Lily Cummings

How to Find the Perfect Swimsuit for Big Boobs

It's not all about underwire and padding. 
May 29, 2019 @ 6:00 pm

When you’ve worked hard to shed any bad ideas about “acceptable” summer bodies and being “swimsuit ready,” there’s no better reward than a summer day you can actually enjoy without the bullshit. And nothing puts the cherry on top quite like an absolutely fire swimsuit that helps you feel hot enough to command control of the pool, the beach, the ocean, and even all the fish who dwell within.

But when you’re shopping for swimwear for a large bust, finding that swimsuit can be a challenge, no matter if you’re straight-size or plus-size. The four women photographed for this story had pretty different expectations about what would work for their boobs (and some ended up in suits that surprised them), but all agreed that shopping for swimwear has always been tough. Part of it is the preconceived notions we have about what will work. A quick Google search for swimwear for large busts will bring up a lot of heavily structured and padded options, but there’s more to it than that. Not everyone over a size DD cup  likes the feeling and fit of a swimsuit that’s built like construction scaffolding. On the other hand, if you do want extra support, it can be tough to figure out how, exactly, you want to get it. Should it be molded cups, or wired? One-piece, or two? And what about straps? You typically start with more questions than ideas about where you can get answers. And you usually don’t get to start by just choosing a look you like.

Jenni Burt, head of buying at size-inclusive lingerie and swimwear retailer Figleaves, says “the main barrier for women to buying swimwear is they feel they can’t find swimwear that fits and flatters them," according a recent survey the brand conducted. "Twice as many said they would rather go to the dentist than wear a bikini on a beach. But it’s not women’s bodies that are at fault. It’s swimwear collections that work against their bodies rather than with them.” And so, she explains, no matter which cut, color, or level of support you’re looking for, fit is the place to start.

Lily Cummings

“For all sizes, when buying swimwear, it’s most important to make sure you are finding styles that truly fit. Its a real game-changer when you have a swimsuit or bikini that doesn’t pinch or tug.”

Of course, that means a lot of trial and error — and keeping an open mind. “Swimwear for large busts” might conjure up images of heavily lined and wired pieces, but  you don’t necessarily have to stick to padded cups and underwire. As long as you’re comfortable with slightly less support (or if all you’re doing is a bit of low-key pool lounging), unlined cups, thinner straps, and even strapless suits for large busts can work. It’s all about understanding what feels good on your body and how you want your swimsuit to work for you.

RELATED: It Took Me 33 Years to Appreciate My Plus-Size Body in Lingerie

“We like to combine support with lightness in our underwired styles,” Burt says. "We also know that many women who have what are considered large busts also like to wear a non-wire top, so we look for styles that support without underwire.”

So what are some sneaky places to get support beyond the wire? Wide straps can do a lot to keep your boobs where you want them, as can swimsuits that convert into halters. Suits with molded cups and no wires offer a bit of shape without lifting the bustline too dramatically. You can also look for suits in thicker, sturdier fabrics to help keep everything in place. And, if you want the classic padded cup and underwire combination for maximum support, search for suits in lingerie sizing — that is, swimwear that’s sized the same way your bra is.

Once you have a clearer idea of what you might want, online shops that curate suits from a variety of brands are a great place to start. Figleaves, for example, offers bra-sized swim separates in sizes 28A-46K, from brands like Curvy Kate, Elomi, Fantasie, Freya Swim, Panache, Pour Moi?, and Prima Donna. Bare Necessities is another website that offers a variety of swimwear brands in extended sizes and styles, including swimsuits made for plus-size women with large busts.

If you’re looking for plus-size specific retailers, 11 Honore curates contemporary and designer plus-size swimwear from brands like Camilla, Cynthia Rowley, Chromat, Malia Mills, and Mara Hoffman. For more plus-size options around $100 or less check out Eloquii, which has a range of high-quality swimwear in dress sizing, Andie Swim (size up to accommodate a larger chest) which has classic, minimal suits up to size 3XL/24, and Swimsuits For All, which carries a wide range of plus-size options in both dress and lingerie sizing (pro tip: the GabiFresh x Swimsuits For All collaboration caters to plus-size women larger bust sizes, specifically).

Of course, another great way to find suits you like is to see them on people who look like you. Below, we set up at the Chamberlain Hotel West Hollywood and styled four women with different body types — but all with large busts — in swimsuits to get some insight into what kind of swimsuits actually work for big boobs.

Dana | 36DD | @danaflewelling

Lily Cummings

On shopping for swim…

I’m not a big fan of shopping for swimsuits, or clothes for that matter. I get overwhelmed with all of the selection, but lack of things that actually fit. I end up on this rollercoaster of emotions and get so exhausted, I end up either picking something that’s okay, or just leaving. Some of the challenges I encounter include lack of variety and support — I spend so much time trying on suits that are either the perfect size everywhere but my bust, or perfect for my bust and too big everywhere else.

Lily Cummings

On underwire and padding versus no underwire and padding…

When I get a new swimsuit, I take the padding right out. For some reason it feels like it adds such a weird shape to my bust. I recently got a crocheted one-piece that was super comfortable, and the moment I got it, that padding was gone. Just because I have a large bust doesn’t mean they always have to be up and out. Sometimes, just letting them be can be the most comfortable.

On her swimsuit...

