Every body is a beach body: The most comprehensive guide to swimwear ever

We spoke to 1,500 YOU readers, tried on 2,000 costumes and got ten women – all different ages and sizes – to road-test the best. The result? The most comprehensive guide to swimwear ever.

Image: Eva Schwank

(from left) Louise, 38, bikini top, £42, and briefs, £20, Curvy Kate, simplybe.co.uk. Shirley, 57, swimsuit, £310, cossieandco.coms. Georgie, 18, swimsuit, £70, uk.calzedonia.com. Ariish, 20, bikini top, £60, and briefs, £25, beija.london. Coral, £26, swimsuit, £140, hunzag.com. Emily, 21, bikini top, £60, beija.london, and briefs, £8.99, hm.com. Gemma, 50, bikini briefs, £18, J by Jasper Conran, debenhams.com. Sinead, 28, swimsuit, £240, Dos Gardenias, matchesfashion.com. Nicola, 59, tankini, £48, longtallsally.com. Callie, 30, swimsuit, £110, landsend.co.uk

‘I feel great. That’s all that matters’

Georgie wears bikini, £260, arabellalondon.co.uk. Image: Eva Schwank

Georgie, 18, size 14; bra size 34DD

‘This shoot has really changed my mind about styles I wouldn’t have tried before. I’ve learnt to disregard old rules such as “hourglass shapes can’t wear frills around the hips”. Similarly, people with a tummy are often told to cover up with a one-piece. I really like bikinis and feel that if you want to get your tummy out you should get your tummy out. I look for pieces that will make me feel confident. If I feel great, that’s all that matters.’

  • Support doesn’t mean that bras have to be heavy at the front. Cross-back bikini tops help to keep everything where it should be 
  • For bigger busts, the U-wire structure offers full support, putting less strain on the straps
  • Don’t be afraid to sample new styles, regardless of the ‘what not to wear’ rule. If you like some thing, try it – you might find a new favourite

Georgie’s picks

Bikini top, £95, and briefs, £55, davyj.org

Swimsuit, £46, bluebella.com

Swimsuit, £80, sweatybetty.com

Bikini top, £17.99, and briefs, £15.99, zara.com

‘I want to show off my curves’

Ariish wears bikini top, £22, and briefs, £16, both figleaves.com. Image: Eva Schwank

Ariish, 22, size 14; bra size 36DD

‘I used to struggle with swimwear shopping – I could never find anything people my age would want to wear to the beach. I was insecure about my shape, but now I’m looking for bikinis that will show off my waist and curves. Swimsuits can hide your figure and I don’t want to look straight up and down. I think a lot of girls with love handles feel the same. This two-piece has both support and adjustable tie sides, and it makes me feel good!’

  • Vertical stripes are a great way of elongating the torso and drawing attention away from the chest
  • Tops with wider straps above the cups transfer support all the way up to the shoulders and back without the need for underwiring

Ariish’s picks

Swimsuit, £50, longtallsally.com

Bikini top, £115, and briefs, £85, lilliputandfelix.com

Bikini top, £5, and briefs, £5, newlook.com

Swimsuit, £9.99, zara.com

‘Who’d have thought I’d love swimwear shopping?’

Nicola wears swimsuit, £45, lauraashley.com. Image: Eva Schwank

Nicola, 59, size 14-16; bra size 34E

‘Brands are realising that women like me in their 50s and 60s need to feel that we are recognised within that market. Now, for the first time ever, I actually enjoy swimwear shopping.’ 

