I moved to Texas when I was 32 years old, after being born and raised in California. As a small child, I grew up in a pack strapped to my father’s back while he and my mom explored the beaches and campgrounds of the Central Coast. So as a teenager, it was only logical that the month of February consisted of searching for the “perfect bikini”. I scoured stores with names like “Sea Barn” and “Moondoggies” in order to pay 80$ or 90$ for what probably costs 2$ to make and what would ultimately become my “summer wardrobe”.
The traditional 90’s style suit was my preference when it came to swimwear. The underwire top accompanied by traditional style bikini bottoms is what I liked. I owned everything from a purple and yellow floral number to a red bandana bikini.
Of course I had one-piece bathing suits as well; you know, the ones that didn’t get much action unless you were going to summer camp that year. They hid in the back of the drawer until that 1 week in July popped up. Then out came the blue Mossimo plaid one, or the suit that just LOOKED like a bikini from the back (low-cut just above the butt in the back -enhanced with a ruffle of course- and tiny crisscrossed straps over the upper torso). I think my favorite one-piece was the ever-popular style of the half tank top attached to a bikini bottom at the sides with thin pieces of fabric. In ’89, that was the way you got around summer camp rules. It LOOKED like a two-piece, but when the life guards blew their whistles in recognition of a “pool violation”, you would simply shrug your shoulders, throw them a helpless glance, turn sideways so they could get a look at the detail that justified your “one-pieceness.” You’d mouth “It’s-a-one-piece”, hold up one finger, use it to point at the inch-wide pieces of fabric on either side of your hips, and dive back into the pool.
As I got older, I decided that one piece suits were a good idea because it’s one thing to be 16 and walk around in basically your underwear, but it’s quite another to be “older” and still think you’re “all that”. While I decided it was cool to wear a non-bikini, I had a terribly hard time finding any that would fit. The “fake out” one-piece of summer camp years were no longer in style and I had to go for a more conventional model.
I should probably state that I have an extra long torso (a reason that makes it very hard to find overalls that fit well also. Not that I am looking for overalls, but in the 90’s, I was the last to jump on THAT bandwagon. I finally settled for a pair from the Gap; they were a bit short, but that is the long, drawn-out saga of my life that I will save for another time). These factors make it extremely difficult to find a bathing suit that fits.
So on the dreaded “Bathing Suit Shopping Day”, I would head to one of the local surf shops. These stores always carried better quality suits and I had a MUCH HIGHER chance of finding something that would fit me. A chain store was not on the radar for this type of desperate situation. The first step was to SCAN the store for possibilities. The cute surfer boy employees were always anxious to help you, but this was not something I wanted help with. Once the cute clerk was dismissed, I would find several items that were possibilities. Then I would look for sizes. What size? Did the one pieces run the same as the bikinis? I would decide to go with small, since that is what I would normally wear. I’d grab 6 ( if only the world were not stifled by this dressing room maximum rule!) and head to try them on.
Then of course there was the dressing room ordeal: you tried on all of them and they were too small. The bottom went up your butt and the top was swooping exceptionally low, dipping too close for comfort to the naval. OK. Medium perhaps? I’d get all my clothes back on, go back out for a “do over.” Cute boy would be chatting it up with cute girl at counter. I would grab only 4 for the next round, choosing the favorites from the previous round in a size medium. I’d head back to the fitting room to where a line had suddenly formed. (This is why I prefer, if at all possible, to shop in the early morning hours, when most teenagers are asleep and mothers of small children are still at home feeding their kids). OK. Only 2 deep. Not bad. Surf shops are notorious for only having 3 fitting rooms. And they are always the kind that are small and ill-lit and have those Hawaiian bark cloth curtains that barely close and you have to nervously change while you wonder if the rest of the store can see in while you are basically naked. A five-minute wait wasn’t too bad. The first suit I would try wouldn’t be quite so low-cut, but the bottoms would still be all up in my crack. The next one would be terribly worse than the first time around, and I’d wonder if I was somehow gaining weight while in line to try on!? Then it would become clear that-damn!- the hanger said Medium but the interior tag proved my suspicions-an XS! Suit #3 would be baggy on top. Suit #4 would be snug down below, but the top was better.
So again I’d emerge from the small curtained area and take another trip to the swimwear section. Suit #4 in a large. Suit #1-out of size large. So with one possibility literally hanging on my thumb, I’d casually pick up the cute blouse off the sale rack on the way back to the curtained pod and hope for the best. Fingers would be crossed and I’d knock on the wood surfboard bench in the waiting area for extra luck.
I have never worn a large in anything, but I would go into it with the best of hopes. Suit #4 would fit comfortably down below; no visible camel toe and more than enough ass-coverage. The top, however, would be a disaster area. The gaping on either side of the top would indicate what I’d always known: clothes are made for Barbies. The lining fabric would be loose and crumble up underneath, and would make it look like I had done a poor job of stuffing my top with corn flakes.
I would then leave the store with a bag that carried a cute sale blouse and head to the next store with still a bit of hope. Multiply this last scenario by 4; 4 more stores and still no luck. At the fifth store, I’d end up settling for a medium ( it’s not THAT BAD I’d convince myself) with the intention of cutting out the lining to avoid the “crumply-chest” look.
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This story shows MEN several things. First of all, this is why your girlfriend goes shopping all day long, comes home in tears and shows up to the beach in an ill-fitting bathing suit that is not a color or style you would THINK she would ever choose. This is also why she has so many blouses.