How to choose flattering swimwear

Nikki ParkinsonFashion 119 Comments

Let’s be upfront here.

Most of us are not genetically blessed with model-like body proportions.

We are short, we are tall, we have big boobs, we have small boobs, we have bits that wobble, we have bits that are toned.

What we all have in common is the sum of all the bits. Our bodies.

Unfortunately we just don’t just get on with things and accept the body bits we’ve been blessed. This is particularly highlighted during the annual mission to find a new swimsuit.

It’s time to stop the rot.

The biggest barrier to our buying a new swimsuit and actually wearing it in public is … OURSELVES.

I’ve written on this very topic in the past – on the blog and in my book (warning shameless plug) Unlock Your Style (available here and in all good book retailers) but I feel it’s something to tackle again because we all need a kick up the bum (in my case flat bum that doesn’t fill out a bikini bottom) in this particular self esteem department.

Instead of accepting that the task at hand is a means to an end … that without a swimsuit you will miss out on swimming on your beach holiday or poolside resort escape … is just crazy.

Why be the one sitting fully clothed on the sand or under an umbrella sweltering while EVERYONE else is in the water having fun?

I wouldn’t say I’ve conquered the whole body acceptance thing – far from it – but I am grateful that my body is fit enough to enjoy swimming, or at least lolling about in the shallows never far from a cocktail.

So, this summer I’d like you to join me in this collective gratitude for our bodies.

I want you to buy a new swimsuit that makes you confident to join the pool or beach party. I don’t want you to stand in front of a mirror and attack every perceived imperfection you see staring back at you.

I want you to stand tall in your fabulousness and embrace summer as it should be embraced.

To get the confidence factor started, I’m taking the plunge, pun intended, and sharing with you some photos of me in a swimsuit, taken while in the Whitsundays recently.

I did this last year and it was bloody scary to put them out there. It’s one thing to be all confident while on the beach; it’s another to put photos out to the internets.

But here goes … and yes, I’m kind of cheating with the pineapple kaftan over the top but I think you get the picture (Thanks BabyMac for taking the photos.)

Robyn Lawley bikini | Seafolly kaftan | Blue Illusion hat | Karen Walker sunnies

Robyn Lawley bikini (this style isn’t currently available – I bought about two months ago – but it’s same as this one – I love that the top works like a bra top, contains and keeps the girls uplifted!) | Seafolly kaftan (A note on the kaftan – it’s not sun-safe by any stretch of the imagination and I only wore out in the sun for these quick photos. It’s actually great with a cami underneath for sunset cocktails) | Blue Illusion hat (best aiport purchase in a long time) | Karen Walker sunnies

Robyn Lawley bikini | Seafolly kaftan | Blue Illusion hat | Karen Walker sunnies

Capriosca swimsuit | Seafolly kaftan | Blue Illusion hat

Capriosca swimsuit* @ Sequins and Sand | Seafolly kaftan | Blue Illusion hat

How to choose flattering swimwear

Most of the “how to choose flattering swimwear” questions come to me via women who are beyond their teenage years, most probably have had a kid or two and don’t generally fit the swimsuit model mode.

Kind of like me.

This is not to say that my petite sisters do not have it easy in the swimwear shopping department – there is just more choice out there for them (if you fall into this category, leave your swimsuit buying tips in the comments below – all women are real around here).

The biggest thing I’ve learned in regards to my body shape and swimwear over the years is that I’m only kidding myself if I think that covering my body up makes me look smaller.

In fact, any photos from the years that I insisted on wearing board shorts as part of my swimwear ensemble, make me look bigger. WAY bigger.

I now wear a one-piece or bikini and have a good collection of cover-ups for throwing on when out of the water.


1. If black makes you feel more confident in a swimsuit – or any piece of clothing – then wear it.

2. Consider enlisting the help of a patterned swimsuit for all kinds of optical illusion tricks – and a lot of fun.

3. Want to create an optical illusion around the tummy? Ruching is a your friend.

4. If your bust is a C cup and over then do hunt down a swimsuit with support. Just having the girls up where they belong will help with the confidence factor.

