Why Are Swimsuits So Expensive?

Why Are Swimsuits So Expensive?

Swimsuits are the most popular type of clothing for summer, and it's no wonder why. They're light and cool to wear! So it should be a joyous occasion when you put one on. 

But then your wallet reminds you that swimsuit shopping is not as fun as it sounds. Wondering why they cost so much? Keep reading to find out more about this frustrating topic. 

Swimsuits are expensive, but it's not your fault. You can't fight the system! It turns out that there are a lot of factors that contribute to swimsuit prices.

Swimsuits are expensive. Why? The answer is threefold: the material, the labour and the retail markup. First, swimsuit materials cost a lot because they must be durable and comfortable in the water. 

Second, retail margins for swimwear can be as high as 40% or 50%. Third, you're paying for a lot of human labour when it comes to producing a garment that is comfortable but also stays in place while you're swimming laps at your local pool. 

Many people don't know that swimsuit designers have to spend a lot more time on each design than normal clothing designers. 

Swimsuit designers must consider that they need to find ways for women's breasts not to fall out when they dive in and also make sure it stays tight around the waist. 

They also have to make sure there is enough fabric at the bottom so your thighs can move without being exposed. This all takes time and work, which is why swimwear costs more than regular clothes! 

We'll break down these factors so you have more knowledge about why they're so expensive and what you can do about them.

The most common reason for high priced suits is because designers want to make their products stand out from other brands. 

When someone wears their suit in public, it's an advertisement for them! They want people to see their name when they look good in it, which leads designers to add more unique features such as embellishments or unique fabrics.

It's summertime, and swimsuits are on everyone's mind. But, if you're like me, you struggle to find a swimsuit that fits your shape (maybe I'm not the only one?). 

Most women don't know this, but swimwear has traditionally been designed for the average "average" body type. 

This means that many of us can't wear them because they just don't fit well. And even when we do find something that fits our body shape, it is often very expensive!

But there are ways to get around these issues! This blog post will discuss why swimwear is so expensive and how you can still have fun in the sun without breaking your bank account or feeling self-conscious about fitting in.

Let's get started!

1. Well, Do You want to Look Good And Feel Comfortable While You're Mostly Naked Or Nah?

Often with swimsuits, less is literally more. More money that is. Guys' trunks aren't cheap — designer labels will charge hundreds of dollars for, basically, water-ready shorts! 

And have you ever seen the price of women’s swimwear? Why does so little material cost so much money for clothes you get wet in? As it turns out, there’s a lot more to why swimsuits are so expensive. 

Alongside Michael Leva, a former senior vice president at Victoria’s Secret and co-founder of Sea Star Beachwear, we dove deep for answers.

2. There’s A Reason Some Women Pay Hundreds Of Dollars For Inches Of Cloth

For women, it's a summer ritual: walk into a clothing store, pluck a playful swimsuit from a multitude of brightly coloured cousins, flip over the price tag—and hastily return the suit to its rack, lest it automatically charges itself to your credit card. 

The price of a women's swimsuit—that uniform of summer vacations and sweltering poolside afternoons—can easily hit $100 or more. So how can a scant handful of fabric squares, strings, and clasps go for such a hefty sum?

For all their skimpiness, women’s swimsuits are complicated garments whose prices are tied up in the complexities of global manufacturing, seasonal retailing, and designing for a wide range of activities and body types.

"Constructing even a simple swimsuit is every bit as complex as constructing a dress," says Nancy Stanforth, a professor of fashion merchandising at Kent State University. Designers must push the latest trends while carefully considering fi. 

A survey by the NPD Group showed that fit outranked comfort, style, quality, and price for women when purchasing a swimsuit. Ideally, a swimsuit will compress some places while revealing others. 

It won’t ride up and won’t come undone with the first wave or jump off the diving board—all while making the wearer feel comfortable and confident. “Because the customers are wearing less, they’re more critical of their bodies. 

We’re working on a small canvas, so it’s more challenging to create a suit that feels good and … is innovative and fashion-forward,” says swimwear designer Karla Colletto of Karla Colletto Swimwear.

