Viva’s Ultimate Summer Swimwear Guide For All Bodies & Budgets

By Dan Ahwa
Dive into summer with a swimsuit that works for you. Photo / Ruth Clarkson. Model / Jane Davis @ 62 Management

Dan Ahwa surveys a plethora of swimwear options to dip into this summer.

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years when it comes to swimwear, it’s that budgie smugglers are not for me.

They may be great for an Olympian like Lewis Clareburt, who generously shared his love with us recently, but for my personal choice in togs, I prefer a pair of lightweight shorts that skim just above the knee.

You won’t find me doing butterflies and backstrokes either (although I may do the odd lap in a pool); my aquatic preference is to disassociate from this year, floating away in an inflatable trying not to get my beer wet, so I need a pair of togs that can provide enough dignity should I inadvertently flip upside down.

Lately, I’ve been curious to try a pair of board shorts, a choice of swimwear I haven’t worn since they still referred to those intermediate school days as form one and form two.

As founder of local fashion label Checks Downtown Jordan Gibson also noted recently, he too is looking at the nostalgic joy of shorts that go past the knee.

“I’m generally wearing longer shorts at the moment, where my swim short rotation is a hangover from when shorter options were the rage. I’m feeling a return to more of a Kelly Slater kind of look, a longboard short. Brands like The Always Do What You Should Do and Stussy come to mind.”

Swimwear should be enjoyed by everyone, and there’s a range of great options in the market that cater to those looking for a swimsuit option that feels personal.

Kapiti Coast-based label Unde offers a diverse range of swimwear options in a range of sizes.
Kapiti Coast-based label Unde offers a diverse range of swimwear options in a range of sizes.

These days, we’re faced with options from designers making swimwear from recycled bottles, and sizes that truly reflect a diverse range of bodies. Adaptive swimwear options have also come a long way, as have options for non-binary and trans people to enjoy.

The old-fashioned idea of finding garments that are “flattering” is also on the way out, as the word belies the belief that looking streamlined and slim is the ideal body type and that bodies need to be contained to fit society’s ideals. In an era when body inclusivity has become an important part of fashion’s progress, a category like swimwear requires not only attention to detail but also a complete mind shift.

“We want anyone who wears our swimwear to feel they can finally enjoy a swim at the beach, a dip at the river or play with their friends and family at the pool,” explains Antoinette Keenan, of Kapiti Coast-based label Unde. Created alongside her partner James Shewring, the range of Unde’s swimwear and intimates was designed in response to Antoinette’s debilitating morning sickness during her pregnancy with her son, Louis, which led to her seeking swimwear and underwear made with natural fibres, supporting her through her recovery.

“So many of us are scared to get in our swimwear because most swimwear is designed by big brands who cater to teenagers and a certain body type which 99 per cent of New Zealanders are not — so we made our swimwear to suit,” Keenan explains.

Available for summer is a range of options from Unde including supportive bralette styles that cater up to a size 11XL and comfortable one-piece swimsuits made from a ribbed recycled nylon fabric.

Rachel Mills cropped rash swim top and high-rise swim brief.
Rachel Mills cropped rash swim top and high-rise swim brief.

Rachel Mills, fashion designer and owner of pattern-cutting business The Pattern Table, has created a brand focusing on slower runs. Her line of underwear and swimwear has proven particularly popular for its diverse size range and use of quality fabrics.

“Be sure to purchase from reputable brands who know what they are doing when it comes to manufacturing and sourcing. It is also a good idea to think about whether the shape and style of the swimsuit will get you through the current and future stages of your life. Our bodies change over time and what we look for when feeling at our most exposed may change.”

Papamoa-based zero-waste swimwear brand Emroce, designed by Emma La Rocca, is one of the few swimwear brands that cater to the trans and non-binary communities with its range of fresh and stylish swimwear options, including brightly coloured rash tops, bikinis and one-piece suits.

“The key design element is that the crotch is wider. I want trans women to be able to wear feminine swimwear that makes them feel confident and allows them to play and swim at the beach without any worries,” says La Rocca. “I believe that when you have fun in the water you gain so much more respect for this element. If you don’t have the right swimwear for your body, you’re not going to have as much fun.”

The range of swimwear options available from Wellington-based brand Nisa.
The range of swimwear options available from Wellington-based brand Nisa.