5. Do consider what you’ll actually be doing in your swimsuit. The needs of someone who regularly body surfs or wrangles small children will be vastly different from those who consider raising a cocktail glass to their lips sufficient exercise for the day.

6. Don’t be afraid of shopping online. It really does take away the whole changeroom angst because you get to use your own mirror at home and control the lighting. Sequins?

7. Don’t be afraid to seek out help from a bricks and mortar swimsuit special retailer, either. On the Sunshine and Gold Coasts, I can’t recommend Sundaze Swimwear highly enough. Staff in these stores are trained – much like a trained bra fitter – to get you into a swimsuit you’re happy with.

8. I understand that everyone’s budget to spend on swimwear is different. What I do suggest is that you spend the most your budget can allow if you have your own pool, live at the beach or spend a lot of time beachside over summer. Quality swimwear is made from fabrics that withstand heavier use.

Shopping suggestions

How to choose a flattering swimsuit

1. Capriosca one-piece $139 (size 16-22) @ Sequins and Sand

2.  Robyn Lawley bikini $169.95 (size 10-20, bust size D-DD)

3. Queensland Swimwear Company one-piece $144.95 (size 8-18, bust size DD+, tummy control, ruching)

4. Freya bikini top $69.99 (size 10-16, bust size G) @ Swimwear Galore

5. Isola by Megan Gale bikini top $144.95 (size 8-16, bust size DD-E) @ Swimwear Galore

What are you waiting for? Get shopping. Let’s embrace our bodies for all that they are and hit the beach or pool with a new confidence this summer.

Over to you … what’s your biggest tip you can give others about buying swimwear? If you have a swimwear question, post it below and I’ll do my best to find a solution for you.

* This swimsuit was gifted to me for editorial consideration. Full disclosure policy here.

Comments 119

  1. I would love some help with swimwear – I have to admit that I don’t swim because of my body. There said it. And I actually love swimming. Anyway if someone could advise on something to cover up one’s legs that would be my saving grace. You can’t wear a sarong or caftan in the water!! And I find boardies always fall off when you are trying to actually swim or surf – which when you aren’t skinny is not the best thing to happen to you. Would love to see what you can come up with Nikki! xx

  2. I think this is the first year I won’t be wearing a bikini and I’m in my 50s. The tummy has gotten a bit baggy this year. I bought a great black ruched one piece form Big W!! and a tankini leopard top form Kmart to go with black bikini bottoms and a neon type print from Big W also. They are cheap but last the season and that’s all I ask.

  3. Thanks for a great post Nikki. I couldn’t help myself and just purchased the Capriosca Halter one-piece. I am usually a black swimwear wearer but that print just spoke to me. Can’t wait for summer now 🙂

  4. the pineapples..the length…the subtle peek a boo..all works. You look amazing. I am a Huge fan of a pretty cover up with my swimmers…allows me to walk to and from without doing a commando like stealthy skulk to the water 🙂

  5. Hi Nikki, great piece. A few months back you featured a great foliage print bikini, in I think it was an advertiser’s spotlight. I can find the link now & are all motivated to get a new swimsuit! Could you please point me in the right direction? Many thanks Katie

  6. Last year I refused to dish out good money on a decent swimsuit. Lesson. Learned! Especially seeing as this year we will have a full summer for our pool. Loving every single one of your picks (and can actually realistically see myself in all of them too). x

  7. I LOVE the pineapple patterned kaftan by Seafolly and BRAVO to you my lady – love your intestinals – LOVE “stop the rot” ha ha so true and yet hard to do. I HAVE sat on the beach once missing out because I didn’t buy a swimsuit and that was a very regretful day

  8. Such a great post Nikki, and bravo for sharing your own pics, you look amazing! Even as a small size 8 I struggle to find flattering swimwear. I have given up trying to find anything at the traditional surf shops because the sizing is so ridiculous. I once tried to squeeze my tiny bust into a swimmer top that was marked as a size 16 and still didn’t fit. I actually found a great pair at Kmart of all places this season. The colour is great and for the small amount of swimming we manage to do, it will hold up just fine for me. My only advice is that once you find a style that works, stick with it. I have been buying the exact same style of bikini for the last 8 years because I know I like it! Saves a LOT of trips back to the racks.

