This summer certainly looks a little different than most, thanks to some safety-specific precautions, but that hasn’t stopped people from finding unique ways to enjoy the sun-filled months. Of course, that includes members of the plus-size community, who have long been fighting for the swimwear industry to prioritize inclusivity. Now that change is on the rise, not even a pandemic can stop these five women from celebrating the best plus-size swimsuits of the season—even if it means doing so from inside their homes.
For decades, many within the plus-size community have had troublesome relationships with swimwear. Advertising campaigns have long featured solely thin bodies, and breaking through the stigma of being the only fat babe on the beach is often easier said than done. Due to its nature, swimwear is among the most revealing of garments, and for those who are not yet comfortable with certain aspects of their body, it can be extremely triggering to put them on display for all to see.
All of this to say that swimsuit season isn’t especially inclusive, both because of society’s deep-rooted stigma towards fat bodies as well as each individual’s personal journey with body acceptance and self-love. That said, many influencers are fighting to change things for the better. Not only are they holding brands accountable and showing the plus-size community’s buying power, they’re also changing the lives of women and men every day, just by showing them that they, too, should feel comfortable in their swimsuits.
Curvy trailblazers like Gabi Gregg have led this movement for years now, with her annual Swimsuits for All partnership being among one of the most popular plus-size swim collections. Chromat’s inclusive swimwear line has also been groundbreaking in many ways, while more affordable brands like Target, Loft and Lane Bryant are increasingly reliable season after season.
While there is still a lot of progress to be made, there are tons of amazing, inclusive brands out there that do prioritize catering to all bodies, so with only a few more weeks of summer left, we spoke with five incredible women about the best plus-size swimsuits and how they’re making the most of summer 2020, quarantine style.
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As a curve model herself, Taylor Long knew the swimwear market was not nearly as inclusive as it could be. So, she took it upon herself to launch her own brand, NOMADS Swimwear, available in sizes S-4X.
“As a designer, in a lot of design schools, you’re not taught how to really design, pattern, drape, or construct for sizes bigger than a zero or two,” says Long. “So, to have a brand that does have inclusive sizing ends up being quite the feat, because you’re having to learn all the different things that it takes to construct a suit for plus-size women since there are different fabric considerations.”
With its inclusive range, NOMADS has been embraced by the plus-size community for both its mission and its chic, destination-inspired styles, as well as its realistic models and imagery.
“I’m a big advocate for not airbrushing out what society deems to be flawed. I think it sets unhealthy standards on people that are unnecessary,” insists Long. “A lot of brands will say they’re inclusive and then will only go to an extra-large, and that’s not really what size-inclusive is. You have to be inclusive of actual plus-sized bodies,” she says.
In terms of how she’s spending her summer, Long has been taking full advantage of her parents’ pool. And when she’s not at their house, she’s on her terrace, enjoying the sun as best she can. “[I’ve also been] indulging in a little bit of retail therapy, because I think we all kind of need little bits of happiness and for me, especially in the beginning, that was through shopping,” she adds.
If you’re also in the mood for some shopping, you can snag Long’s exact one-piece, the NOMADS Swimwear Shoreline Suit, available in sizes S-4X.
“Every year, I try to do something that’s sort of missing in our market,” McDonnell explains. “I’ve never done something that was beautiful, romantic and just me showing my body in a really commercial way, so that was my inspiration this year.”
For summer 2020, McDonnell had a dreamy Italian aesthetic in mind. “I am Italian, so everything I do, I always want to harken back to Sophia Loren, my grandma, my mom and those curvy women who have always inspired me,” she explains.
The lookbook came out just as beautifully as expected, and it might surprise many to know that up until fairly recently, McDonnell was not always as comfortable in a bikini as she now is.
“I did not wear a bikini in my adult life until I shot my first bikini lookbook five years ago,” she explains. “What has helped me the most is just asking, ‘Do I feel good in this piece?’ People are going to stare regardless, because people just do, but do I feel amazing in this hot pink string bikini? If I do, I have to wear it. If I’m feeling uncomfortable, then I don’t wear it. If you feel great in it, do it. If you don’t, start small.”
McDonnell’s current swimsuit obsession? String bikinis by Curvy Beach, a plus-size owned company making waves of change in the market. “[We’re all ready] to see all body types represented in swimwear,” she says.
