Choosing the right swimwear for your shape

So you’ve booked your summer holiday. Fab hotel, good star rating, all inclusive and it has a gorgeous pool to boot… hang on that means giving your pasty body an airing and you’re not Bo Derek.

Woman laying in shallow water hiding her swimwearPanic mode… argghhhh!

If this is you, don’t get your panties in a big old bunch.  It really is only a matter of wearing the right swimwear for your body so that you feel comfy, secure and downright gorgeous.

First of all, think about the following:

Get in the right mindset: this means thinking about the bits you love – and yes, we all have them. It’s a great confidence boost to know you have skin that browns (safely mind), nice legs, great boobs, perky bum, hair that doesn’t frizz etc.

Don’t get hung up about the bits you don’t like, we can easily distract from those.

Be realistic. Remember, no one is going to be examining and comparing body parts around the pool, you’re all in the same boat and displaying equal amounts of flesh.  People are there to have a holiday and get a bit of a healthy tan – it’s not a beauty contest (well maybe in the evening after a few daiquiris).

Right then, that’s cleared up so let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Have a good think about your body and its proportions, so that’s your overall shape top to bottom and the bits you want to focus on – or indeed ignore.

Your top and bottom

We need to determine proportions so we can do a balancing act, so decide whether your shoulders and hips are in proportion.

The best way to do this is to place a measuring tape from the top of your shoulder bone – straight upwards of your arm pit, the knobbly bone bit – and let it hang down straight like a plumb line.

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If your hips are wider they should fall outside the tape, narrower within the tape and they’re balanced if the tape skims the hips.

If your hips are wider than your shoulder:

woman in a tummy control swimsuit in black and white

  • Don’t forget you can buy swimwear separates now so you can mix and match. If you have trouble with tops and bottoms fitting properly and if in doubt go for a one-piece swimsuit.
  • Keep the bottom half of a bikini/swimsuit plain and/or in a darker shade and make sure it’s in a high-leg cut.  If you’re bottom heavy, don’t wear big briefs that go up to your belly button, it will only maximise the area.  Try a mini sarong if you don’t like your bum, or you can even get swimsuits with skirts.
  • The bikini/swimsuit top can be patterned, detailed or in a lighter or brighter colour to trick the eye and create balance. Horizontal stripes to the bust or bandeau styles (strapless) will balance out a wider bottom half.  Bigger busts need to be supported though, so bandeaus and strapless may be unforgiving.
  • Give small boobs some oomph with maybe a ruffle or detailing and for more shape go for tops with underwire and/or moulded cups.

If your shoulders are wider than your hips:

woman in navy white and turquise swimsuit

  • Anything with a halter neck works wonders, provided you keep the straps in harmony with your bust, so the bigger the boobs the wider the straps. If you have a big bust remember support is essential, so underwired or banded cups are a must and consider a one-piece or wrap-over swimsuit if you have tummy worries. If the twins are in the right place your waist will always look smaller.
  • A deeper neckline works best to draw the eye down, though don’t go too far south as you may need some body tape, a la Beyoncé.  Nothing strapless or with a square cut neckline, as this will widen shoulders further.
  • Keep your top half simple if you can, as this allows you to emphasise your narrow hips with patterns, detailing and colour.
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Your midriff

Take a look at your waist and hips.  Decide whether your waist goes in clearly from a rounded hip, straight up and down or somewhere in between these two categories.

If your waist clearly goes in from a rounded hip:

woman in a navy and purple swimsuit

  • Choose high-cut legs or plain hip panels on your bottoms. If you have a small waist, any detailing or even belted briefs are a nice touch to emphasise your waspish midriff.
  • Wrap-effect swimsuits or tankinis – a long top with bottoms – are flattering for the fuller figure but keep ruching to a minimum as this can create bulk.

If your waist and hips are straight up and down:

  • Swimsuits with curvy side panels in contrasting colours look good and create curves, or try a patterned two piece like a tankini.  Try and avoid anything with vertical stripes else you’ll resemble a stick of rock.
  • Low-cut legs and the usual side-tied bikini bottom are fine.  You can go high cut in the leg if your legs are on the short side as they add the illusion of length.

If your waist and hips are somewhere in between the above two sections, you can pretty much wear most leg cuts.  Just think about your boobs, shoulders and hip proportions.

So, that’s the proportions sorted but what about your overall frame?

Here are a few more things to think about:

  • Tall: try and avoid vertical stripes, instead choose horizontal designs or stripes – nautical is very on trend at the moment. If you’re conscious about your height avoid loud prints as they draw attention but if you embrace your height go for it!
  • Petite: keep any focal interest to the top half of your body. Patterns should be small so you don’t get swamped. Hipster style mini briefs are flattering on the smaller frame.
  • Fuller figured: keep patterns larger and aim for vertical detailing, keeping straps wider.  Darker or monochromatic colours work best to streamline, as light or bright can create attention to lumps and bumps. No shiny fabrics either, they are not forgiving.  One-piece swimsuits or tankini styles in a block of colour are flattering and can come fitted with control panels for extra confidence.  Keep legs high cut and avoid too much ruching. If you like your boobs go for some embellishment around the neckline to draw the eye to your assets.
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Extra titbits

black striped sarong

Sarongs are a godsend if you want a cover up and you can get these anywhere.  You can cross the ends over in front of you and tie them behind your neck for an instant halter neck or wear them toga like or bath towel-esque.

Kimonos add a bit of pizazz; whether it is a jacket style or tunic they do the job and come in beautiful prints.

Control panels can give a bit of extra body confidence, and there’s also lots of swimwear available on the market that has these secret panels built in.

If you have undergone any breast surgery and want to feel more comfortable, there are now lots of options out there (see web links below).

And finally, and very importantly… make sure that the essential fabric on your swimwear is lined to avoid transparency issues when you make your ‘goddess-like’ exit from the water.

It really is all about dressing to your assets and skimming over the less-loved parts of your body with the help of lines, scale and styling tricks.

Find out more…


I’m an image consultant which means I get to help women look and feel great – it’s my dream job! I became tired of seeing so-called ‘perfection’ portrayed in the media, and it’s my aim to help women feel confident whatever their body shape. You can find out more about how I can help you by visiting my website.