Wait! Before you go any further you’re going to need a pot of tea. This is a long post but I’m going to be disappearing for a bit so I thought I’d leave you with plenty to think about while I’m away. Today we’re having another wander round John Lewis, this time with holidays in mind. I particularly wanted to look at how to find the best swimwear for your body shape after 40. So, a couple of weekends ago I went to explore the Leeds store – let me show you what I found.
The secrets of finding good swimwear
As I’ve mentioned, finding good swimwear has been a focus over the last few weeks as I’ve tried on endless variations in an effort to pin down the most important considerations. My trip to John Lewis was my final stop and they arranged for one of their swimwear fitting specialists to share her experience with me.
Start with the right frame of mind
Before we start though, I just want to talk a little about body confidence (and obviously these are my personal views, not John Lewis’s). I find it disheartening to see a midlife woman wrapped in a kaftan on the beach, clearly wishing the sand would swallow her up. After all she’s undoubtedly worked hard for the holiday that she isn’t able to enjoy – and it isn’t fair that she feels like this.
It’s a strange thing and it seems to prevail mostly amongst those of us who come from cooler climes, perhaps because we don’t see many other bodies in real life. As you’ll know, if you go to a beach in Italy later in the day when the sun’s heat is fading, you see lots of extended families relaxing and enjoying themselves together. The nonnas are there in bikinis, playing with their grandchildren… mothers with post-partum bellies balance babies on their hips and walk unselfconsciously along the shoreline. Nobody looks or points or sniggers because they’re used to it.
And yet despite the fact that we so rarely bare our bodies to the sun, our culture pushes us to have a ‘bikini body’ and be ‘beach ready.’ When it comes down to it, there must be a tiny percentage of the population with the kind of body that matches this image of perfection. So taking into account the fact that the rest of us are clearly the majority, we can change things if we refuse to take any notice of it. It may take a while but it needs to be done.
As I’ve said before, I feel particularly strongly about this as the mother of boys who are growing up in a digitally enhanced world. I want them to know that women’s bodies change with age but that they are beautiful in all shapes and sizes – and that gravity and battle scars are badges of a life lived to the full. I feel it’s my responsibility and also a contribution to the happiness of my future daughters-in-law.
The thing is that we have to challenge the ‘bikini body’ concept at a grass roots level. If we let our boys (and girls) see us, their mothers, feeling ashamed of our bodies, we’re reinforcing the paradigm. With that in mind I continue to wear a bikini on holiday, regardless of the usual headlines insisting that, as a woman over 40, I shouldn’t. So let this be the year that we reclaim the beaches with ‘bien dans ma peau’ as our motto (and some great swimwear to help us along the way)!
Finding the best swimwear for your body shape after 40
John Lewis is a good place to start because they have staff to help you find the right fit and, of course, lots of different brands that you can try on in one go. Swimsuit or bikini? It’s mostly down to personal preference. A one-piece is marginally more fashionable at the moment but the styles that are most on trend are the 80s ‘Baywatch’ vest-shaped suits which offer very little support – and probably did look better on us the last time we wore them.
Begin with an assessment of your body shape. There is probably a dominant feature that you want to account for – big breasts / droopy breasts / small breasts / long body / rounded tummy / large thighs. Don’t groan, we all have them and we’re not going to let them spoil our holiday. We’re going to be realistic, deal with them and then get on with enjoying ourselves.
So let’s break them down and see how we can give nature a helping hand
- A great tip from the John Lewis specialist was that if you have big breasts you should probably avoid a halterneck because it pushes them together and emphasises your cleavage. Of course if that’s what you want then go for it but I know that friends whose cleavages I envy are always looking for ways to disguise them.
- Look for adjustable bra type straps so that you can achieve maximum lift.
- It goes without saying that cup-sized styles will give you the best support but if you’re trying a bikini top, also pay attention to the band, making sure that it doesn’t dig in and cause your back to bulge.
- A lot of the above applies here as well although both balconette and bandeau styles are worth trying too – they may give you the extra lift you need.
See above and also this selection from John Lewis
- The opposite applies – halternecks are your friend, especially if they have padded inserts.
- You may find it difficult to fill cup-sized and balconette tops as they generally come in larger sizes.
- Be careful with bandeau styles – they may press your breasts even flatter.
- Frills and decorative edging will give the perception of added volume.
