Obviously, we all want our bathing suits to look good. That’s a given. But just as important as how good they look is how well they function.
Bathing suits need to work harder for their place in our closets than any other piece, providing support, control, comfort, and the ability to stand up to the triple threat of sun, water, and chlorine.
When we’re choosing the ideal fabric for bathing suits, we need to consider….
And even more importantly…
Control - It takes a very body confident woman indeed to be able to hit the beach without feeling just a little bit vulnerable in her bathing suit. After all, it’s probably as close to being naked in public as most of us ever get. Choosing a fabric with just the right amount of control – or in other words, one that isn’t going to get so saggy and baggy as you swim that it puts your modesty at risk- can make all the difference in how we look – and feel – in a bathing suit.
Fiber Content - There’s a time and a place for natural fibers, but your swimsuit isn’t it. However much you wince at the idea of wrapping yourself in synthetics, you’re going to have to get used to the idea – unless you want to walk around the beach with a soggy, saggy bottom, that is. Natural fibers may be wonderful and breathable and all other kinds of good stuff, but when it comes to the bathing suit world, synthetics rule the roost.
Opacity - Unless you’re happy to show the whole world what you’ve got, you’ll probably want to make sure your swimsuit fabric is opaque. Test it out by getting a swatch good and wet - stretch it out as much as it’ll go, and then check for transparency. If it’s not as opaque as you’d like, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to rule it out completely – you’ll just have to make sure it’s adequately lined.
Print - Unless you never do more than waggle your toes in the pool, it’s likely your bathing suit is going to get wet. A lot. Add some chlorine and sun into the mix, and you’re looking at a big challenge for color and print. When you’re choosing swimsuit fabric, look for one that wouldn’t leak its color or lose its pattern.
Ultimately, you can make a swimsuit out of just about any type of fabric you like – providing you don’t mind it having a saggy bottom and a tendency to stay in the water long after you’ve left it. If you want a swimsuit that functions as well as it looks, you might want to stick to one of these popular fabric options:
Don’t get me wrong – hemp is a great fabric. It’s durable, it’s breathable, it has anti-bacterial qualities, it holds color like a champ, and its eco-credentials are second to none. What it’s not is a good choice for swimwear.
Hemp creases quickly and easily, a tendency that, over time, will make the swimsuit lose its shape. A hemp swimsuit simply isn’t built to last – while it might be fine if you never intend to actually swim in it, there are better options available if you do.
ITY fabric (the ITY stands for Interlock Twist Yarn, in case you were wondering) is a slinky, flowing fabric that’s formed by knitting stitches on the right side and purling stitches on the wrong side. Although it’s not a common choice for swimwear, it’s got the right combo of synthetics (polyester plus spandex in varying proportions) to work.
As a ‘knitted fabric’ refers to how a fabric is constructed, rather than what its fiber content is, how suitable a choice it is for swimwear is a wide-open question. If it’s a cotton knit, it’s not going to be the best choice. If it’s a blend of polyester and spandex or nylon and spandex, on the other hand, it’s an excellent one.
One of the most common types of knit you’re likely to come across in the swimsuit world is tricot, a special type of warp knitting that features vertical ribs on the face and horizontal ribs on the back. Tricot is excellent at holding its shape and won’t sag or billow however often its worn. Providing it’s made from that holy duo of polyester/ nylon and spandex, it makes a fine bathing suit.
We’ve heard of Lycra and we’ve heard of spandex, but did you know that they’re actually one and the same? Lycra is simply the tradename for the brand of spandex produced by Dupont Company – in terms of properties, there’s zero difference between the two.
As anyone who’s ever worn it will know, spandex has a remarkable capacity to stretch by huge amounts before snapping back into its original form. Typically, spandex is blended with other fibers to enhance its flexibility: when combined with either nylon or polyester, it makes for a swimsuit with excellent control, stretch, and durability. Just remember that the higher the spandex content, the more figure-hugging it’ll be.
If you want to sit poolside sipping a cocktail and being admired, go right ahead and wear a lace swimsuit. If you want to do anything other than lounge around looking pretty, choose something else.
Lace has a delicate, ethereal quality that lends itself beautifully to bridal veils, dresses, and tops. It does not, however, lend itself to swimwear. If you plan on getting your swimsuit wet at some point or another, skip the lace.
Nylon is one of the most popular choices for swimwear, and for good reason. It repels water, it’s quick-drying, durable, has excellent stretch, a soft feel, and is easy to care for.
