Swimsuits You'll Actually Want To Wear: The Retro Look


As we all know, swimsuits are a highly-charged issue. But, kids, if you’re wary, this is your year: It’s all about glam and flattering Old Hollywood looks that Marilyn — or you — would happily sport.

To paraphrase Marianne Moore, I, too, dislike it: Whether it’s a legacy of Puritanism or a surfeit of Baywatch or just too many Cathys telling us we should feel bad, it’s hard to get excited about suit-shopping. So we mix and match from J. Crew or throw on a Speedo and call it a day. But! This year is different: suddenly we have options worthy of the most glamorous old-school star, and something for almost all of us, too.

Esther Williams
The original million-dollar mermaid (who swam, glamorously, in almost all her movies including Take Me Out to the Ballgame) is the ultimate swim icon: She was glam, athletic and stylish. Best of all, she has a swimwear line inspired by the classic styles she rocked through the ’40s and ’50s, and many of the suits come in plus-sizes and flatter a range of figures.

Esther Williams
2-Piece Classic [Esther Williams]

Esther Williams
“The Marilyn Swimdress” [ Esther Williams]

Jane Russell
She rocked a two-piece like no one else: Tall and full-figured, Russell was pure glam. And let’s face it: These tummy-covering bottoms are so much more flattering!

Jane Russell-inspired:
Gentlemen Prefer Plaid Two Piece [Modcloth]

Jane Russell-inspired:
Revival Bikini [Anthropologie ]

Deborah Kerr
There are few things sexier than From Here to Eternity’s iconic beach scene, and the sleek lines of Deborah’s simple suit are ridiculously pretty. NB: these suits are also made for serious swimming.

Deborah Kerr-inspired:
Betty Retro One-Piece [Bondi Bathers]

Deborah Kerr-inspired:
Vintage Inspired Retro Halter [Popina]

Lena Horne
Just check out this amazing detailing!

Lena Horne-inspired:
Spot printed Deep V-Neck Swimsuit [Paul Smith]

Lena Horne-inspired:
Brown-Buttoned Halter [Elizabeth O’Brien Berg]

Ava Gardner
The picture of summer glam: the prints are so fun!

Ava Gardner-inspired:
Beach Blanket Bingo One Piece [Modcloth]

Ava Gardner-inspired:
Green Plaid One-Piece [Elizabeth O’Brien Berg]

Now, on the subject of actual vintage suits, people are divided. Some people find the idea gross. I love them — although they dry so slowly that I generally wear them under a pair of shorts or a wrap skirt. (Also, if the molded boob cups are too big, they fill up with water in a very weird way.) BabyGirl Boutique has an excellent selection, as does eBay.

I’ll admit that I’m not much of a swimmer — I’m more of a lounger. And if you’re doing a vintagey suit, the rest is easy: wedges, sarongs, hats are all cheap. (If you want more coverage in the water, Popina does a nifty little skirt that matches their styles.) And for once, I’m actually excited to suit up. Please, if you have more sources, do let us know!

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