    1. Oh that is excellent Erin – and yes, if you can find a cheaper pair and don’t spend a lot of time at the beach or in the pool, then that is ideal. For those spending a lot of time in the water, it’s worth investing in more chlorine-resistant fabrics which tend to cost more but last the whole seaso.

  9. You look fabulous! I’ve been self conscious in swimwear as far back as I can remember, but when I look back on 20 year old photos I do wonder why I was so worried. x

  10. My promise to myself this season was to get in early, as soon as stock arrives on the shelf. To get over being a tight ar$e and expecting to find the perfect piece of swimwear, in my size, on the sale rack. It’s never ended well, and this isn’t likely to change in the near future. And in the meantime, another season passes wearing unhappy togs which doesn’t add any positivity to the whole body thing.

    So this year I’m in early. I’m in whilst I have options available and I can get the perfect bikini before EVERYONE ELSE DOES!!

  11. Cellulite is there for me as well. In the past I used to wear a short sarong, covers the little bits and can be worn in water. Im loving all these tips ❤️

  12. Love the pix of the curvy chicks. You look fab, I’m always so envious of people with slim legs… sigh…. BUT… I love swimming and so would never deprive myself. I use a sarong out of the water as no-one needs to see my wobbly thighs… and feel very comfy these days just in my own skin. It’s about feeling fit, as you wrote on the Fernwood post.

    1. I love that more swimwear companies are using models who are larger than the regular size 6-8 Seana. And about those thighs? I really don’t think anyone’s going to look at them at all. In our heads everyone is looking but I don’t think they are!

      1. I love that too, but wish they would also use some who have hips/thighs WITHOUT the big shoulders and boobs. Not all who are flat-chested are petite, and not all who have thighs are “curvy”.

  13. Being a very curvy and tall size 16 I find it very hard to find even a basic swimsuit that fits let alone looks good. They are never long enough in the body, not enough material to cover my bust and the elastic always digs into my legs. My savior has been Sue Rice Swimwear that I buy online. The size calculator works a treat and even asks you what type of fit you like, i.e. firm, easy fit, etc and the swimsuits come in different length bodies. They are pricey but well worth the cost.

    1. I’m really tall too (although a non-curvy size 12 top with a flat chest) and I’ve found tankinis good. They are generally long enough to reach by bikini bottoms, but give me the freedom to still move around. A little of my tummy may show, but only when I’m moving so it looks like a one piece standing still.

  14. Last Summer, for the first time EVER I actually walked away from swimsuit shopping with a fabulous Isola one piece swimsuit and a MASSIVE boost to my confidence. I honestly think it was all down to the sales girl who knew exactly what would suit me and convinced me to drop a size from what I was used to wearing. It worked! I rocked that swimsuit and am busting to get back and get a new one this year!

  15. I have bought two one piece cozzies from Swimalicious they are online but I believe have an outlet on the sunshine coast. I want to be the mum remembered for getting in the water and busting out the boogie board rather than the mum who sat on the beach, the swimsuits I chose are brilliant and they stay up in the surf ! Thanks for the review , love the pineapple cover

  16. I really need to invest in some proper swimwear. Am so body conscious still even after losing 20kg, but just need to take the plunge! Thanks for your tips – Leah

  17. First of all, you look amazing in all those swimsuit pics, LOVE the pineapple kaftan! I am a size 10 but I do have a little bit of a tummy so I usually go for one piece bathing suits with ruching in the stomach area. Also I always try to do a bit of a spray tan a day or two before I go on to try new bathing suits (silly I know but it does help combating those harsh changing rooms light lol)

  18. Hi Nikki thank you for such an inspiring post! You look fantastic. You have just given me the courage to purchase my first swimsuit in 7 years and ONLINE! I went straight to the Swimwear Galore website and have ordered the Freya bikini featured above. I also treated myself to your book recently and have loved it- especially the message about wearing what makes you feel good. Thank you!