Another reason swimsuits are costly? They're stretchy. Stretchable fabrics, which revolutionized women's swimwear in the 1960s, are more expensive than many other materials (such as the sturdy nylon or cotton used in men's swimwear). 

In addition, manufacturers need special machines to handle the spandex, Lycra, and similar fabrics typically used in women’s swimwear.

Swimsuit material is also expensive because much is required of it. These fabrics and other swimsuit components, such as underwires, must stand up to a wide variety of elements—water, chlorine, sand, salt, sun—and activities. 

"It is just as important that the style looks great as it is that the item is technically stable and able to withstand swimming, sunbathing, etc.," says Samara Fetto. She manages the swimsuit division for the online retailer ModCloth.

The relatively brief amount of time swimsuits spend on store shelves also contributes to higher garments' prices. In addition, peak customer demand is limited to a few months of the year, so designers have less leeway on the time needed to get garments manufactured overseas and sent back to the States. 

The tight timetable and smaller orders mean they get fewer manufacturing discounts. Designers whose output is a fraction of the blockbuster brand names’ output also pay more to produce their limited-run suits—Colletto, for instance, has taken the unusual step of manufacturing her suits at her Vienna, Va., facility to avoid the hassles and high costs of manufacturing overseas.

Although seasonality may slap a few extra bucks onto the price of your new bikini, it’s not as hard as it used to be to find a suit off-season

Purchasing a swimsuit used to require a trip to the department store sometime between the last snowfall and the first blast of air conditioning, but the rise in online shopping has made swimwear a year-round venture. 

Online retailers can sell bikinis to Australians planning beach vacations while Americans are stockpiling winter coats and snow boots. Web-based stores can also offer more sizes, particularly plus sizes. 

Plus-size swimwear at ModCloth has been a huge growth opportunity and something we have seen tremendous success with,” Fetto says. Unfortunately for consumers, longer shopping seasons and a greater range of sizes haven’t translated into lower prices.

But swimwear, like swimming itself, has long been democratic, says Christine Schmidt, author of The Swimsuit: Fashion From Poolside to Catwalk. Just as you don’t need a trip to the French Riviera to escape the heat, you don’t need to empty your savings account for a suit that feels like a million bucks. 

In the 1920s, you could make a swimsuit at home from a store-bought pattern or purchase a suit from one of the newly created collections of elite French fashion designers. 

Nowadays, the swimwear industry—a $3.5 billion-a-year-and-growing business, according to the NPD Group, with women's swimwear accounting for 70 per cent of the market—is rife with competition. 

Retailers such as Target and H&M sell lower-cost alternatives for even the most basic of suits—the little black bikini—that retail for double at Victoria’s Secret or tenfold with a Dolce & Gabbana tag. 

More competition brings lower prices—and more excuses to hang out at the pool. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.

3. Seriously Though: All That Money For Nylon Or Lycra Or Whatever?

It’s not that simple, cabana boy. First of all, Leva says it’s a rule of thumb in any part of the apparel design business that the bigger you get, the easier it is to manufacture it for a lower price. In other words, economies of scale! 

But outside of big-box department stores and fast-fashion shopping mall chains, the swimwear industry is full of smaller brands making smaller lots, which will always be more expensive. 

So there's that. Plus, people buy fewer swimsuits than they do for other articles of clothing, like T-shirts. 

4. Okay, But A Bikini Is Just Triangles And String, Right?

A good one isn't! This is super important. All the nice swimsuits, particularly women's swimsuits, are engineered, Leva says — "the lines, the fitting, the inner structures." In a swimsuit, the fit is crucial.

Think about it — it's the number one type of apparel (apart from undergarments) where people feel the most self-conscious wearing it. This is because most of your body's showing, and so a swimsuit — its fit, cut, and profile — has an outsize effect on how you look. 

Look at the difference between a long-inseam, stovepipe-leg swim short made by a big sneaker company versus, say, the "Bond, James Bond"-like the style of an Orlebar Brown swimsuit

The former looks like a couple of goddamn church bells, while the other radiates sex appeal (or at least, makes you look like you're not completely clueless about what looks good on a human body). Obviously, you're going to pay for the difference, along with some other things we'll get to in a moment.

