healthy feet
- Practical accessories
While we’ve given our tips on each of these above, remember: there are no rules! These are just guidelines and ultimately - our opinion as a fashion creator. If you love mixing boho chic with vintage bikini bottoms, you do you! Be comfortable in your skin, and your swimwear!