  19. I was feeling very inspired last summer (and your swimsuit post last year) and finally levered myself out of my swimsuit rut. At the end of summer I started buying up all of the separates and coverups I could budget for so I would be well prepared this summer. And I bought some really lovely hats from the Queensland Cancer Council as well. I stuck with uncomfortable unflattering one pieces for a long time because I let other peoples comments get into my head but now I feel liberated from that kind of thinking. I am ready to embrace summer now.

  20. One thing I’ve learned over the years is to NOT listen to sales assistants when they try to get you to try on a pair of bathers that is the same size as your bra size. Swimsuits are notorious for being a size or two below what the tag says, and I’ve found going up a size in the bust area often makes for a better, more comfortable fit.

  21. Nikki – you look great – love the white kaftan! My style of swimmers these days is a pair of quite short lycra bike tights and a loose lycra tank. I don’t like boardies so the tights are good for me. I also have a short kaftan but I don’t go swimming in the sea so just wear the kaftan all the time!

  22. Great post Nikki: play up your best features.
    I would second the vote for Baku.
    I have a flat butt and a tummy, but a patterned tankini with some underwire to lift up the girls and creates a slimmer midriff works. I used to have a tankini with bright chartreuse around the bust that meant no-one looked at any hail damage elsewhere.

  23. I love this pic of you in a bikini Nikki.I actually bought a bikini late last year but didn’t get the chance to wear it but I’m going to and be proud about it too,even though I’m not a fan of my tummy and I have a flat bottom too!
    I usually stick to tanking as I’ve never found a one piece to suit my long body.My best tip would be fake tan it makes the wobbly bits look better.
    Thank you for this post Nikki,we should be happy with the bodies we got given Xx

  24. This is interesting & has certainly made me have a think about what I wear when swimming! I have always worn a bikini top & board shorts, no matter what size I have been as I have white legs with a heap of cellulite! I probably would wear just a bikini if it wasn’t for the cellulite. Do you have any words of wisdom?

    1. My words of wisdom is this: pretty much every woman has cellulite. Even models. We don’t see it on photos of models because they are airbrushed. If you see them walking the catwalk up close though, it’s there. I don’t think anyone would sit on a beach and go, “hey, look at that woman over there with the cellulite!” I know it’s not easy but give it a little try this summer for me 😉

  25. Very insightful Nikki. Oh and you look gorgeous and that kaftan is now a subject of desire! Stunning.

    I actually ‘exercise’ in our pool!! So I have speedo type so I’m not constantly tugging at them (not a good look, but there you go). For fun swimming I usually have a few. A ruched one piece (similar to your #3 in black) and 3 or 4 tankini types for everyday. Home days in hot weather are just spent in bathers at my place, so tankini and bikini bottoms do the job nicely. I’ve got a couple of pretty tops and about 20 sarongs for cover ups too.

    I’ve given up on being self-conscious. My legs are awful with lots of stretched skin on my thighs from kids and weight gain/weight loss – but life is for living and the pool is for swimming … and there is always a sarong handy … and if it bothers people? Don’t look!


    1. Can you imagine when I walked into Myer and saw the pineapples on that kaftan (had to choose from black, white or fluoro orange … wanted all three!).

      I LOVE that you’ve given up on being self-conscious. I seriously don’t think baring “all” bothers anyone else except ourselves!

  26. I took the brave step of not wearing board shorts recently too as I want to show my kids that I’m not embarrassed about my body. I also have a gorgeous kimono to match though and that certainly helps! Mine protects me from the sun a bit yet feels floaty and light, it’s nice a long but open at the front. Thankyou for being so brave. You’re making me consider posting a photo too just to prove it to myself that I’m brave too… steps….