And spare a thought for women in bikinis: a lousy one will ride up or sag — anything but stay in place. By nature, bikinis conceal some things and reveal others. 

Engineering the fit takes time and money, and for both men and women, the fit is one thing that separates cheap and expensive swimwear.

5. Fit And Production Size, Got It. Why Else Are They Expensive?

Current market trends! Leva points out that most of the venture capital money for fashion out there is interested in sustainability for prospective new brands — it's the buzzword of the moment in fashion. 

Customers will pay a higher price for something that’s made in Italy out of recycled fishing nets, for example, than for a garment churned out of a sweatshop in some heavily exploited country. 

Then there's the body positivity movement, which continues to gain momentum. Finally, a certain segment of women has gone unaccounted for in swimwear for so long that, of course, they'll pay a little more for a thoughtfully designed swimsuit engineered to make them look better.

6. What About The Materials?

Suppose you've ever owned an inexpensive swimsuit. In that case, you likely know all about this — the testicle-shredding abrasiveness of a cheap liner, an elastic waistband that, one day, decides it's done stretching for good or nylon that doesn't feel soft at all. 

But while men’s suits can be made of lots of materials — cotton and seersucker, to name a couple besides nylon — the materials in women’s suits are extremely important for the fit to be right.

Beyond all that, there's durability, which nicer suits will demonstrate down the line. The same goes for decent boardshorts, which are meant to withstand the rigours of surfing: paddling, sitting for long periods, getting tossed around in the whitewater, peeing. 

But any decent suit, men's or women's, also needs to withstand UV rays, chlorine and saltwater. Bonus points if that same material feels soft or luxurious!

7. What’s With Those Crazy Expensive Swimsuits, Though?

Some of those are from designer labels like D&G or Tom Ford, so of course, they're going to be expensive. 

But women’s swimwear has its own expensive labels, like Norma Kamali, or Eres, which is one of the more expensive brands in the world — one suit could set you back nearly 600 bucks. 

“But when you see an Eres suit, it’s amazing,” Leva says. “It helps the wearer look their best.” And they use expensive materials like crepe yarn that’s exquisite to the touch, almost like double-faced satin. “There’s a total luxury of fabrication,” he says.

8. Still Not Convinced That That Isn’t An Insane Amount To Spend On Swimwear, So Tell Me, What’s The Best Value In Swimsuits?

Leva says it's the performance brands — ones like Speedo (keep in mind, these brands make much more for men than just the Olympic-style racing briefs that everyone calls "a Speedo"). 

“They’ve been at it for decades, their engineering is wonderful, their fabric development is wonderful — performance is a really good value,” Leva explains. That all makes perfect sense. But he does lament one thing about this segment of the swimwear industry

Performance brands don't have much of a fashion component or a fashion house within the company. If they did, he thinks it'd be lucrative. "But very few brands like to step outside their comfort zone — especially when they're successful," he says.

9. So With Swimwear, You Kinda, Mostly Get What You Pay For?

If you want to pay for looking good and having a suit that won't hurt you or fall apart, yes. 

The economies of the swimwear industry, the time and labour that goes into the all-important fit, plus the materials — whether they're simply for comfort or luxury, or for durability or even performance — it all adds up. 

If you look good in a chintzy swimsuit and the lining doesn't kill you, lucky you because these things tend to cost money. But since it's the only thing covering your nearly naked, imperfect body in front of others, the cost is pretty much worth it.

10. Pros & Cons

Is it just us, or do swimwear prices seem to rise with every passing year? Although top-notch suits have never been cheap, data shows that today’s most popular brands sell for an average of $263, if not more. This leads us to wonder: Why is swimwear so expensive?

Swimsuits, after all, require a lot less fabric than other clothing items and surely less production time, too—right? Well, not quite. As with most things, the answer is complicated, a reality that became clear to us after speaking to experts in the field.

