At age 50, I moved to Paris. Impressed by the casual sexiness of the locals, I updated my wardrobe and skin care regime. But now it’s swimsuit season. Quelle horreur!
Stil / Luke Dahlgren
Like many mature women, I dread trying on swimsuits. Sometimes we cry, sweaty and frustrated, in the dressing room. We eat the emergency chocolate from our purses. We question our self-worth and our genetic makeup. Also, I’m rather top-heavy, and my girls are constantly trying to slip the surly bonds of shirts. Swimsuit shopping is not for the faint of heart.
Top: Dani Vivanco. Bottom: Antony Sastre
Let me tell you my swimsuit history. My super-conservative mother often made my childhood swimsuits, mid-thigh length polyester double-knit with a zipper. During my carefree twenties, I wore modest store-bought suits. My thirties were spent pregnant or nursing, and I wore a big ole Speedo tank suit that stretched with me. In my forties, somebody invented the tankini, which made it easier to go to the bathroom, but that midriff swath of fabric always felt clammy and gross.
The problem with swimsuits, like most clothing, is that they bind your body into too-small packets. When we’re naked, that’s when it just is what it is–legs and boobs and stomachs, small or large, pale or speckled or dark. Our bodies are formidable organisms that breathe and digest and live, and they are nothing to be ashamed of or shy about. It’s when you start trying to strap things in and truss them up that you get into trouble. That’s when you get muffin top or button gap. That’s when you get camel toe.
At age 51, with nothing to prove, I decided that if I could find a bikini that didn’t make me look like a sausage with the casing popped open at one end, I’d try it.
I went first to BHV, my go-to department store. The selection, however, was skimpy, in quality and quantity. The sales staff looked like grumpy twelve year olds. The dressing rooms were improvised curtained-off areas in the middle of the floor. I cut my losses and left.
Top: Artem Bali. Bottom: Veronika Nedelcu
Next I tried Printemps. I cruised through the stationery department, stroking the journals and trying out some pens, stalling until I started to get funny looks from the sales clerks. I went upstairs where they put all their seasonal items in the big dark dome. It was hot. The sales staff looked a bit more mature than at BHV, so I found a bunch of bikinis in my size and took them in the dressing room. It was even hotter in there. Some of the tops looked fine, but the bottoms were all too low and my stomach did this beer-belly thing over the top. I’d like bikini bottoms that are big enough to cover my underwear, which, as you know, you must keep on while trying on swimwear. I quietly put them all back on their hangers and handed them to the cheery millennial clerk. She brightly asked how it went. I said I didn’t think bikinis were for me, and she looked hurt and confused. I left.
Top: Artem Bali Bottom: Callum Galloway
Galeries Lafayette is right next door to Printemps. The first thing I saw on their top floor was a rack of see-through string bikinis. Non, merci. Moving on. I saw some bikinis in a more structured cut, but the sales lady who helpfully put her hand under my boob to size me up clicked her tongue and said she had nothing for me. Then, I saw the brand of the last bra I had bought, Chantelle, in its own little alcove. There were sturdy-looking but elegant bikini tops, with mix and match bottoms, so I chose several. A very chic saleslady, size zero and ten years my elder, swooped in and installed me in a room. A black and white suit fit nicely, and it had a dangly tie that hung over my stomach, distracting attention from the more serious issues like an inflammatory tweet. I called the lady in for her opinion, and she gasped and exclaimed that it was parfait! She spun me around like a ballerina, smoothed and poked me into place, and brought me some different bottoms that covered my tummy pooch and my underwear more thoroughly. She kissed the air and clapped. I was sold. She tried to interest me in a cover-up, but I had shopping fatigue and declined.
Top: Ryan Christodoulou. Bottom: Jakob Owens / Beasty
I took the bikini on a practice run to the pool at my gym. Nobody ran away or threw up. Everybody went about their business as usual.
Feeling confident, I put the bikini in my bottom drawer to wait for the appropriate moment to unleash this jelly on the world.
Top: Matteo Vistocco. Bottom: Analise Benevides / William Rouse
A few days later, I went to Edinburgh. When I arrived, and found that my hotel did indeed have a pool, I cursed, thinking of the lovely black and white bikini in my bottom drawer in Paris. Then, realizing that I am a grownup with a carte bancaire, I went shopping.
Already a proud bikini owner, I strode into Sweaty Betty, the UK’s answer to Lululemon. With the perky saleslady’s help, I chose a sporty navy-blue bikini with peach piping and a matching tasteful-yet-flirty mesh navy cover-up.
Ana Azevedo / Ivan Dodig
Back in my hotel room, I put on my new bikini and cover-up, but was overcome with fear. To get to the pool, I’d have to go along the hall, down the elevator, down another flight of stairs, through the lobby where I’d have to stop at the desk to get a pool key, and down another flight of stairs to the pool. I was petrified. I texted my daughter, who is quite confident in bikinis, for a pep talk. Just own it, she said, and a few emojis later, I headed out. Once again, nobody seemed to notice. When I got to the pool, I saw that I was not the only woman-of-a-certain-age in a bikini. We cooled off in the pool and detoxed in the sauna, rejuvenating our bodies and minds.
I sashayed back through the lobby with a smile on my face.
If you’re going to try to be sexy, start in Paris. It works everywhere.
- Read Paris Summer Prep Lesson One: Legs.
- For 11 French swimwear brands you need to know about, head to The Culture Trip.
- Looking for lingerie in the city of love? Check out our tips for Luxury Lingerie Shopping on Paris’ Left Bank.