“I am pretty swimwear-obsessed,” says Gess Pugh, a curve model and stylist based in New York City. “Growing up, I was one of those kids that wore a big baggy t-shirt over their swimwear because I was ashamed of my body. But now, I’ve got this full range of bikinis—I probably have way too many—so I would say I’m a swimwear enthusiast.”
One of Pugh’s favorite swimsuits of the season is a yellow, long-sleeved suit from Gabi Gregg’s Swimsuit For All Collection. “I’ve never owned a long-sleeve bathing suit before,” she shares. “And in a weird way, I know it’s kind of covering up, but I really love the fit of it. I love the color. I love the detail with the little cutout. It’s just really sophisticated, but also fashionable.”
Pugh’s summer getaway has been taking the ferry over to Rockaway Beach, always making sure to practice social distancing and wear her face mask, as New York has entered stage four of its reopening plan. NYC’s many parks have also served as a go-to for her to enjoy the sun, even if it’s not the tropical summer vacation she had hoped for.
“I’m a huge proponent of more brands understanding that plus bodies also go to the beach, we go to the pool, we layout, we get tans—those are not activities that are reserved for only thin bodies,” Pugh says. “I would love to see more fashion-forward and fun, trendy pieces for plus bodies, just because we want to have in on the fun as well, and it’s not just for our smaller counterparts.”
Shop Pugh’s Swimsuits For All X GabiFresh Sunburst Bikini, available in sizes 10-24.
Chicago-based fashion blogger Natalie Craig—also known as Natalie in the City—has a message for all the curvy women out there: “Wear what makes you comfortable and wear what makes you feel good, even if that is a tankini or boyshorts,” she says.
Craig has been spending her quarantine summer laying out in parks near her house, enjoying the season as best she can. She’s also doing her best to recreate summer inside her apartment, opening up the windows and letting the natural elements, chilling with her bird, Rico, and enjoying time with her boyfriend.
“I love daring and kind of sexy styles for swimsuits, because every summer I try to push my boundaries a little bit more,” says Craig. She also pays close attention to her swimwear’s color story. “I love the color red right now for a swimsuit. And I also love burnt orange or green tones.”
Of course, Craig feels similarly to her peers when it comes to the plus community deserving more swimwear variety. “We should have the same options in swimsuits [as straight-sized people] because we all deserve to wear what our friends are wearing and feel like everybody else,” she says.
Shop a Baiia Reversible Wrapsuit like Craig’s, available in sizes XXS-4XL.
Sarah Chiwaya, founder of the inclusive fashion blog Curvily, is always vocal about the needs of her plus-size peers. “This community is so important because it bolsters us as plus-size women and plus-size people, and it helps us push back on that omnipresent messaging that our bodies are something to hide or something to be ashamed of,” she says.
That said, she isn’t immune to insecurity. “I still have moments where insecurities will come in…but I’ll post a photo and get such warm, wonderful support and feedback from my community that helps me continue to push past these boundaries that have been set up by society,” she shares.
Body positivity has certainly been a journey for Chiwaya, like many other women. She recalls visiting friends in Miami when she was 21, wearing a “grandma tankini” to cover parts of her body she wasn’t yet comfortable to show. Now, she’s an advocate for helping other women along their body journeys, and letting them know that they’re worthy of feeling sexy and happy in a swimsuit.
“If you’re not comfortable in the real world yet, bolster your confidence within our community. Share your bikini photos with a blogger that you talk to regularly,” she suggests. “I love to see people wearing things that they bought because of me or that they were inspired to wear because of me, so I will always hype you up, I promise. Every time I get those messages, my heart swells, and I find people that will support you online and that will get you in a better space.”
In terms of how she’s spending this summer, Chiwaya has been finding any sort of outdoor space to wear her swimsuits too, whether it’s a local park in New York City or her fire escape. She’s also fortunate to be close to a few beaches she can go to on off hours to avoid crowds and practice social distancing. “Just getting in the water is the best part of my summer,” Chiwaya insists.
As for her thoughts on the best plus-size swimsuits of the season? In addition to some signature Chromat styles, Chiwaya is a fan of Curvy Beach, like Brianna McDonnell, and the same yellow Swimsuits For All suit Gess Pugh raved about.
Shop a Curvily-approved string bikini by Curvy Beach, available in sizes XS-4X.