Swimwear is the new ready-to-wear

Beach chic is no longer confined to a pool party as designers mix swim pieces and party separates with great gusto.

Harper's Bazaar India

If you thought swimwear was meant for just relaxing by the pool, then you’ve got it wrong. Resort design mavens have diversified the beachwear category into versatile and utilitarian pieces and separates that work effortlessly at a brunch, a sundowner, or pre-wedding cocktails. Over the last couple of seasons, with more and more people travelling to resort getaways and tropical locales, the beach-glam lexicon has inculcated new elements from day wear and evening spaces. For example, a bralette or a crochet gilet complements a pair of pants, or a pool-sari looks more sensual when teamed with a bikini or a bandeau top. Labels like Shivan & Narresh, Flawed By Shaleen, Flirtatious, and EL Swimwear, among others, have showcased hand-painted maillots (cross-cut with cut-out detailing) and plunge neck, one-piece swimsuits that can be styled with denim or paper bag shorts. A sultry halter top with edgy cut-outs—teamed with a draped, printed scarf-skirt—works well for brunch, and even for when the cocktails are calling. There’s really no end to this mash up of swimwear pieces and casual-chic essentials, as one could create multiple looks for myriad settings.

Swimwear designer Esha Lal, in her vast repertoire of beach offerings, has incorporated high-cut bottoms as well as a pair of high-waist full coverage bottoms, so her customers can play stylist and indulge in the endless pleasures of mixing and matching. “We also offer strappy, reversible triangle bikinis for those who like both prints and solids. Some of our bikini tops have plunge necklines and provide great bust support with underwire or removable cups, making them more size-inclusive and comfortable,” she says.

The future of swimwear is definitely not confined to the beach or pool anymore. “Team our bikini top with a pair of high-waist jeans, or a skirt, for a night out to the bar. Our cut-out swimsuit can be worn as a bodysuit, styled with a shirt or blazer for a dinner date. Or pair a swimsuit with a wrap skirt, and you’re ready for a lunch outing (add a denim jacket, if needed). Mixing textures with patterns is a great way to embrace colour this summer. And of course, styling a bikini top or a swimsuit with a lehenga or sari will definitely make a statement,” adds Lal.

Shivan Bhatiya, head designer, Shivan & Narresh, observes that swimwear as ready-to-wear has found a place with summertime casuals beyond the beach, making it one of the most stylised and versatile investments. “The best way to maximise your wardrobe is by exploring swimwear’s hidden potential. From long sleeves to Y2K shimmer, it’s a matter of making the most of the day—as well as the night. Style your triangular and bikini halter tops with open button-up shirts or or bomber jackets for laid-back leisures. It not only feels young and fresh, but also offers the feeling of being on vacation. A maillot is a no-brainer swap for a bodysuit. A sensual, playful trikini, too, looks great when paired with high-waist denims or fuller skirts to fuse fashion with functionality. From shimmering, metallic swimsuits with crystal mesh accents to amp up the cocktail glam, to bright, easy-breezy paneyos and sensual knits styled with micro-bandeaus and plunging necklines to serve up seaside romance—swimwear is definitely enjoying a major fashion moment this summer,” he says. Swimwear is no longer just summer season, it is an all year round phenomenon. A sexy bodysuit lends a sensual touch to Indian ensembles. Designer Aakriti Grover of Flirtatious notes that, “You can take your sexy cut-out swimsuit to pair with an oversized blazer and a gathered skirt or flared pants. Make it sexy and bigger in a minimalistic way with a clean, sleek bubble pony.”

Shaleen Chhapkhanawala, founder of label Flawed by Shaleen, has been a ‘bikini girl’ all her life, and has recently been finding herself reaching for the one-pieces. “The ways to wear bikinis from day to night are endless. Personally, I would wear our new one-piece with denim shorts and a pair of high-top Converse sneakers for the day or throw jeans and a blazer over our bandeau bikini and head for dinner,” she shares.

Since Independence, Indian women have been forced to wear standard American or European sizes when it comes to intimate wear. Inherently, Indian women have fuller hips, thinner waists, and shorter torsos—a very curvilinear body type by nature. Today, they are no longer resigned to making do with generic and conservative swimwear with limited choices. They are now getting increasingly comfortable with the idea of pool outfits being, well, just outfits...something that will evoke the same confidence as a well-fitted LBD.

Narresh Kukreja, creative director, Shivan & Narresh, says, “Body positivity does not mean more or less clothing, it revolves around your relationship with your body, feeling comfortable in what you choose to do with it, and what you choose to wear. This idea runs front and centre in India today, pushing beyond the disruptive notion of trial-room syndrome—something so synonymous with the narrative built around Indian swimwear. Our efforts are directed towards offering creative design solutions and a bespoke body chart that will suit different sizes. The key is to combine the modesty of cuts with the boldness of lines and colours that compliment a woman’s body. Some customers feel comfortable with more coverage, while some prefer a micro-bikini; both have the right to choose, and thus, have to be respected equally. More size-inclusive options—big or small—definitely help validate women in their choices and bodies, whatever they may be,” quips Kukreja.

This piece originally appeared in Harper's Bazaar India, May'23.