Although it’s possible to find straight-up nylon swimsuits, you’re more likely to find it blended with spandex to give an enhanced stretch. A typical composition will be 80-90% nylon and 10-20% spandex – the greater the proportion of spandex, the more body-hugging the swimsuit.
Polyester, like nylon, is a popular choice in swimwear. Soft yet strong, and with the added advantage of chlorine and UV resistance, it’s usually blended with spandex to add some figure-flattering stretch.
Organic fabric is all very well, and wearing it will no doubt earn you lots of good karma. It won’t, however, make you a very good swimsuit. Organic fabrics pride themselves on containing no synthetics. That means no polyester, no nylon, no spandex… the very three things, in fact, that make the best swimsuits. Unless you can’t contemplate anything that isn’t 100% natural touching your skin, don’t do it.
Before we look at whether you can use scuba fabric for swimwear, a quick explanation of what, exactly, scuba fabric is. More often than not, it’s a term that’s used to describe Neoprene, a type of synthetic textile that, in recent years, has become as much of a hit in the fashion community as it is in diving circles.
Form-fitting and structured, Neoprene has become a popular choice for skirts, dresses, tops… and swimwear. Like most synthetics, it’s durable and resilient, meaning it’ll snap back into place regardless of how much it stretches. Its also fully opaque, making it a great option for those looking to preserve as much of their modesty as they can.
Most swimsuits are made from blends of either polyester or nylon. Both materials have great properties, but which one steals the crown for best swimsuit fabric? Let’s see how they stack up in the key stakes.
Absorbency: When it comes to water absorbency, nylon just pips polyester to the post. Ideally, you want a swimsuit that absorbs as little water as possible. A fabric that soaks up moisture like a sponge might be best for breathability, but it’ll do nothing but weigh you down after a dip. While polyester is pretty decent at repelling water, nylon is a master at it. The Winner: Nylon.
Stretch: Here again, nylon takes the crown. A nylon swimsuit will hug and stretch around the body much better than polyester, and providing it’s accompanied with a little spandex, it’ll keep its shape no matter how much it stretches. The Winner: Nylon.
Resistance: Unless you’re a very brave soul, it’s likely you’ll be wearing your swimsuit when the sun is shining. If you don’t want its color or pattern to fade, you might want to consider a fabric that offers UV resistance. Here, polyester is the winner, offering superior resistance to rays and, as a little added bonus, enhanced chlorine resistance. The Winner: Polyester.
And the overall winner? With a 2 to 1 lead, it’s nylon!
While we all love natural fibers for their comfort, their breathability, and their adaptability, cottons, silks, wools, and other organic fibers have no place in swimwear. Natural fibers will absorb moisture – while that’s a good thing if we’re talking about a top or a dress, it’s really not ideal when we’re discussing swimsuits.
Love them or loathe them, you’re going to need to embrace synthetics if you want a swimsuit that lasts.
For a swimsuit that offers optimum stretch, control, comfort, and durability, look for one that’s composed of a blend of nylon and spandex, ideally in proportions of 80-90% and 10-20% respectively.
How much fabric you’ll need for a bathing suit is going to depend on a myriad of factors, including the type of swimsuit you’re making (is it a one-piece, a bikini, a tankini, or a skirted option?) and, of course, your size. As a general rule of thumb, expect to use the following:
If you’ve gone to the effort of making your own swimsuit, you won’t want to let it down by using an inappropriate lining – or worse still, no lining at all.
Don’t be tempted to use a cheap or inferior lining – not only could it irritate your skin, it could also rip, run, or tear before you’ve had your full wear out of the swimsuit, making all that hard work you put into its creation count for nothing.
When it comes to the best fabric for swimwear lining, we’re basically looking at three options: 100% nylon, lightweight swimwear fabric, or power mesh.
100% nylon is a popular choice for lining and is found in many off-the-hanger swimsuits. Nylon has almost zero water absorbency, meaning it won’t weigh you (or your swimsuit) down after a dip. It’s also got great stretch, excellent durability, and a comfortable, soft feel.
Providing the fabric you’re using for the main body of your swimsuit isn’t too thick, it can be utilized to good effect in the lining. If you’re adding a lining to a store-bought swimsuit, look out for a lightweight swimwear fabric that can double up as lining. Most suppliers will even do you the favor of marking the best options as ‘suitable for lining’.
If control is what you’re hoping for in a lining, control is what you’ll get with power mesh. Typically made from that amazing duo, nylon and spandex, power mesh has a four-way stretch and super-human recovery. Just be mindful of the fact that it usually has less stretch than swimsuit fabric, so be careful with sizing.