Expert Tips For Caring For Your Swimwear
Founder of sophisticated swim boutique Mei Lan and fan of taking a dip, Ruth Clarkson shares her sage advice for summer
Tossed in a beach bag, hung on a car door and on display at the local pool, swimsuits go through a lot during summer — not to mention their pivotal position in fashioning your summer aesthetic.
A self-described “swimming addict” with a background in fashion, Ruth Clarkson parlayed her passion for togs into a dedicated swimwear store, Mei Lan, which sells sought-after, premium brands like Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Araks and Nu Swim right here in Aotearoa.
With good-quality swimwear an investment purchase, and sustainability front of mind as we look to keep the garments we buy in rotation for as long as possible, we asked Ruth to share some of her expert knowledge on how to make the right choice in the first place, keep it looking good, and assuage the effects of sun, sand and chlorine.
What makes a swimsuit good quality? What should people look for in fabric, cut, trimmings, etc?
Swimwear looks deceptively simple, but these are actually very technical pieces, and good construction is key to quality.
Look for pieces that are self-lined, rather than just a single layer of fabric, for a great supportive fit that will hold their shape longer.
I am a big fan of metal hardware — it can be rubberised, powder-coated or looks great as is — for both the feel to wear, as well as durability.
The other sign of good quality construction for swim is adjustability. If you can make adjustments to things like strap length and body width it lessens strain on the fabrics and can move with the cycles of the body.
What should shoppers have in mind regarding fit — is it better to be on the looser or tighter side?
Fit is everything with swim! If you can, avoid shopping for swim if you are in a hurry. You need time to try a variety of sizes and styles to find your best fit.
Sizing can vary wildly between brands, and the size you wear in clothes may not be what you end up with in swim. Do not be wedded to what the size label says. It is very common in bikinis for a woman to be different sizes top and bottom — all sorts of factors come into play such as torso length, breast size, shoulder width… the list goes on.
If constructed well and cared for properly, your swim should not stretch too much, so I like to go up a size if there is any digging to avoid bulging and for maximum comfort. This will also avoid things like the dreaded double boob in the breast.
What effects do summer activities have on a swimsuit, and how can these be minimised?
We are all looking forward to the summer of adventuring ahead, and there are definitely things you can do to minimise wear and tear on your togs.
Being mindful of where you sit or lay will help with damage caused from contact with rocks and rough surfaces — if you can pop a towel down even better.
Highly chlorinated pools will shorten the life of swim fabrics and fade colours faster than fresh or saltwater, so following care instructions carefully is important to minimise these effects, and in general to ensure the longevity of your swimwear.
Black sand beaches are incredible and often where my family and I end up spending time, but light-coloured togs and black sand are not a match made in heaven. Sand can get caught inside bindings and linings and can be hard to get rid of completely.
I love the glamour of a white swimsuit but darker colours are much more forgiving, and will also help lessen staining from oils and sunscreens (and chocolate icecream and tomato sauce).
What’s the best way to care for and clean swimwear?
Less is more when it comes to swim care. Hand rinse or, if you can, soak your swim in cold water after each use to remove salt and chlorine from the fabric. If you need to use a detergent use a gentle laundry soap or chemical-free dish liquid to remove any soiling, sunscreens and oils.
Avoid wringing and always dry flat in the shade to preserve both shape and colour. Make sure the fabric is completely dry before storing.
If you need to use a washing machine, it’s best to pop your suit in a wash bag to lessen rubbing and the risk of catching on hardware and straps.
At school, we were always told to roll our wet togs in a towel once finished swimming — is this good advice?
So true! Rolling up your togs in a towel is a much gentler way of squeezing out excess moisture than wringing them out, and works well for the trip home. However, as soon as is possible, it's best to dry your togs and pop them away. Leaving them damp in a towel for extended periods of time is not recommended.
Are there any sunscreens that are kinder on togs than others?
Such a great question. I had to do a bit of research on this one myself. I didn’t find anything definitive here but there are some theories about a particular chemical commonly found in sunscreens called avobenzone and its reaction with hard water that can cause that yellow/rust-like stain. There are sunscreens screens on the market without it, so have a look at the ingredients list if you want to avoid it.
What are some signs that your swimwear needs mending or replacing, and how long should a swimsuit last?
If cared for properly a good-quality swimsuit can see you through many years of swimming. There are factors, like frequent use in highly chlorinated pools and activities such as surfing, that can shorten the life of your swim through increased wear and tear.
But eventually, over time, all fabrics and elastics will deteriorate, and once this starts to happen there is little to be done. You will see fabrics start to thin out and elastics can turn brittle and get that wavy texture. So good care and prevention are your best bet.
What are some things about swimwear that people don’t generally know, or would be surprised to find out?
I hope that there is a growing awareness out there now, but I think it’s important to remember that any synthetic fabrics (even great recycled ones) when washed shed microfibres or tiny pieces of plastic that end up in the oceans and our waterways. To minimise the shedding of these microfibres handwashing is best, or if machine washing use wash bags or a cora ball.
There are so many swimwear brands out there, who are your favourites?
So hard to choose! But for me personally, I have two favourites.
Nu Swim is incredible for deceptively simple-looking cuts that fit like a glove and hit the sweet spot between practicality and fashion. The pieces flatter a huge range of body shapes and the colours are always amazing. I love incorporating my swim into my summer outfits, and Nu are such great styling pieces.
My other ultimate favourite is Galamaar for ever so slightly retro-inspired cuts that remain modern, fresh and sexy.
Both brands work with regenerated nylons and have the highest quality construction, which is important to me.
Are some brands better suited for different bodies than others?
You can find great brands that specialise in swimwear for women with bigger busts while not compromising on style; I especially like Fold & Form. It can be really hard — especially for women who are smaller round the body but fuller in the bust — to find swim that fits, so it's awesome to see these offerings becoming more accessible.
But in general, it’s great to see an increasing number of brands who offer their styles in size breaks from XS to XXL or XXXL. I love Denizeri, Nu Swim and Rachel Mills for this — you can mix and match different styles of tops and bottoms to find the perfect combo for you. Who’s to say that certain styles won’t work for all shapes and sizes? If you love it, wear it.
Are there any styles, colours or cuts that are particularly enduring and timeless?
Styles and cuts can be very personal to the wearer, however if you find one that fits you perfectly and you are happy in you have found your winner.
Black is always practical and glamourous but not everyone suits black, so a really beautiful neutral or earth tone that suits your colouring will never date.
What swimsuits should everyone own one of?
One that they feel confident in and fits like a glove.
Where are your favourite places to swim during summer?
If you ask anyone who knows me, probably unsurprisingly, I am a swimming addict! I love it all — pools, beaches, freezing cold rivers and streams. But I am in the privileged position of having a family with a house on Kawau Island — leaping off the wharf into the ocean with frequent rests lying on the warm wharf wood is my ultimate happy swimming place.
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