Modest Swimwear

Modest swimwear is exactly what it sounds like: a swimsuit, or swim outfit, that covers the body. It is generally worn by women and often has religious significance. However, some people prefer modest swimsuits because of comfort, personal preference or just plain shyness.

Some conservative religious movements have advocated modest swimsuits, to encourage young women to be physically active without violating tradition or revealing their bodies.

Some people advocate modest swimwear for secular reasons, such as hygiene, improved self-image ("I can look nice without revealing my whole body") or a change of pace.

Types of Modest Swimwear

California Beach 1905

Modest swimsuits can refer to anything from a simple tankini (a tank top with a bikini bottom) to a "burqini," or a wetsuit with a skirt and large swimming cap that covers everything but the face.

One of the most obvious forms of modest swimwear is the wetsuit. Originally designed to keep surfers warm in the ocean, the wetsuit extends from the ankles to the neck to the wrists. It is also unisex, as wetsuits come in both male and female shapes.

Some women wear a lightweight, sleeved dress over a one-piece swimsuit. This solution is far from perfect; in a public pool a normal dress may be unhygienic. Some have nonetheless adopted it, for swimming in rivers or natural bodies of water.

Others prefer modest swimsuits which, even if they don't cover the entire body, obscure the body's form. Modest swimwear retailers offer 3/4 sleeve shirts with knee-length skirts over a pair of leggings, as a way to stay comfortable without attracting attention––as a body-hugging, but covering, wetsuit might do.

Yet another option is the Wednesday Addams, 1920s-style swimsuit, of a dress with short leggings underneath.

Men looking for modest swimwear may try swimming shorts, along with a men's swimming top or a t-shirt. Many swimming "shorts" are actually swimming "longs" that extend well past the knee.

The burqini is a head-to-ankle swimsuit, with a cap that has a small pouch at the crown for hair to gather. Its main market is Muslim women, hence the name, a compound of "burqa" and "bikini." Unlike the burqa, the burqini shows the entire face; unlike the bikini, the burqini leaves very much to the imagination, thus preventing it from imagining more. Which is the point! ;)

Modest Swimwear and Religion

Amish women in modest swimwear at the beach. Photo by Pasteur.

Amish women in modest dress at the beach. Photo by Pasteur.

All three Abrahamic religions have traditions of modest dress, usually for women, but for men as well. Modest swimwear, however, is of fairly recent vintage, as are swimming pools.

Burqini photo by Giorgio Montersino.

Orthodox Judaism has a concept called "tzniut," or צניעות, a number of laws that govern modest conduct, contact between the sexes and women's dress. Accordint to tzniut, married women are required to cover their hair, often with a headscarf, snood or sheitel. Men are required to wear shirts with sleeves; some sects require men to wear something on their heads at almost all times, save bathing and sleeping.

The Christian bible exhorts women to "adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety, not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array" (1 Timothy 2:9-10). Pope Pius XII stated that women should cover their upper arms and shoulders, that their skirts should cover at least as far as the knee, and the neckline should not reveal anything. Pictures of the Virgin Mary usually show her wearing what could now be called modest dress.

Traditional Christian communities, such as the Amish in Pennsylvania, put great emphasis on concepts like Demut and Gelassenheit (humility and calm/composure/submission, roughly and respectively). The Church of Latter-Day Saints has similar rules governing dress, stating that Modesty is an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior."

Islam has a long tradition of modest dress, especially for women. Muslim styles of modest dress are called hijab, or حجاب in Arabic. Traditional Muslim dress styles cover every part of a woman's body save the face and hands, since the Quran instructs that women "should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof" (24:31).

The common denominators between these three religions appear to be: a focus on women's modesty, covering the hair and concealing the body, especially parts which could sexually excite strangers. These pose obvious problems to developing modest swimwear, where extra clothing can weigh the body down––a dangerous problem, especially swimming in the ocean. Manufacturers have sidestepped these problems through various new inventions, and redirections, of greater and lesser convenience.

Modest Swimwear Manufacturers

A modest swimsuit, from Princess Modest Swimwear.

A modest swimsuit, from Princess Modest Swimwear.

Here are a few modest swimwear manufacturers. Since I'm not in the market for fifteen different bodysuits, especially at $50-100 each, I cannot vouch for their reliability or customer service firsthand. Caveat emptor!

Ahiida -
Coverage: Entire body
Garment Types: Swim caps, burqinis, leggings and long-sleeved shirts under a skirted garment

Modestkini -
Coverage: Full- and semi-coverage
Garment Types: Swim caps, leggings, short- and long-sleeved shirts under a skirted garment, plus size

Princess Modest Swimwear -
Coverage: Entire body
Garment Types: Swim caps, leggings and long-sleeved shirts under a skirted garment

Simply Modest -
Coverage: Varies, from entire body to short-sleeved shirts and leggings coming just below knee.
Garment Types: Swim caps, leggings, short- and long-sleeved shirts, skirted garments, swimsuit sewing patterns,

Swim Modest -
Coverage: Leaves lower legs and arms exposed; high neckline
Garment Types: One piece swimsuits (girls), swim shirts (boys), children's swimsuits

Wholesome Wear -
Coverage: Leaves calves and lower arms exposed; high neckline
Garment Types: Culottes, Skirts and Plus-Size

Related Reading:

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Learned Ugliness

Smokey Eyes

Dramatic Eye Makeup

Ancient Greek Hairstyles

A Brief History of Lipstick

Riot Grrrl

Burqini photo by Giorgio Montersino.

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