Modest swimwear has a pretty bad rap, especially online. Many a blogger without a topic to write about has, from time to time, relied on various "modest" contraptions to entertain his online audience. And frankly, one can see why: there is the swimsuit which resembles a beekeeper uniform, then the frightful housedress-and-wetsuit ensemble which, to me, evokes thoughts of polygamy more than going swimming--the list goes on and on. (My secret belief is that these atrocious ensembles are actually contrived by people trying to make modesty look bad, but of course this is difficult to confirm.)
I have been reluctant to step into the fray, primarily because if one so much as mentions modest clothing nowadays, one is always accused of "telling people what to wear." (Curiously, it doesn't work the other way 'round with those promoting revealing clothing, but that is a topic for another day.) Additionally, standards of external modesty differ, so instead of endorsing any particular clothing I have tried to focus my efforts on helping young people make better choices in their relationships in general.
And yet, the majority of newcomers to this blog have alighted here after searching for modest bathing suits--or so I am told. Therefore I feel obliged to report on the new generation of modest activewear, the kind which will not cause you to flee in fear.
Over the summer I have been conducting an informal contest of sorts, and the good news is that we have some winners. Modest activewear has come a long way since the "Little House on the Prairie" days. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
The first item I tried out, which shall remain nameless to spare its creator any embarrassment, was a sort of culottes made from light grey nylon. The idea is great--a split skirt that resembles a skirt while walking, but when exercising, gives you the freedom of pants. As you may know, the original long split skirts were developed in the Victorian Era for horseback riding so that women could sit astride a saddle rather than having to ride side-saddle. Alas, this modern culottes adaptation, being made of nylon and Lycra, doesn't quite work in the execution: although the crotch seam is dropped considerably, it doesn't resemble a skirt (or pants, or really anything at all for that matter). The overall effect is what you might expect when a bunch of unflattering, stretchy material folds over in lumps, creases and rolls--and it is all attached to you. I knew something was wrong when my husband told me, "It looks fine, darling--as long as you stay on the bike. Just whatever you do, don't get off the bike."
This was his subtle, super-nice way of signaling that this was not his favorite outfit. Needless to say, I moved on. Just because you have your counter-cultural tendencies doesn't mean you want to look like Weird Modest Girl. Or, for that matter, Ali Baba.
But then I discovered HydroChic. HydroChic sells a whole line of capris, swimshirts, and skirts that are meant to be worn without a bathing suit underneath. At left is one of their super-comfortable swim outfits (specifically, Seabreeze Sporty Stripe 3/4 Sleeve Swim Surf Top paired with Long Water Skirt/Attached Pants for coverage--comes with a sportswear swim-bra as well). I swam in it at the cottage, I wore it bike riding, and--this was truly the test--it held up while I was chasing after four little boys at the water park. I felt comfortable during all these activities, primarily because the high-quality stretch spandex/nylon combo dried off very quickly, but also because I didn't have to worry about sunscreen except for my face (the garment has a SPF of 50+). Best of all, with its fitted skirt and concealed nylon swim leggings, it really looks great. This was definitely one of my favorites this summer (although, no, that is not me in the picture).
Now, I know some people searching for modest bathing suits are simply in the market for a cute retro one-piece à la ReVamp; then there are others who wouldn't consider the above outfit modest enough. I'm not here to judge. But if you're looking for something with a slightly longer skirt (HydroChic's longest just grazes the bottom of the knee) then Modiwear, maker of the blue suit at left, sells a bunch of different modest swim-and-activewear combos which hit well below the knee. Batsheva Asbell, the founder of Modiwear, sat down with me in her Toronto home and shared her journey to creating alternative swimwear that "focused on the person rather than the body":
"I was inspired by my experience at a separated women's beach in Ashdod [Israel]. The women were mostly from Jerusalem and wore robes and oversized T-shirts over their bathing suits. They couldn’t swim very well and although they were just thrilled to be in the water, they spent most of their time pulling their coverings down. In addition, I had heard a story of a woman in Florida who lost her life because her wet robe overtook her ability to keep herself from being pulled under. My conscience was hit and I felt obligated to make a difference. I call it a 'Modisuit' because it is flexible for an array of activities, and it included a world of women who were concerned not only about modesty, but also, those concerned about any medical issue."
Although Modiwear's skirt is longer, it also features the stretch spandex/nylon skirt over thin leggings--a winning combination. Batsheva told me that a lot of women are wearing her suits "to go to the waterpark, then go to a restaurant, and then go home." I suppose it depends on how fancy the restaurant is, but the garment does dry quickly, so you needn't put other clothing over something wet, nor change at all after swimming, necessarily--certainly a huge advantage when managing young children. Modiwear also makes children's suits which are adorable. (They don't have a website yet but you can email their office to find out more, or to place your orders here: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
But personally, I think it's well worth it. How many times have you heard women using modesty as an excuse not to get out there and get active? If the Gibson girls could do it in the 1900s, then now so can you.