The hottest swimsuits — influenced by cold water sports

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Mara Hoffman Reese Printed Recycled Swimsuit, £275; Bondi Born Tatum Stretch Swimsuit, £260; Ganni logo vegan leather platform slides, £175, all net-a-porter.com © Vivianne Sassen

“You said you hated the ocean, but you’re surfing now. . . So Camila Cabello sings to Ed Sheeran in his hit “Bam Bam,” but she might as well have told me the same thing. I never hated cold, open water, but I was afraid of it.

Not anymore. Over the past two years I’ve donned wetsuits to dive the tarns, the waters of the Lake District and the Irish Sea, surf Watergate Bay in Cornwall and paddleboard lochs in Scotland. On a recent evening, I strolled around a swimming pond in Hampstead, London, wearing a one-piece from sportswear brand Perfect Moment. It had long sleeves and was made from a quick-drying recycled nylon, but was otherwise cut like a bathing suit – an urban-appropriate swim piece.

Jane Gottschalk, the creative director of Perfect Moment, thinks the visibility of cold water sports and swimming online, as it grows in popularity, encourages others to dive in. “Everyone is talking about it, and you see so many people doing it on Instagram. . . . it’s in people’s psyches now as something that’s clearly trendy. The brand’s high fashion approach to surf wear was timed by chance; stockists for its swimwear range (from £130) are up 200% this season compared to SS21, as luxury fashion retailers such as Net-a-Porter and Selfridges keep up with demand.

Perfect Moment Imok Jumpsuit, £240, perfectmoment.com

Finisterre Anella Long Sleeve Swimsuit, £110, finisterre.com

Perfect Moment is just one of many brands riding the wave for more luxurious kit. Dedicated surf apparel brands such as California-based Abysse and Spain’s Now_Then have both seen increased sales for pieces that combine performance and craftsmanship with sleek design. Roxy, meanwhile, collaborated with Liberty Fabrics, while Hurley unexpectedly teamed up with LoveShackFancy, the American floral cottagecore purveyor that usually sells frilly cotton dresses suitable for Hamptons weekends.

And the kit is no longer something to rent and return during the holidays. Sally McGee, founder of Yonder Surf, a women-focused school based in North Tyneside, UK, says many of her customers buy theirs – often from Patagonia (from £100) or Finisterre (from of £125). “Borrowed suits are notoriously tight, stinky, damp, and cold.”

They are also often unflattering and uncomfortable. “I remember without any nostalgia the days when you could only get more masculine wetsuits that didn’t make you feel beautiful,” says Andrea Salinas, a dedicated ocean swimmer and founder of Now_Then. “The only thing that made a jumpsuit ‘womanly’ back then was that it was pink.” Today, it offers zippered, paneled suits and rashguards that have seamless finishes and flat, raw edges that don’t bulge out or leave marks on the skin.

Model on the beach wearing the brand's black bodysuit

Now_Then Eugenie bodysuit in ECONYL® regenerated nylon, €160, nowthenlabel.com © Monica Suárez de Tangil

The founders are reshaping the surf market with their attention to fit and feel – as well as function. “These are suits designed by women for women,” says Salinas. Abysse founder Hanalei Reponty-Gudauskas, a former professional surfer and model, explains that her Linda suit has a slim silhouette with a vest-style top and padded knees for protection on the boards.

“Performance clothing doesn’t have to be bulky and ugly,” says Perfect Moment’s Gottschalk, who uses Italian-made Carvico fabric which is thinner, lighter and more durable than neoprene. “It has a two-way stretch that lifts and holds your shape without ever being restrictive.” Long-sleeved rashguards are also becoming increasingly popular with those who just want protection from the sun. Salinas says its rashguards are “the most successful pieces in our lineup” and are selling well in Asia.

The popularity of wild swimming influences swimwear aesthetics more generally. Trendy sun lounger brands including Hunza G, known for its crinkled and colorful fabric, and Marysia, with its scalloped edge silhouettes, mix their design signatures with surf-style silhouettes. Even Alaïa, the famous French couture brand, has a handful of one-sleeved bathers. “We’ve made sleeveless swimwear one of our top five trends to watch in 2022,” says Rebecca Saygi, swimwear and activewear strategist at trend forecasting agency WGSN.

It’s a trend that’s set to continue: During Miami Swim Week in July, Saygi said even more non-performing brands were offering sleeved lasts for the SS23 season. “In the past, swimming brands tended to stay in their lane; high-end brands have left sportier styles to outdoor and surf brands that stand out more in the performance department. But this is no longer the norm. “Women want to have more convenient options for swimming, whether it’s surfing, wild swimming or a quick dip in the pool,” says Holly Tenser, womenswear buyer at Browns Fashion, which stocks Abysse.

Hunza G Scarlett Cutout Seersucker Swimsuit, £165, hunzag.com

Abysse Lotte Neoprene Swimsuit, £320, net-a-porter.com

And while a long swim in cold, open water requires appropriate performance suits, the more fashion-oriented sporty designs are ideal for seated paddleboarding or cooling off, for example, the new open water swimming area of Canary Wharf in London. Swimming as a category is evolving similarly to athleisure, where underperforming brands are blurring the lines.

“It’s becoming more than a seasonal industry, but evolving into a lifestyle entity in its own right,” says Saygi. “We anticipate more and more of this cross-product, with swimwear becoming more modular and versatile, thus having more longevity.” Lululemon’s just-launched hike-to-swim range has hybrid versatility: zip-up shorts and crop tops, which look like a regular gym kit, but are ideal for cooling off in a waterfall on a day’s work. ‘hike.

I’m for the ease of wearing. And the next time I hit Hampstead Ponds, fellow swimmers might see me in Emilia Wickstead’s long-sleeved swimsuit, covered in bright blue roses. With its belted waist and sleek design, it would be ideal after the pond, paired with pants for dinner, and its quick-drying fibers would save me packing a change of clothes. Fashion and function, indeed.

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