While our athletes wow the world with their physical feats this summer, let’s also spare a thought for the women undertaking Olympian tests of endurance in changing rooms across the country. The women quietly, determinedly battling the combined forces of gravity and fashion, often for whole afternoons at a time, without losing their shit and flicking anyone in the forehead with a tiny plastic hanger. The woman bikini shopping. With breasts.
There are no medals for us. No prizes for those precious hours we spend wrestling ourselves in and out of a parade of unsuitable lycra items, when we should be eating Magnums, laughing gaily on rooftops or pretending to read Elena Ferrante in a park. The best reward we can hope for is something that looks moderately sassy, covers our nipples and doesn’t come off going down a flume.
This isn’t to say that nobody makes swimwear for big breasts – they do, but boy, is it often a hot mess of misguided design. The stomach ruching. The baffling, Ikea-style optimism of 'shelf support'. The dental floss halter straps – all the better to garotte you with, my dear! Dress sizes don’t translate into bikini cup sizes, bottom sizes are a free-for-all, and brands tend to mistake ‘has large breasts’ for ‘would basically be happier in a wetsuit with a skirt.’
The whole experience is enough to make you see spots, which I mean quite literally because it is written somewhere – presumably carved on a stone table at the Cair Paravel of cleavages – that if you’re a breasty lady going swimming, you can only do it dressed as a 50s pin-up on a seaside postcard. Just polka dots, polka dots, polka dots, as far as the eye can see. Gingham if you’re lucky. Maybe a cheeky anchor. Those are your options.
Pour Moi from Simply Beach, a long-time old faithful for bikinis with boob room, have done so many iterations of the 50s trope that they’re practically driving us back to the McCarthy era – but if high waisted ruffles are your vibe and you're a 38H or smaller, you’ve never had it so good. This red ruffle halter top and high waist bikini (£17.50; £12.60) is the pick of the bunch.
For the rest of us, seeking reference points from more recent eras, it’s slim pickings. We have the maniacally laughing ladies on the Isle of Bravissimo, all sturdy straps and pink floral tankinis. Their breasts are supported, yes – but at what cost? Meanwhile our usual high street haunts – your Zaras and H&Ms and Urban Outfitters – rarely cater for anything bigger than a C cup. (Once, I bought an underwired Topshop one-piece that fit my chest but was two sizes too big elsewhere, and industriously sewed the halterneck into two load-bearing straps. I paid £35 for a craft project, and considered it a triumph. This is the reality of summer as a haver of breasts.)
And in keeping with fashion’s current mood of airy bralessness, this year’s hottest swimwear is a stretchy, minimalist, free-the-nipple affair. Those high-legged, low-backed Baywatch one-pieces; the seersucker bandeau tops; the strappy, wrappy cutwork creations – all gorgeous if you fancy giving gravity a free rein, but less so if you just want to keep the damn things still while you eat a Maxibon.
However, there is hope on the horizon. I went fishing for options to accommodate your style aspirations AND your breasts – with, I promise, not a polka dot in sight…
This monochrome number from Prism London delivers a sturdy amount of underwiring and moulded cup support but without looking matronly, and crucially comes with detachable straps – two, not the dreaded halterneck.
Anyone who’s worn a Wonderbra Ultimate Strapless will know that moulded cups mean business. They might feel like body armour but babe, they get the job done. Swimwear label Lepel has this chic bustier style and claim it works up to a G cup.
Wolf & Whistle knows how to combine a thick strap with sex appeal. The straps on this white suit are adjustable too, so you can hoist everything skyward.
Long-time friends to the ample breasted woman, Freya might not have the sexiest selection, but they do understand that most of us really just want a bikini that looks like our favourite bra – but waterproof. This one goes up to an H cup.
Sometimes you find things when you’re least expecting them – like the perfect minimalist swimsuit on the La Redoute website.
This watercolour foliage number is here to fulfill your Beyonce-in- the-Survivor-video fantasy, and also your fantasy of buying a bikini top that effectively contains your whole breast. Up to 38H.
Another colour-blocking triumph, this gentle sweetheart neckline is friend to the breast without the risk of catching seaweed in your cleavage. Available up to a 40HH.
For the times you want to forget the Jenners and just be Jayne Mansfield instead, Curvy Kate has come up with this panelled, shell print situation. Goes up to a G, for ‘God, my breasts look amazing.’
Because hey, being well-endowed doesn’t mean we don’t deserve weird tan lines just like everybody else.
If you have the time and energy to trawl through SimplyBe, there are some rewards to be had – like this sturdy bra bikini top, which goes up to a magnificent 46F (and size 32 bottoms) and looks like your parents’ caravan curtains from the '90s. In a good way.
Ideal for those Olympics inspired swims we’re definitely going to be going on, Speedo’s sculpted cossie has all the structural integrity your ta-tas need, but manages not to look like something you bought from the kiosk at the front desk of the pool.
Not underwired, but it does go up to a size 18 with a concealed bandeau lining, and there’s some pretty serious fabric coverage to work with here. Would probably even survive a water slide.
Hahahahaha. But seriously though. Just think how snug you’d be.