  27. THIS is why I love this blog!! Thanks for a great post. I live in Melbourne and recently went to QLD. Just before I left, I bought a Sunseeker tankini (with ruching thank you very much) at a huge swimwear shop here. I thought they had a great range but no… it turned out we actually have a very limited range down here. I was blown away by the different brands and better range up in QLD shops. I discovered the same for cover ups which seem pretty much non existent down here. Can’t wait for your post about cover ups. The brand I particularly love is called One Season but there were heaps of other gorgeous ones too.

    1. Oh thanks so much! Yes, I think if you would find a bigger range here in Queensland – particularly at the beach/resort areas – as it’s so warm most of the year – so the shops buy more of that stock. My aunty from Melbourne used to wait to buy her cossie when she came up here. I love One Season too – so many fabulous brands – and may can translate to a summer frock off the beach.

  28. Michelle-Ann in Main Street Mornington Victoria has been fitting and selling swimwear for 48 years, just bought a gorgeous seafolly 12 DD in sorbet and the white moonshine kimono (like Nikki’s but front opening and longer (good coverage for not so toned thighs). Melbourne girls head down to the Mornington peninsula, the fitters are mature women who tell you the truth!

  29. Swimwear galore (melb and online) has an awesome range for all sizes, if you are able to go in store, the staff are so lovely and helpful.

    1. Get the thighs out there! No-one else gives a hoot about them except us. Even models have cellulite. As soon as you try to cover them, they look bigger. I know I’m preachy today but it took me well into my 40s to get over myself so I hope to help others do the same well before then!

    2. Get the thighs out there! No-one else gives a hoot about them except us. Even models have cellulite. As soon as you try to cover them, they look bigger. I know I’m preachy today but it took me well into my 40s to get over myself so I hope to help others do the same well before then!

  30. I recently bought the teeny-tiniest bikini I’ve worn since I was about 10. I’m now mother of 2 and nearly 39, so things are not at they were. Despite having recently lost nearly 12kg, I was so self conscious to wear it on the beach, and told myself I’d stay horizontal to have gravity working to my tummys benefit. However, I saw a friend, and had to stand up and talk!! And guess what??? I survived. And no one laughed. And no one even looked!!! I felt amazing… and will def do it again this summer! Just do it girls… buy what you love and DO IT!! xx

  31. Excellent post Nikki! Was considering buying new bikinis for next holiday and you’ve convinced me to go ahead! In my case it’s all about balancing the curves with a padded bikini top for my small bust. A good way of finding the right briefs is by purchasing something similar to what your most flattering undies look like. Great photos, you look fabulous!

  32. I am 43 and a GG cup so swimwear has alway been a headache. My tip for other large busted women is that often stores that sell d cup plus bras sell swimwear as well. Brava lingerie are good.

    1. I can vouch for Brava in Armadale Melbourne too for gorgeous bras and swimwear and excellent service. I think this is my millionth endorsement of this store. I do not go elsewhere.
      Also, if you have daughters with a large bust but slim etc, they cater, I’ve seen some amazing young women come out v v happy.

  33. good post thanks nikki and looking really great too!
    I love that hat and the photo reclining on the cat … super!
    I prefer a one piece but I have a great bikini … a brian Rochford which I’ve had for a while!!! and is still like new guess who doesn’t swim much? …
    it’s about the fabric and fit! I think one must try them on really! love m:)X

  34. Small steps for me, but I’m nearly there! I listened to your advice last year and threw the board shorts away! And after losing 15kgs this year I have just purchased my first bikini (same print/different style as the Isola no.5). I tried quite a few different styles, and these just felt (and looked) right! Bring on Summer!!

  35. Ha! Love this article! Your mum- voice is totes coming out, and we all need a kick up the bum. I love a 2 piece. I don’t love my tummy but so fricking what?
    Best way to get over ones body issues is going to an onsen in japan. Nowhere to hide there!!!

    1. It comes out a couple of times of year 😉 I say so fricking what too … we’re the only people who don’t like our body bits … no-one else gives those bits a thought! And love your suggestion for group therapy!!

