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Expensive Bathing Suits: Are They Worth It?

“You spent how much on that suit?” Photo: Getty Images

When one Cut staffer posed the simple question — “Would you buy an expensive bathing suit?” — it started an intense debate. Shockingly intense, actually. It seems when it comes to how much coin to drop on a piece of Lycra, we’ve got a lot of feelings. Here, two writers debate whether or not spending money on a bathing suit is totally worth it or totally dumb.

PRO: It’s worth it to avoid intensely uncomfortable wedgies

Two years ago I spent $365 on the Marlene from Malia Mills. You don’t need to say it: I know how much money that is. I was nauseated when I gave the salesgirl my credit card, and I was nauseated just now as I confessed it.

The first time I experienced a similar bathing-suit-related panic-vom-in-the-mouth was when I was 12, trying on bathing suits at some terrible teen mall store in Baltimore. I put on a blue bathing suit with orange flowers that cost something like $30: I turned to the right, to the left, then back to the right, and then to the left again in a frenzy. I had discovered that I had an ass. A big one. And no matter what size I put on, the suit kept pulling, and wedging, and creeping. I was horrified — changing bodies are so hard — and fled the dressing room and picked out a Miracle Suit from Nordstrom instead. The Miracle Suit was considerably more expensive than the Teen Store suit, but I think my mom would have paid anything to make sure I stopped wheezing and/or asking about the possibility of adolescent liposuction. The experience convinced me that spending more money on a bathing suit was worth it.

Today I consider my butt a thing of beauty, but no matter how you feel about the sack of flesh you inhabit, there’s a certain vulnerability that comes with being nearly naked in the glaring daylight. People spend money lots of different ways to feel less vulnerable, because feeling vulnerable in situations that are supposed to be fun sucks. Here’s what that $365 (I KNOW) got me: a well-tailored, well-cut suit, made from really good fabric that sucks me in. The Marlene is not a magic suit — it doesn’t get rid of cellulite, make my butt smaller, or, like … clean my apartment. But it’s well made, so everything looks great — the boobs look perkier, the seam flatters my waist, the high-cut legs and the seat accentuate the booty. In this suit, I don’t have to worry about the discomfort of a constant wedgie, or finding sly ways to pick constant wedgies. I don’t have to worry that when I walk, my bathing suit will spontaneously turn into a thong and scandalize children, or worse, my parents. This is basically an insurance policy on a good, anxiety-free beach-going experience.

Besides, if psychology doesn’t convince you, how about this: Last summer I wore that suit roughly 15 times, which is under $25 per use to feel like a damn beach goddess. And you can’t fight with math. — Allison P. Davis

CON: Buying an expensive bathing suit is dumb.

How many times a year do you wear a bathing suit — 15, 17 at the most? If you’re an average person — who does not live on a beach or have easy access to a pool — there’s no way you suit up more than 20 times a year. For this practical reason and many others, buying an expensive bathing suit is a bad idea. Instead, buy a cheap one. Or better yet, don’t get one at all!

Tomorrow I’m going on vacation. I’d intended to order a new one-piece from Target (mine was from 2009 and had a single functioning strap) but I ran out of time. So here’s my plan: I’m going to wear yoga shorts and a bikini top I purchased at a Mexican supermarket because, that’s right, I went to Tulum and forgot to pack a bathing suit. Such is the inconsequential nature of bathing suits: You can have a wonderful time at the beach in cheap, improvised swimwear.

I know what you’re thinking: A certain kind of (gorgeous) person looks great in ugly, ill-fitting garments because items like that make great hair and good skin look even better — and maybe this is the kind of person who looks and feels great in a cheap bathing suit? Wrong! I am a squat, wobbly woman whose body is marked by childbirth and lack of grooming. Nothing about that prevents me from having a cheap bathing suit, whose financial benefits do not discriminate and can be embraced by all shapes and sizes.

It’s not that I don’t believe in spending money when spending money is worth it. Take the $120 you were going to spend on two triangles, a string, and public underwear and instead buy shoes. Get awkward pants. Pick out a new dress!

You don’t have to love your cheap suit, and that’s the beauty of it. You’re not going to wear it that much and when you do, you’re likely hidden in the water or underneath a cover-up. A cheap suit means you’re free to lose it, or leave it behind, or move on to a new one whenever you please. Your body, not bound by the finality of an expensive suit, can change without consequence. And isn’t that what going to the beach is all about, the freedom to look however and be happy while you do? — Jen Gann

Expensive Bathing Suits: Are They Worth It?