Known for its ethically made swimwear, Wellington-based brand Nisa has just released its new collection of swimwear in time for the season. Co-owner Pam Lowe says the range continues in the brand’s ethos of testing the limits of textile innovation.

“This year at Nisa, we have decided to use an Eco Rib for our Swim collection. It’s made of a nylon yarn derived from post-industrial and consumer waste. It’s soft and supportive, and its ribbed structure creates a natural breathable feature” says Lowe. “We love everything about it; the texture, the colours and that it is Oeko-tex, Reach and GRS certified, making it an awesome choice for our swimwear.”

Good Fit

When looking for the right swimwear this summer, be sure to focus on getting the fit right first, advises Ruth Clarkson.

The self-described swimming addict has channelled this passion into her swimwear store Mei Lan, a Tāmaki Makaurau-based business that sells sought-after premium brands like Galamaar, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Hakea, Araks and Nu Swim.

For a wardrobe item that sits close to the body like lingerie, she believes getting the fit right is the most important part of choosing the right swimwear. “Fit is everything with swim. If you can, avoid shopping for [swimwear] if you are in a hurry. You need time to try a variety of sizes and styles to find your best fit,” says Clarkson.

“Your suit should fit you securely without much strain and not dig in too much. It can be hard when you are not in the mood but trying on a range of sizes is really important. Even if it’s not the size you normally wear, just give it a go. When it fits you right it will last much longer and also be more comfortable. You can have the best-quality swimsuit in the world but if the fit is wrong, it will not work for you.”

La Rocca agrees. “I highly suggest that you try the swimwear on before you buy it. Have a good wiggle in it to see if it will stay in place. If you prefer not to try on, or it’s not possible, please email the company with your measurements so that they can help you to find the perfect fit.”

Palm Swimwear bikini set available from Mei Lan. Photo / Ruth Clarkson
Palm Swimwear bikini set available from Mei Lan. Photo / Ruth Clarkson

“Assuming that you want your investment to last and not to only look good for one summer,” continues La Rocca, “look at the quality of the fabric. Is the swimwear made of the average, thin polyester that loses its stretch after a summer (or a night in a chlorinated spa pool)? Touch the fabric, feel the thickness, feel the quality. Read the tags and ask the company for information. I’ve found that some of the crinkly jacquard fabric (which seems to be a current trend) easily catches and leaves runs in the swimwear.

“Do you visit many black-sand beaches? If so, choose a dark swimsuit. If the swimwear is lined, the sand gets stuck between the fabric layers or in the outer fabric itself. This can make a light-coloured swimsuit look mouldy.”

“Construction is the key to good-quality swimwear,” adds Clarkson. “Look out for self-lined pieces, pieces that are two layers of either the same fabric or really good lining material. This will hold the shape much longer and has the added benefit of more support.”

“Other signs of good construction are adjustable straps so you can fit without strain, metal hardware, bound seams and a high elastane/Lycra percentage in the fabric will all help with the longevity of your swimwear. Look out for anything over 20 per cent here. Lots of good-quality swim fabrics have an SPF sun protection factor in them too, which is a bonus.”

On the topic of swimsuit styles that suit some bodies over others, Mills believes it’s all about ensuring that shape and fit are a priority.

“I believe that if you get the shape right and the grading increments right, one style will suit many different body shapes. Our customers have definitely been an example of this, where we have seen the same style work on a straight-bodied size six through to a curvaceous size 18. Bodies tend to follow similar trends as they increase in size, but they often do not change proportionately. The secret with our swimwear (and bodysuits) is that we have really concentrated on trialling and development to figure out what our grade rules need to be, for the swimsuits to work just right on each size.”

Brands such as Asos Design Curve have also included a much more inclusive size range, providing swimwear options that go to a size 30, along with bright and colourful options from Cupshe with a size range including 4X.

“Styles and cuts can be very personal to the wearer,” says Clarkson, “however, if you find one that fits you perfectly and you are happy in, you have found your winner.”

Make It Last

Ruth also shares her top tips for taking care of your swimwear this summer and making it last.

“Being mindful that where you sit or lie will help with damage caused from contact with rocks and rough surfaces. If you can pop a towel down, even better.

“Highly chlorinated pools will shorten the life of swim fabrics and fade colours faster than fresh or saltwater, so following care instructions carefully is important to minimise these effects, and in general to ensure the longevity of your swimwear.”

Mills agrees, adding: “We are all guilty of putting our swimsuits through the wringer during the carefree summer months — sunscreen, salt water, chlorine, sitting on concrete, not rinsing them out immediately — so it is imperative to find something that will withstand as much of this as possible.”