  36. I just purchased my first swimwear since 2007, and ended up going a completely different route than normal. Usually I would buy a cheap tankini top and then some board shorts, but this time around I went to a swimwear and lingerie shop and got fitted, as I needed some extra support after breastfeeding two babies! I started off trying the trusty tankinis, and then the saleslady brought in a couple of one pieces. I swore I would never wear a one piece, but I put this on, and dare I say it, I felt sexy! It was black, flattered my body, had a little amount of bling, and I felt confident. Plus it was half price, so I walked out of that store with a new swimsuit, feeling great! I have not had a chance to debut it yet but I do know that this summer I will be able to jump in the pool with my boys and not feel self conscious. Lauren from SAHM I am.

  37. Any tips for a ‘petite’ frame that includes a size six no boobs chest, size 10 (at least) hips and post three baby flabby tummy? I’d love to wear a one piece – is there any hope for me?

    1. That’s me too! The only swimsuits that work for me are Seafolly. Just bought a gorgeous one piece with a high neckline and built in boobs. Pricey but SOOO worth it for the confidence!

  38. Firstly, love the pineapple kaftan! I’m in the market to buy a swimsuit or two this year after losing a lot of weight and wanting to add swimming to my training program this summer. Looking for one that’s sporty looking and goes with goggles for some serious laps and another for casual days spent at Mooloolaba beach. Was there the other day and saw a woman similar age to me in a great nautical navy and white bikini with a fabulous matching broad brimmed hat and stylish sunnies – she looked great and inspired me to get out there!

  39. I too can second SunDaze. I purchased a bikini as a teenager and after following care instructions, they lasted for years and they were so comfortable with my endowment! I’ve had two kids and am no longer the body I once was as is expected and find my biggest tip is – get the bikini before you get there! Spend days trawling for the perfect fit and you won’t get caught up purchasing a string number you saw on the esplanade driving in! (and then get massive regrets and spend the whole time rearranging yourself) So when you get there, the first thing you can/want to do is just to get to the beautiful beach and you won’t spend half your holiday looking for the swimwear and probably getting depressed about it! Also, Nikki have you got any tips for maternity swimwear?!

    1. Go CH – very good tips – mine is keep wearing the bikini while pregnant – get the bump out and be proud of it. I did that with my last pregnancy and felt the most confident ever in a bikini. You’ll need a bigger bust-size top but your pants will be the same.

  40. Small bust options?…….I find that most swimsuits are tailored for those with B cup and above. I have been desperately searching online for the last week. Not many options out there.

    1. I also have a small bust, smaller than before babies and breastfeeding 🙁 I have found BrasNThings and Seafolly have some good padded options. Holternecks are good too. Good luck! I am yet to dust off last years swimmers to see how they are travelling, before I hit the shops.

  41. You look great ! I was just in Florida and at the water parks saw women of all shapes and sizes walking around in bikinis. I wore a tankini with knee length shorts, I just couldn’t take them off as I feel my thighs have become very saggy the last couple of years. I am not big, size 10, but didn’t feel comfortable enough, stupid I know !!

  42. I just bought two new swimsuits for the season, so this post comes a week late! Both Baku brand which I adore. A mostly black one piece wort tummy ruching and a very colourful floral bikini. I’m a 10 but 5ft2 with a very flabby tummy. But I’m embracing it, three kids later, as it ain’t moving. Also learning not to care what anyone else thinks. Just need to get out there and enjoy it. Swimwear Galore online is great and has a sale on now. Or direct through Baku online for the full range. Great post!

  43. Add mind reading to your list of talents! Swimwear and a hat are the last things on my shopping list for our holiday in a few months. I am thinking tankini. And a sarong/kaftan thingy. Decided I am too old for a bikini, and to be honest will feel better with my tummy covered. Loved this post thankyou! Tips from me – I am a D/DD cup, bought a Sunseeker bikini top two years ago and it was brilliant. Removable padding/underwired, could wear it as a bra under sundresses.

  44. A new pool got me back in a bikini for the first time since having kids 18 years ago – on those really hot days when you just spend the whole day in your togs hopping in and out of the water a one-piece is a pain. And I felt pretty ok! I think you are so right about the top half – even my small bust being well positioned made me feel better braving the bikini.

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