I’ve met a few people who are comfortable wearing bathing suits. Alison Houtte (above), co-author of Alligators, Old Mink & New Money would be one of them. But she’s from Florida! And she was a model for ten years in Paris and Manhattan. That makes a difference, right?
I met Alison and her sister Melissa when I had the privilege of interviewing them at a book event at Book Passage in Corte Madera. Alligators, Old Mink & New Money chronicles their growing up years, Alison’s modeling career and her wonderful store in Brooklyn called Hooti Couture, a vintage store favorite. She’s had it for 20 years but is closing the doors next month and moving back to Miami.
I think anyone who grew up on a beach or near swimming pools might find bathing suits something they could comfortably, intentionally wear, like on purpose, by choice. Me? Not so much. I got to California way past my formative years. I’m not sure I can adjust.
Shopping for Bathing Suits
Curiously, I love helping other people feel comfortable in bathing suits. I’ve helped clients buy bathing suits for sport, as a basic summertime necessity or for destination vacation use. It’s delightful!
Although in thirty years I don’t believe I’ve ever had a client sound eager to shop for bathing suits. In fact, they come to me with furrowed brows and trembling voices, like they’re terrified. I usually say “No problem!” and tell them I’ll bring the Valium; not to worry.
It’s always insanely successful. It’s not because of the Valium; that’s of course, a joke. But they come to the dressing room with such low expectations that heading up from there wouldn’t take much. Every woman ends up buying two or three bathing suits, even more, because we just can’t choose between all the great choices.
How do I feel about bathing suits personally? I’d put myself in the mortified category. Give me a little slack, though, would you? I grew up on a farm in North Dakota and the nearest ‘pool’ of water was the water in the horses’ trough near the barn. I’m more comfortable in a wool sweater than a Spandex bathing suit. But that’s just me!
For your amusement, I’m sharing something I wrote called Bathing Suit Hell which was first published twenty-two years ago. Yup, in 1993. It marked my very first published piece of writing.
My experience around bathing suits hasn’t changed much since 1993 although I have purchased a few since the J.Crew ones I speak about in this piece. I wore one when my daughters and I had a spa day. Both of them were born in California and are not afraid of bathing suits. You can tell, just by being around them. I know where one is in case of an emergency, but otherwise, it stays at the bottom of the basket it’s stored in.
My kids may have had the Pacific Ocean and sandy beaches but I had snow angels. So there.
Bathing Suit Hell, circa 1993, by yours truly
Last Saturday morning while I sat on the straight, hard bleachers at my daughter’s softball game, Brianna’s mom got up, headed for the Coke shack, and flipped these words over her right shoulder: “It’s so hot I feel like I should be in a bathing suit.”
It was hot, that’s true. So hot that maybe I’d like to be in my air conditioned car, or sitting in my backyard thankful for the overgrown trees, or maybe hot enough to put on my linen, full skirt and blousey silk shirt. But to take all my clothes off and strip down to a stretchy wad of fabric in splashy colors that could fit in my fist? No, I can say for sure that I have never, ever, not in my whole life felt hot enough to walk around in a bathing suit. I leaned in close to Erika’s mom and said, “Now that’s one feeling I’ve never had before.” Her laughter let me know she was with me and we bonded there in the fourth inning, with the score 11-7.
I wish bathing suits had never been invented. I’ve been invited to go to Hawaii and I’m not thinking about how I’ve always wanted to go, how the trip’s being paid for, how I’ll get to see a dear friend again. No, I’m focused on the one glitch in the whole thing: I’ll have to get a bathing suit. I’ll be in bathing suit heaven feeling like hell.
I realize in the big scheme of things, my bathing suit phobia is pretty insignificant. But some of us take these things seriously. I called my friend Molly. I expected to commiserate, but she brushed the whole thing off like it was no big deal. She claimed to have found “a bathing suit that looks great on every body.”
“It’s true,” she insisted. “I’ll bring one over. You can try it on.”
I’m in the fashion business. I’ve yet to come across anything that looks good on everybody—okay, maybe cream colored socks or a teal blue sweatshirt, but a bathing suit? No way.
Molly dropped the suit by: dandelion yellow, simple tank, low back, cotton/lycra, from the J. Crew Catalogue. She told me it comes in other colors. I filed it on my bedroom floor, next to my dirty clothes hamper.
I picked it up that evening when I got undressed. An easy on and off, I thought. I pulled the dandelion suit up my body and tucked everything in its right place. I stood before my mirror and didn’t hate it right away. I checked myself out from every angle—sideways and stretching my head over my shoulder, I checked my rear end. Not bad. Now I know there isn’t a bathing suit that can make me look like Raquel Welch or Cindy Crawford. I’m happy just to look as good as I can.
I dialed the eight hundred number and ordered two suits; one in leaf and one in espresso. If I go snorkeling on the reef at Hanauma Bay, I’ll be well suited. But if I just want to get wet, I’ll do that in the privacy of my own bathtub, sans suit.
And what dear readers are your thoughts about bathing suits?