Adaptive Options

Several local and international swimwear brands have also finally made a better commitment to providing stylish swimwear options for the adaptive market with a focus on easy details like magnetic fastenings and easy-to-slip-on wrap swimsuits.

An adaptable swimwear look from Miga featuring a drawstring skirt and tankini top. Available in a variety of colours.
An adaptable swimwear look from Miga featuring a drawstring skirt and tankini top. Available in a variety of colours.

American brand Tommy Hilfiger was one of the first fashion behemoths to create a unique line of adaptive wear, inspired by his own experience as the father to three children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. Available in the New Zealand market via the Australian and NZ site for, swimwear options are also available from EveryHuman, Australia and NZ’s first online adaptive fashion retailer.

Other adaptive swimwear brands available include the colourful swimwear styles from Miga, which offers eye-catching prints and colours to help encourage wearers to accept and love their bodies, along with some colourful adaptive swimwear options for kids from Victory Adaptive Collection.

Men’s Swimwear

The general fluidity in menswear has trickled into the world of swimwear, and at this point, anything goes. While a mid-thigh-length short is an easy way to look contemporary and pulled together on the beach, we’re seeing the resurgence of two extremes — the swimming brief and the board short — make a surprising impact this summer.

Local brand Beach Brains, designed by Gareth Hemmings, is one example of easy swim shorts that you can throw on and go in a range of colours.

“We had a design session where we wrote down everything we wanted in a summer short, a hierarchy of characteristics a product needed for beach living,” says Hemmings of his popular swim shorts.

“The shorts needed to dry quickly after a dip so you could get comfy straight after a swim or surf. They had to be UV-protected, salt-proof and chlorine-resistant to not fade and hold up against the elements of water activities.

“They had to have fast drainage for all pockets to avoid getting bogged down in the surf but still big enough for your new iPhone or film camera. With all this in mind, we produced a great board short, perfect for our beautiful but harsh summer. Now to perfect a Speedo.”

A classic swim brief from Commas.
A classic swim brief from Commas.

Australian swimwear brand Commas creates languid and chic swimwear for all genders, and for men, its line of ethically created swim shorts are a stylish option for the beach, crafted from an ultra quick-drying Spanish polyamide. If a swimming brief is on your wishlist, its recycled polyester option is an easy black trunk that’s classic and clean-cut with an adjustable drawstring.

For an all-day, everyday, versatile short, the Rimor Bay Everyday nylon shorts in black make a convincing case for the type of wardrobe item you can wear anywhere this summer. Quick drying, good for the gym but also great in the pool, this is an ideal option for the guy that likes to get more wear out of their swimmers.

Shop Modest

Several brands also cater to the significant modest fashion market, and some of our favourites include sporty options from Adidas and Speedo, with water-resistant separates such as swim leggings, tunics and hijabs.

It’s a level of confidence that brands are now offering to modest-dressing people. For something less sporty and with some design flair, we’ve loved getting to know brands such as Lyra swimwear, who create modest swimwear in support of the #ThisGirlCan campaign for active women and to help support increased participation rates in swimming.

Lanuuk is another global ethical modest swimwear option that also ships to NZ. The brand is known for its chic and colourful range of modest swimwear that ranges up to a generous size XXL. For something both modest and sporty, the small selection of options at Zoggs Australia is an ideal option. Our pick is the sleek Meelup three-piece modesty swimsuit that caters up to a size 22.


While we’ve seen two extremes make something of a renaissance this year with men’s options — the brief and the board short — other swimwear styles that have made a considerable impact on the back of a preppy revival are minimalist athletic togs in a range of sporty hues — think navy, red, black, green and even white. As leading fashion stylist Karen Inderbitzen-Waller swears by, a sporty shape is a perfect option for all sizes to enjoy for its general simplicity in cut and design.

Maison Lejaby, which, like another iconic French swim brand Eres (another favourite of mine), also does lingerie, so the cuts are a laser-fine second skin with a slightly cheeky bum. I bought two one-pieces in black and orange and found that my Allbirds sugar slides in my carry-on were a perfect colour match. Being a lover of all things French and a huge fan of Lacoste, I also own and love their swimsuits too.”

Maison Lejaby’s range of sporty, minimalist togs are worth investing in says stylist Karen Inderbitzen-Waller.
Maison Lejaby’s range of sporty, minimalist togs are worth investing in says stylist Karen Inderbitzen-Waller.