I wore a one-piece for this shoot, and it was the first time I wore a swimsuit with an underwire — it was way more supportive and a lot more comfortable than I would have imagined. The colors were beautiful, and the fit was perfect. I could move around in it without feeling like something was going to pop out. I’ve never worn a swimsuit with underwire and it completely changed my mind.
Swimsuit, Figleaves, $53. Earrings, Lizzie Fortunato, $195.

Lisa | 46D | @findrelisa

Lily Cummings

On shopping for swim…

I look for support and comfort. I think it’s important to feel beautiful when wearing bathing suits — I mean, it’s basically like someone seeing you in your underwear. It’s important to feel good. Trying on swimsuits is hard sometimes, because they’re hard to get on. Often, swimsuits aren’t sized the same way as my clothes, and due the proportions of my body, my pants size and my shirts size don’t typically match. That makes shopping for swim challenging.

On underwire and padding versus no underwire and padding…

As a plus-size person with a larger bust, I’m of the mindset that suits don’t always have to be supportive. I think often, there are only swimsuits with like, wire cups and lots of padding for larger busts, even though that’s not necessarily the style you like. Depending on the occasion, you can wear a suit because you like the style and not worry about the support.

Lily Cummings

On her swimsuit...

If I’m honest, I wasn’t in love with the suit at first. Then I put it on and was like, “Wow, I look so classy.” It was fun, because I never would have picked that for myself. As the shoot went on, I realized how comfortable it was. In my typical swimsuits, there might be a wire poking me, or I’d worry about how my back looked — in this suit, I felt none of that. I felt completely, 100 percent comfortable.
Swimsuit, Cacique, $67. Earrings, Lizzie Fortunato via Shopbop, $275. Sunglasses, Illesteva, $220.

Jenny | 36G or 38F | @jennyrieu

Lily Cummings

On shopping for swim…

Being 36G places me in between the end of the range for full-bust, and the beginning of the range for plus-size. I need my swimsuits to be supportive, but I also don’t want to be completely covered up. I have certain expectations for the swimwear that I look for and I long for these iconic looks. Some of my swimsuit style icons are Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot and Marilyn Monroe — I  will have what they are having but in my size please! I shop for swimsuits that are reminiscent of the 1950s/1960s as they flatter all body types. So I would say I look for both timeless, retro-inspired and sexy swimwear styles.

On underwire and padding versus no underwire and padding…

I long for support and well-constructed pieces. It took me a lot of trial and error to figure out what shapes worked best on my body type. And I have realized that well-made foundation garments and swimwear can really impact the way I feel and totally boost up my confidence. For my shape particularly, which is an hourglass, I like to wear swimsuits that are very supportive but without padding (unless it’s bandeau, then I need additional support)  as I don’t really need the extra lift. I feel like if the construction of the suit is done right, it accompanies the curves of my body beautifully. Structure is everything. I want to be able to run, swim and do all kinds of physical fun stuff in my swimsuit so it needs to be constructed to the nines.

Lily Cummings

On her swimsuit...

I loved my swimsuit but I didn’t find it supportive enough. I believe the straps should be thicker and there should be an underwire. It’s very different to dress a small bust versus a well endowed bust like mine. Today’s look on set was definitely new to me, as my aesthetic is more 1950s/1960s in general. I felt like I was channeling my inner California babe and I couldn’t stop laughing throughout the whole time on set.
Swimsuit, Mara Hoffman, $260. Earrings, Lady Grey Jewelry, $180. Ring, Lady Grae Jewelry, $132.

Emily | 34D | @emilydowntown

Lily Cummings

On shopping for swim…

I look for simple design, interesting colors, good fit, and a style that reflects my identity as a queer femme person. I typically buy either a super-femme vintage halter and shorty bottoms, or a simple androgynous two-piece. I have a really painful spine condition that makes it hard to do any shopping in person, so it’s frustrating when, if I do go out, I have to try on so many suits and even then there’s no guarantee that I’m leaving with something I love. Then the ordering online process takes so long with try on, send back, repeat. And since I don’t have a trusted brand or style yet, it always feels like a gamble, and not an exciting one! It’s just so annoying that we humans can go to the moon but we can’t figure out how to clothe and support all bodies. Like, no excuses.

On underwire and padding versus no underwire and padding…

I like a little structure when suiting myself up, but I love it when women larger than a B-cup go for a classic one piece. As long as it’s not causing a person physical pain, having a big bust is not something that needs to be corrected or concealed. It’s pretty uncomfortable for me to walk around with no support at all, so I always at least need a second layer with elastic under my baps to help defy a little gravity. It would be great if there were more options in that middle ground.

Lily Cummings

On her swimsuit...

I loved my swimsuit. When I saw it on the hanger I thought no way is that going to look right on me. But I put it on and it fit like it was made for me. The olive green and black color blocking was sleek, and the asymmetrical cut and cut-out was chic AF. I usually never wear a one-piece, and almost always get suits with underwire. This one just had a little elastic but it supported me perfectly. I felt so glamorous! ‘60s Palm Springs chic, indeed.
Swimsuit, Flagpole, $385. Bangles, Lizzie Fortunato.

Photography by Lily Cummings. Styling by Mar Peidro. Makeup by Madeline North at Artists at Wilhelmina for MAC Cosmetics. Hair styling by Dimitris Giannetos/The Wall Group. Art direction and production by Emily Shornick.