  • To redirect attention, go for bold prints – they can be very flattering
  • To create an hourglass silhouette, look out for styles with ruching and integrated cups which both flatter and provide support
  • If a high-leg cut is not for you, check out brands such as Long Tall Sally, Laura Ashley and Aspiga for a more modest leg-line
  • Tankinis are a great middle ground between swimsuits and bikinis and their versatility allows you to mix and match to suit your own style 

Nicola’s picks

Swimsuit, £29.50, marksandspencer.com

Swimsuit, £75, aspiga.com

Swimsuit, £60, boden.co.uk

Tankini, £55, longtallsally.com

‘This bikini shows off my hourglass build’

Sinead wears bikini, £271, arabellalondon.co.uk. Image: Eva Schwank

Sinead, 28, size 12; bra size 34DD

‘My body shape varies depending on the time of the month. Sometimes I’m an athletic build but other times, like today, I’m an hourglass, which is why I’m wearing a bikini. When I feel less curvy I choose a swimsuit to create a more defined waist.’

  • Look out for tie-back styles which allow you to adjust the fit
  • High- leg hipster swimsuits and bikinis accentuate curves, flatter thighs and elongate legs
  • If you’re unsure of colour, timeless natural tones can be a good place to start

Sinead’s picks

Swimsuit, £224, odabash.com

Swimsuit, £26, topshop.com

Swimsuit, £270, zimmermannwear.com

Swimsuit, £140, Hunza G, beachcafe.com

Coral wears bikini top, £65, and briefs, £25, beija.london. Shirley wears swimsuit, £130, hunzag.com. Image: Eva Schwank

‘I like lots of coverage and quality fabric’

Coral (left), 26, size 6; bra size 32DD

‘Being small on the bottom with a bigger bust, I have to do a lot of mix-and-matching of sets. Support is really important for me. I find that a lot of brands just lengthen the straps when upping sizes rather than adjusting the cups, which puts a lot of strain on my neck. I like a lot of coverage up top and good quality fabric that supports you is worth paying for.’

  • New brands such as Beija, Chantelle and Deakin & Blue are excellent for sizing small backs with large cups
  • Prefer classic styles? Invest in quality pieces that will last longer
  • Make your investment swimwear last: Opt for chlorine-resistant fabrics, wash by hand and air-dry 

Coral’s picks

Swimsuit, £275, zimmermannwear.com

Bikini top, £34, and briefs, £19, Curvy Kate, simplybe.co.uk

Swimsuit, £130, cossieandco.com

Bikini top, £28, and briefs, £16, johnlewis.com 

‘A good fit is my priority’

Shirley (right), 57, size 8; bra size 32A

‘Sometimes I hesitate to wear bright shades because I feel I shouldn’t stand out, but I love them. My grey hair suits blues and greens best so I gravitate towards these tones.’

  • When choosing colours, look to your everyday wardrobe for inspiration – these are shades that suit you and you feel comfortable wearing
  • A textured fabric is more forgiving than a smooth finish and adds impact
  • Elegant and on-trend, a square neckline flatters big and small busts. Pair with a skirt or trousers to take you from beach to bar

Shirley’s picks

Swimsuit, £140, davyj.org

Bikini top, £26, and briefs, £16, johnlewis.com

Bikini top, £25, and briefs, £25, cosstores.com

Swimsuit, £290, marysia.com

‘Every woman deserves to feel confident’

Callie wears swimsuit, £45, jdwilliams.co.uk. Image: Eva Schwank

Callie, 30, size 24; bra size 42E

‘I love a swimsuit with underwiring. I’ve just turned 30 and my breasts are definitely not as perky as they once were. It’s not a problem, but I do like a bit of support to make me feel more confident. If you have a body it is beach body ready.’ 

