Mom Essential: The Little Black Swimsuit

I am not a fan of the idea of “dressing your age” or otherwise adjusting the way you dress to fit some (usually fucked up) societal ideal of how women should look, act, feel, be or do.

While I don’t think we should completely disregard social context or general public consideration — don’t go into a job interview with booty shorts and a crop top, unless you’re going to be working as a hip hop dance instructor, for instance — I think women should dress for themselves, their dreams and pleasures, and the lives they lead.

But there’s no denying that sometimes you reach a stage in life where your fashion sense changes. Your circumstances are different, or your relationship to your physical self shifts, or you just simply don’t have time, money or energy to divert from other pressing priorities.

When I became a mother, how I dressed changed, for sure — I don’t think I’m alone in this. Part of it was emotional — I felt unmoored by the massive identity shift that was becoming a mama. A lot of it was logistical — I nursed my baby for a year, I dealt constantly with spit-up, messy food and all the grossness that you deal with when you feed a very young child. I needed uniforms, simplicity, utility, functionality — but I also needed a way to connect to my past self, a self I carefully tended and nurtured and missed. (My solution: stripes.)

But certain things I tried to hold onto, sartorially speaking. Things that society loves to tell women not to wear once they’re no longer hot young things bursting with fertile potentiality, at least according to Darwinian dictums. Things like miniskirts, bikinis, tops with cut-outs, crop tops, leather jackets.

(Yes, I know, lots of mothers wear these things — but I also know a lot of moms who don’t, because there’s a voice in their head telling them to look ‘appropriate.’)

The call to ‘appropriateness’ makes women small and diminished all too often. And so I wore sartorial forbidden fruit, not just because I loved things like short skirts, but because defiance is an underestimated pleasure. I wasn’t always comfortable at first, because I’m still a sensitive person who exists in the world and am attuned to messages. But I always knew that once I summoned a little courage, some time, self-love and my innate superpowers of fun, I would eventually feel comfortable.

There was one little exception in my little feminist self-loving sartorial parade, though: the bikini. I often do think two-piece swimsuits are more flattering overall, and for awhile after I gave birth, I stuck with my pre-pregnancy swimsuit standby of boy short bottoms and halter bikini top. I had a mama belly and carried post-partum weight for longer than I wished, but at some point I didn’t care –I liked my two-piece. It was comfy. I could adjust it and make it flattering.

But there was a day when I was at the beach with my little one and…well, let’s just say that him reaching out to grab me — and my top — just as a wave hit us definitely would’ve been a “oh shit paparazzi” moment, if the paparazzi were interested in Midwestern expat moms.

Luckily, they’re not, although I think I shocked two little kindergarten girls with my baby-enabled unintended flashing. And so the next day I decided to embrace the one-piece swimsuit.

Personally, I think there’s something to be said for the little black swimsuit myself. Like the mythical little black dress, almost everyone who is dress-inclined has one in their closet. The idea of the little black dress is both iconic and expansive enough to accommodate many different styles, tastes, budgets, body shapes and so on. And so it is with the little black swimsuit. It can be sexy, punky, elegant, nostalgic, futuristic — whatever your mileage is. Basically the poolside version of the little black dress.

Happily, one-piece swimsuits are quite the thing now, and as a result, there are SO MANY great options for whatever aesthetic or feel you’re going for. Brazilian sexy, 50s matinee goddess, Riviera throwback, 80s throwback — it’s all out there. And none of them have to be the desexed, frumpy, shapeless swimsuit equivalent of maternal self-abnegation and effacement!

I took a little time to source a few. And I have one myself, which you can see partially above. (I’m not so brave yet to pull off a full body shot — I have enough of an issue just photographing my face for the Internet!) Mine is from Old Navy, and I’m into it because it’s pretty sedate but still kind of sophisticated and even sexy, with an unusually placed cutout. It’s a nice bridge between my mama self and my summer babe self, which is more than I can ask for in a swimsuit!

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