- This is my number one struggle when I’m looking for swimwear. You do occasionally find brands that make one-pieces in a ‘long’ size but very rarely. The problem is that not only is a one-piece uncomfortable to wear, but it can also make you look stumpy because you are visually dividing your body into two blocks. If you have long giraffe legs the balance is completely different.
- For this reason bikinis or tankinis are your friend because they break the block up. If you choose a tankini it will work best with a contrasting rather than matching bottom.
- If you’re choosing a one-piece, a swimsuit that has a hidden tummy panel on the inside of the suit can be more flattering than lots of ruching on the outside.
- If you prefer a bikini, then higher 50s style bottoms will work well, especially if you have an hourglass shape
- Or look for a foldover top that you can adjust to your preference like these or twist top detailing like these. They are particularly useful for hiding abdominal scars.
Large thighs / bum
- The instinctive move here is to go for low cut legs but if you do that, remember that you’ll be creating a horizontal line around the widest part of your thigh which will emphasise its width. If you choose an angled, higher cut leg, you fool the eye.
- Also look out for side panelling in a contrasting colour like this or tie-sides like this which break up the line.
- Try ordering a size larger than you usually need so that the elastic doesn’t cut in and cause bulges.
Swimwear for swimming in
If you’re looking for a great swimsuit to wear at the gym or for a spa day, JETS is a new brand at John Lewis with some really good swimsuits that are both structural and very well designed.
- Be confident – a smile is the easiest way to distract attention from any other part of your body.
- Try to avoid obvious disguises such as skirted suits, they don’t fool anyone.
- Never underestimate the slimming effect of an oversized beach bag.
- Solid colours, colour blocked panels, geometric patterns, polka dots and stripes.
- Details such as contrast trim or mesh panels.
Probably best avoided:
- ‘Boy shorts’ unless you’re gamine. They emphasise your rear end.
- Neons, pastels, metallics, solid white, cutaway panels and lacing down to your navel.
- Thongs, shredding and jewelled embellishments.
- Avoid polyester, it never feels comfortable next to wet skin.
- Think carefully about matching sets – a tonal contrast often looks more relaxed and contemporary.
- Shop beach cover-ups here
One of the things I really liked about shopping in store at John Lewis rather than online is that they have lots of ‘vertical ideas’ for planning your holiday wardrobe in the same department. In addition to swimwear they have capsules of other things you might need including beach bags, sunglasses, jewellery, flip flops and other ideas so that you can pull together a comprehensive look without spending hours going up and down the escalators.
So, having seen what the swimwear department had to offer, we moved on to look at everything else. The Leeds store is pretty new and is part of the Victoria centre which is a stunning place to visit.
John Lewis is in full swing with summer at the moment and the displays are beautifully themed. Does anyone else still find themselves honing in on things that would once have delighted their offspring? Pirates… dinosaurs… sharks… cowboys… knights… they get me every time.
We need new luggage this year as I’ve agreed to try and fit everything into a cabin-sized bag (with the emphasis being on ‘try’). If I’m going to do it, I’m determined to have a case that takes up as little of my weight allowance as possible and these are only 2KG.
Who’d have thought that you can even book your holiday at John Lewis?
We then went down to the ground floor because I wanted to look at Vita Liberata. I’ve seen so many people raving about their Body Blur but it’s expensive so I wanted to try a tester. It’s body make-up rather than fake tan and so it washes off after use. It claims to “minimise blemishes, cover imperfections, and smooth the skin’s appearance while reflecting light” and it really does make a difference to the texture of your skin. Hopefully you can tell from my left hand here, even though the in-store lighting affects the camera.
I bought some to use on my legs which seem to be very slow to tan these days. It isn’t something I’ll use every day but it will be great for summer events and the first few days of holiday. I went for the latte colour and I bought the mitt to apply it with too.
I had hoped to browse through the John Lewis selection of travel sized beauty products too but they’re only available online. They have one of the best selections I’ve seen though and I have to show you this perfume atomiser. It’s available in eight different colours and I was so pleased to find it because even in its smallest sized bottle, my favourite Valentino perfume is too big to take anywhere with me. It’s easy to decant it into one of these though and I’ve bought a couple so that I can carry one in my handbag.
The hunt for a dress
My next plan was to look for a dress. If you’re a longstanding reader you’ll know that every summer we’re invited to a prestigious law event which is a formal summer garden party. However I’m trying to find something that I can wear on holiday too. Because there are so many brands under one roof, John Lewis is great for this sort of mission.