  • Thick straps will hold the swimsuit in place correctly and feel comfortable on your shoulders
  • Ruching and wrap details across the front offer tummy control and a smoother silhouette
  • Retailers such as JD Williams (up to size 38), Lands’ End (size 30) and Miraclesuit (size 26) design swimwear with plus-size bodies in mind, incorporating shapewear for support and hold

Callie’s picks

Swimsuit, £140, landsend.com

Swimsuit, £32, jdwilliams.co.uk

Swimsuit, £24.99, hm.com

Swimsuit, £143, Miraclesuit, simplybe.co.uk

‘My mastectomy won’t stop me wearing swimsuits’

Gemma wears swimsuit, £40, figleaves.com. Image: Eva Schwank

Gemma, 50, size 10

‘I had a double mastectomy and decided against reconstruction. If, by appearing in this feature, I can make one woman who’s been through what I’ve been through feel better, I’ll be happy. Swimwear-wise I’ve always liked tankinis – especially after having three children. The Nicola Jane one [below] was a revelation because it incorporates pockets for prostheses. I’m not used to wearing those, but I gave it a go and it looked great.’

  • Sports swimsuits are an option if you don’ t want your scars on show as they have higher necks and underarms
  • Specialist brands such as Amoena and Nicola Jane offer pocketed swimwear to accommodate prostheses
  • This Nike swimsuit has a low, tie-detail back – an alternative way to feel sexy without it being all about the bust 

Gemma’s picks

Swimsuit, £40, longtallsally.com

Swimsuit, £60, frenchconnection.com

Tankini, £42, nicolajane.com

Swimsuit, £33.99, nikeswim.com

‘My first rule is to buy ethically’

Emily wears bikini, £140, Rixo, beachflamingo.com. Image: Eva Schwank

Emily, 21, size 10; bra size 34C

‘When it comes to shopping there’s too much pressure, so I just order online – there’s plenty of choice – and try it on at home. My first rule is to buy ethically made swimwear in sustainable fabrics. I wear a lot of 80s-style, high-cut legs with a higher waist – bikinis most of the time. I think everyone looks great in a bikini!’

  • Underwired bikini tops aren’t just for bigger busts. Soft cup balconettes enhance smaller sizes too
  • A non-string halterneck is a good choice for wide shoulders
  • Ruffles and frills add volume in a playful way and on a bikini will balance larger hips or shoulders
  • A swimsuit with a belt detail will draw attention to your waist

Emily’s picks

Swimsuit, £80, billabong.co.uk

Bikini top, £18, and briefs, £16, warehouse.co.uk

Bikini top, £20, and briefs, £15, missselfridge.com

Swimsuit, £125, Solid + Striped, beachflamingo.com

‘Maternity swimwear can be stylish’

Louise wears swimsuit, £50, figleaves.com. Image: Eva Schwank

Louise, 38, size 14; bra size 34E

‘It annoys me that maternity brands don’t use pregnant women for their maternity shoots, just women with a fake bump – tiny bumps that look like you’ve had a curry! I’m sick of the garish patterns they put on maternity swimsuits too. And when it comes to boobs, I’ve found that a lot of maternity brands don’t use underwiring. But you really need support when you’re pregnant.’

  • If you are comfortable in a bikini, simply size up your high-street favourites
  • Details such as asymmetric shoulders and vintage prints will keep your
    look on trend. Check out specialist brands Lily & Ribbon and Seraphine
  • If underwiring is essential for you, brands that cater for bigger busts such as Figleaves and Curvy Kate are great 

Louise’s picks

Swimsuit, £32, mandco.com

Bikini top, £14.99, and briefs, £9.99, hm.com

Swimsuit, £42, seraphine.com

Swimsuit, £59, lilyandribbon.com

Compiled by Emily Dawes, Lucy Coghlan and Stephanie Sofokleous. Fashion assistants: Chloe Gallacher and Lizzie Rose. Make-up: Lisa Valencia at Carol Hayes Management using Bobbi Brown, assisted by Alex Golshahi and Georgina Murtagh. Hair: Elvire Roux at Carol Hayes Management using Philip Kingsley, assisted by Holly Devin. Models: Gemma Cockrell, Shirley Brooks at Grey Model Agency, Georgie Blackmore at Leni’s Model Management, Emily Bador and Coral Kwayie at Nevs, Ariish, Sinead, Callie Thorpe, Nicola Griffin and Louise Boyce at Milk.