Please keep reading to find out what the pros have to say about the cost and production of swimwear, and then shop a few of our favourite sets at the end.

The data scientists suspect that today’s beloved construction practices such as crochet are increasingly complex, requiring more time and work, especially if they’re handmade. 

Gabby Sabharwal, the founder of It-girl–favourite, albeit now defunct, line Giejo concurs. "Swimsuits might not require a lot of fabric," she says, "but there are a lot of technical aspects to the design of swimwear that is quite laborious and, as a result, more costly."

This includes everything from unique stitching and boning practices to the use of elastics and wires. It's also important to remember that swimsuits require water and chlorine-proof fabrics, complicating the design and production process

She points out that finding a fabric with the right amount of stretch for the design can be an especially tall order.

"[Swimwear] needs to function well and can't pinch bow, or bulk," Sabra Krock, the creative director of Everything but Water, further explains, hailing European swim fabric as the crème-de-la-crème, made with yarn that is thinner yet tough enough to weather all that nature throws its way. 

But it's not simply the fabric that must hold up, she notes, adding that everything from the trims to the hooks must withstand the wear and tear of chemicals, saltwater, and intense heat. It only adds to the price when you couple that with beloved details like macramé, ruching, and hardware.

We believe that it’s this high-fashion spin on swimwear—a more-is-more approach, if you will—that’s at the heart of cost increases. That and the rise of social media influencers and bloggers who have helped turn swimwear into a more covetable category, one they believe has grown more lucrative from social media than anything else on the market.

So how can you be sure that the swimsuits you’re buying are worth the price? “Check the label,” Sabharwal says. “What materials are used? Where was the swimsuit made? 

What are the care instructions?” She suggests looking for suits made of polys, nylons, and some spandex in America or Europe, with instructions to machine-wash on delicate or to hand-wash.

"You do get what you pay for," Krock argues. "Inexpensive suits fade faster, pull, pill, and get baggy when wet. But, on the other hand, a more expensive suit is well worth the investment and, with proper care, will last beautifully for years."

11. Here's the Answer

Here are five things I can count on happening every single summer, pretty much without fail:

  • Super-fun Saturday barbecues
  • Long weekends at the beach
  • Balmy weeknights having dinner outdoors somewhere in the West Village.
  • Endless tall, cold glasses of minty iced tea and...
  • Total jaw-dropping swimsuit-shopping sticker shock

Seriously, ladies. Tell me number five hasn't happened to you.

Why do these single-season, stretchy garments—that are so small you can roll them up and tuck them into your pocket if you needed to—regularly carry price tags well into the $100 or $200 range? 

What makes one black one-piece with a designer label cost so much more than a similar black tank suit, priced at $20 from a mass-market store?

There are four key reasons swimwear can be so expensive.

  1. Swimsuits need to fit well, and that's hard

"Because the customers wear less, they're more critical of their bodies," designer Karla Colletto told Slate. 

"We're working on a small canvas, so it's more challenging to create a suit that feels good and...is innovative and fashion-forward." 

Since the fit is so important in swimwear—seriously, I don't think any of us would buy or wear a bathing suit that didn't fit like a glove, right?—designs and patterns take longer and more human resources to create execute, and get right.

  1. Stretchy fabrics are more expensive

High-tech fabrics like Spandex and Lycra just cost more than, say, cotton or nylon.

  1. Resilience and performance

There's also resilience and a performance aspect to swimwear to consider. 

Not only do manufacturers have to make sure your new swimsuit can cope with a season full of sand, salt, ocean, dirt, sun, chlorine, and constant exposure to the elements, the construction needs to be able to support things like metal and plastic clasps, straps, ties, and other construction elements—like, say, underwire or padding.

  1. Supply and demand of a one-season garment

Since most swimwear is sold during the summer, designers need to figure out the most efficient and economical way to manufacture something that'll only really be on store shelves for three or four months of the year. 

For many companies, that means working with factories closer to home (say, in the U.S. rather than overseas) and not scoring manufacturing discounts ordinarily associated with larger orders.

Read more

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