Now, my stamina for in-store shopping is pretty poor but I have a technique which involves doing a once round of everything and then scooping an armful of things to try on. So I spec things out…
..try to get an opinion from Mr MC beyond “that’s nice… yes that’s nice too…”
…and do my best not to be distracted by other things along the way…
Merci Beaucoup t-shirt 20% off this weekend
En route, I had the nicest moment of my day – an encounter with a Midlifechic reader who came over with her mum to say hello.
So often people get in touch to say they saw me somewhere but didn’t want to intrude. Do intrude – as you can see from my face I was thrilled but be warned… I’ll be after a photo!
Returning to the task in hand, I was spotted by Jessica who is one of John Lewis’s personal shoppers. She’d heard that I was coming in and had been busy trying to track me down. It was handy because I was able to ask her for her swimwear tips to add to my list.
I told her about my dress project and she suggested that I go to Personal Shopping for my trying on session because they’d finished their appointments for the day. So, I gave myself five minutes to pick five of the dresses I’d seen. I was running out of steam and it hadn’t occurred to me to pick up any shoes so Jessica headed off to find some for me. And this really is my kind of shopping because she returned with shoes, bags and chilled Prosecco.
So, knowing that you like a trying on session, here we go.
Dress number one
You’ve already seen me trying to get a response to this from Mr MC on the shopfloor. Being patterned it’s an unusual choice for me but the print is sufficiently ‘ungirly’ for me to like it. I styled it for a garden party type event…
… and also for a holiday…
I’m not going to comment on the dresses by the way – I thought it would be more fun to see what you think.
Dress number two
This was merchandised with green accessories on the mannequin which really made it jump out.. and of course I already have green shoes at home.
Dress number three
Well actually not a dress, a jumpsuit. This is veering more towards the holiday than the garden party. I was expecting Mr MC to make an Andy Pandy reference but when I expressed surprise that he hadn’t, I realised that our age gap was showing. He’s too young to remember Andy Pandy!
Dress number four
Flamingos, the motif of the year (and guaranteed to provoke endless sheep references from my boys, as you now know). This came up shorter than I expected.
Dress number five
None of the shoes felt quite right with this so I took them off. Lots of you loved it on Instagram and it’s now back in stock.
By this point, all of the Personal Shoppers had joined us. I wonder what the collective noun would be – a glam of personal shoppers… a dream..! As you can see, they came with arms full of outfits for me to try – all things that I wouldn’t have thought of.
We were running short of time because the store was officially closing so it was a superfast try on of some of their suggestions:
Dress number six
Dress number seven
This was actually a size 10 and I would have needed the 12.
Frill wrap dress 20% off this weekend
Rogue option number eight
I would never have found this top myself and the trousers are my favourite colour but come from a brand that I never think of trying for some reason…
Now, because the store was closed, I couldn’t buy anything (although I may have done since). I’ll be interested to hear your feedback though – which draws your eye?
What I will say is that the Personal Shopping experience was a lot of fun. They were all very down to earth and open to working around my personal peccadilloes. If you have an outfit dilemma I really recommend it – it’s so much nicer to have the space, the advice, the banter… and the Prosecco. It’s available in all stores and you can book an appointment here. I should add that they have Personal Shopping departments for men too, decked out in a more masculine way but with armchairs so that partners can sit comfortably and enjoy the spectacle. More details here.
So, I hope you’ve enjoyed this post which was only supposed to be about swimwear – but a day in John Lewis always turns into more. I’d like to say a huge thank you to the Personal Shoppers in Leeds and the swimwear department who all looked after me so spontaneously.
We’re now heading off to Valencia for a few days. It will be a trip down memory lane for me because I spent six months at the university there, exactly 30 years ago. I’ve never been back so I’m taking Mr MC and the younger two boys to see my old haunts (if they still exist). I may then be working in London for two weeks after I return so I’m not sure exactly when I’ll be able to post again but I’ll find a way.
In the meantime I’ll be popping up on Instagram @midlifechic every now and then. So until we speak again, have a fabulous Bank Holiday weekend. Can you believe that the weather forecast here is looking better than Spain?!
Disclosure: ‘The best swimwear for your body shape after 40’ is in partnership with John Lewis but all thoughts, opinions, words and pictures are my own.
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