Chances are, if you want to do something in the water, someone has designed a swimsuit for it. From lap swimming, to water aerobics, to competition, to tanning on the beach, there is a specifically designed suit to meet your needs. This guide explains the various styles of swimwear — from athletic to recreational — available to women.
Competition swimwear is first and foremost for exercise. Suit durability, comfort, and performance in the water are priorities, although recent years have seen an explosion in new, flattering designs and prints. From traditional practice suits to technical suits worn only during races, competition swimwear helps swimmers move through the water quickly and efficiently.
Traditional practice suits for swimmers, divers, and even water polo players consist of a one-piece swimsuit made of polyester, nylon, spandex, LYCRA™, or a blend of the above. These fabrics are able to retain their shape in the water, and can handle hours of exposure to sunlight and chlorine. Polyester is the most durable of the fabrics, but others commonly are used as well for their superior stretch and texture.
Thick or thin straps, an open back, and high cut legs allow full range of motion in the water. Practice suits come in colors representing every shade of the rainbow, and in lots of fun, colorful prints. Practice suits are designed to be sleek and form fitting; you won't find any padded bras, shirring, or skirts, as these features generate unwanted drag in the water.
Technical suits are high-end competition suits designed purely for racing. Technical suits employ the latest advances in fabric technology and suit construction, and therefore come with a much higher price tag than traditional swimsuits. Because of their lightweight fabric, hydrodynamic seam design, compression technology, and often-delicate construction, tech suits are typically worn by highly competitive swimmers and only during swim meets and races.
Water Polo Suits
Water polo is an aggressive sport, and this is reflected in the design of women's water polo suits. Their high, zippered backs and tight fit makes them difficult to grab on to during a game, while their tough fabric can withstand the stretching, tugging, and violent movements that are part of water polo. As with lap swimming suits, high-cut legs, open shoulders, and stretchy fabrics allow for full range of motion in the water.
Fitness swimwear combines aspects of fashion swimwear and athletic apparel to create a category of suits that are appropriate for gentle water exercise, such as water aerobics or aqua jogging. Fitness suits err much more towards conservative, with supportive bra tops, low-cut legs, and often full-coverage backs. Most fitness suits easily make the transition from workout to leisure suit, and are usually available in plus sizes as well.
Designed for working lifeguards, suits in this category are designed to perform well in the water, stay comfortable during long lifeguard shifts, and clearly communicate that the wearer is a professional lifeguard. Usually in red, blue, or black, with a GUARD logo across the chest, lifeguard suits come in a wide variety of styles ranging from traditional one-pieces to minimalist bikinis. Certified lifeguards are the only appropriate customers for these suits, for safety reasons. It is not appropriate to wear GUARD branded suits unless you're actually a certified lifeguard.
For days when exercise is not the priority, women can choose from a wide variety of fun, flattering swimsuits. Two-pieces are a perennial favorite, but tankinis, monokinis, and fun one-pieces are certainly available for women who prefer a little more coverage as they have fun in the water.
Junior swimwear is made up of fashion suits for adolescents. Junior's swimwear for girls and teens usually features bright prints and designs that blend sporty with fashionable. Some juniors swimwear lines are also designed with slightly more modest cuts and increased coverage compared to those for adults. Junior swimwear usually comes in form of bikinis, monokinis, or shorts, and is styled for girls who like to play hard and look good doing it!
…And All the Others
Other swimwear options for women include rashguards and swim shirts, wetsuits, triathlon suits, unitards, and modest swimwear. These supplementary pieces can help keep swimmers insulated in cold pools or open water, or protect them from damaging UV rays. Triathlon suits and wetsuits often have a specific purpose — open water swimming, racing, surfing, etc. — and are therefore not always the best choice for casual swimming. It's also important to remember that in the end, a suit is a suit. If a swimsuit you like is designed for one thing (such as lap swimming), but you want to wear that suit to the beach? Go for it. They're all designed to get wet.