The Return of The One-Piece Bathing Suit: A Personal Essay

Recently an email popped into my perpetually full inbox proclaiming “The One-Piece Bathing Suit Is Back!” I get a lot of pitches in a day (many of which I’ll admit I skim right over), but this one caught my attention. Had the one-piece been out? Did I miss a memo in which we were all told to wear bikinis all the time, no matter what, no matter what our shape, weight or confidence level? It seemed I had, because according to this PR firm, “The One-Piece Suit Is Back!” Good to know.

Why did this, of all the emails I get in a day, have such an effect on me you ask? The truth is I’ve pretty much always—with very, very few exceptions—worn a full-piece bathing suit. Let me explain why. I’ll start with my stats: I’m short (5’1”); I’m curvy (read: I had a noticeable chest in the third grade—no, I’m not kidding); and I’m not stick thin (no explanation necessary). That’s all not to say I’m unhealthy—I am. I eat well, exercise almost every day of the week and am very athletic. I most often wear a small or a size 4, but for whatever genetic reason all of that doesn’t add up to me looking particularly good in a bikini. I think I look pretty good in clothes and just fine in a one-piece, but my body simply wasn’t made for a teeny-weeny, polka-dot bikini. What can I say? Facts are facts. And to be honest, while I’m now well into my 30s, this is not something that is a result of age. It has always been true.

A few of the one-pieces in my vast collection.

I distinctly remember wearing a bikini once—that’s right, once—in my youth. I think I was in junior high, and I fell in love with a turquoise and bright pink suit with a bow across the chest. I thought it was absolutely adorable. Even then, I recall being incredibly self-conscious about wearing it, but I did and there are photos so I know I didn’t imagine it. That is literally the last bikini I ever remember purchasing. (When I looked at the photos years later, I actually thought I looked pretty good, but how could I not—I was in junior high for goodness sakes!) I have owned some two-pieces since (mostly gifts from publicists) and even worn one on very rare occasion (one particularly skinny stretch in 2012), but I’ve never been comfortable in them, which is probably what really annoyed me about that dramatic email. If the one-piece was finally now “back,” as they proclaimed so emphatically, had I been “out” all this time?

“There is more coverage and a slimmer silhouette,” says designer Mara Hoffman of the appeal of the full-piece swimsuit. “You can be more daring with a low-cut front or back if you are predominately covered in the middle. To me, they exude confidence and are definitely the new sexy.” Hoffman is arguably part of the reason for the current resurgence of the silhouette: Her boldly printed maillot caught fire last season after Jessica Simpson was spotted wearing it—and wearing it well I might add. So how did the one-piece go from being something mostly associated with the 1950s to the new chic? Hoffman continues, “They are statement pieces, and they have also become more versatile since our mom’s suits,” she says. “I think a one-piece can be more of a cool-girl suit—they are less obvious than a bikini but just as sexy, if not more so.” I always knew I liked Mara Hoffman.

Photos: Courtesy of Mara Hoffman

We’re told, season after season, to consider the trends but to wear what works for our bodies, so why doesn’t that also apply to swimwear? I desperately want to wear culottes this summer but after a few dark moments in dressing rooms, I can admit that it is one trend I have to skip (please reference my aforementioned stats). So while the bikini isn’t so much a “trend” as much as a summer staple, shouldn’t my knowledge of what I can and can’t pull off also come into play here? Why should I force myself into a two-piece suit when I know darn well I look better in a one-piece? Was it all just to avoid the awkward, “Ohhhhhh, that’s so cool, you’re wearing a one-piece” comments, inevitably delivered with a slightly judge-y, slightly shocked, slightly condescending tone as I show up to the beach/pool/fill in bathing-suit-appropriate event here? Maybe it is. After all, it is always a little bit embarrassing to be the only girl rocking a one-piece on the beach when everyone else is wearing two. I often feel like people think I’m hiding something, like some sort of horrific stomach tattoo of Grateful Dead bears I drunkenly got in college (for the record, I’m not).

Photos: Courtesy of Everything But Water

Once—and I’ll never forget this—a friend told me I looked much chicer than everyone else we were hanging out with on the beach in my simple one-shouldered black suit. She said she thought most of the girls looked like they were in Vegas, and I looked like I was sunbathing in Capri—I still love her for that comment (and it made me really like the bathing suit I was wearing). It may be worth noting here that I do take my one-piece purchases seriously, always trying to hunt down cute ones with fun prints, sexy necklines and fun details. I’m not in a Speedo from swim team, complete with a nose plug and hair cap, so get that mental picture out of your head please.

The truth is whatever the trend, whatever the PR pitch, one-piece bathing suits are in for me. Because I like them. Because I look better in them. Because I’m old enough and secure enough to wear what makes me feel good, no matter what anyone else says or is wearing. No matter what an email proclaims. So the one-piece bathing suit is back you say? Good news. More options for me.

one and done