Last year we saw a proliferation of jewel-tone swimsuits, but this year’s medley of black and white options offers a clean slate to swimwear that speaks to versatility. A black one-piece, for example, is an easy layer to style with a pair of loose trousers over the top and sandals when you’re transitioning from pool to cocktails.

High-waist and mid-waist briefs continue to be popular staples for the Rachel Mills’ line of swimwear, made from sustainable regenerated Econyl nylon with SPF 50+ sun protection, providing strength, complete coverage and high chlorine resistance when out swimming in the pool.

“Our High-Rise French Swim brief follows the shape of our signature underwear brief and has been a hit with all body shapes, especially women post-partum. It covers and holds the tummy, while offering a bit of skin at the back, making any backside look great.

“Our Easy Mid Swim Brief is an offshoot of this, with a lower waist at the front and a more pronounced angle at the front. Both have a folded edge along the backside and hip, which means they don’t dig in at the softest parts of our curves. Then our Paula one-piece ticks a lot of the boxes that many women struggle with. It offers bust support, full backside coverage but with a back cut-out, giving it the perfect balance of skin versus modesty. The back ties up, so the amount of bust support can be adjusted, and the shoulder shape is flattering on even the broadest of shoulders.”

Hunza G’s one-size-fits-all approach to swimwear is cut from its Original Crinkle™ seersucker fabric.
Hunza G’s one-size-fits-all approach to swimwear is cut from its Original Crinkle™ seersucker fabric.

Hunza G is also an indicator of a clean-cut “clean girl” swimsuit brand that focuses on minimalist shapes with a slight nod to the 80s in terms of cut and colour. Launched in 1984, the brand is available from various local outlets including Superette and Mei Lan, but what makes it an ideal investment is the fabric that offers stretch and support.

“I’m particularly loving the Pamela Swimsuit, it’s the ultimate summer staple,” says Superette International’s co-founder Ricki Dee.

“The Pamela is a classic one-piece cut from their original stretch crinkle fabric and is super comfortable to wear. Hunza G styles are designed to be a one-size-fits-all swimsuit — it’s very much something they’re known for. This is made possible by the fabric they use across their range, with added stretch to flatter all shapes. I also love that this style can be worn as both a swimsuit or a bodysuit — paired with denim shorts for a daytime look. It’s a versatile number to pack on your summer holiday.”

High-waisted bottoms and halter bikini top styles still remain a firm favourite for Nisa. “This year we are offering our classic ‘Jean’ high-waisted bikini bottom and ‘Lauren’ halter one-piece (with sewn in foam cups)” says Lowe.

Nisa's backless one piece is new in for summer.
Nisa's backless one piece is new in for summer.

“We also have the ‘Hannah’ High neck one piece with a keyhole back for those who want a stylish suit to swim in, the ‘Rebecca’ keyhole back bikini top, which is great paired with our ‘Anna’ boyleg bikini short. We are also offering the ‘Hayley’ cropped rash top — as someone who burns from a couple of minutes under the New Zealand sun — this is a must for me when I’m in the water. This year we are also offering the ‘Pamela’ tie front Bikini top. This was designed for those with a bust on the fuller side, and is perfect to hang out by the pool in. We also have limited numbers of our ‘Florence’ Tie front one piece.”

And on the back of sporty togs, Clarkson says the one-piece is one particular style she is seeing a rise in popularity.

“I started to see it last year and the momentum has definitely kept going strong. The one piece is proving very popular this season. We are seeing brands offering some beautiful, creative designs with great proportions & detailing that make for some really special pieces such as cut outs, rouching and pleating” says Clarkson.

“I think my customers have been loving the slightly more glamorous feel a perfectly fitting one-piece can bring. I love the styling possibilities of a one-piece as a bodysuit in summer too. Paired with wide-legged trousers or a wrap skirt it’s such a chic but relaxed look.”

Viva Shops

Feeling overwhelmed by the myriad options out there? We break it down into an assortment that balances both style and comfort to suit you.

The One-Piece

For the ultimate all-in-one swimsuit, consider this array of unique textiles that support the body. Several of these quick-drying options are also ideal with a throw-on shirt and shorts for an easy summer layer.

The Two-Piece

The best thing about a two-piece set? You can mix and match to your heart’s desire. Try a printed brief with a colour-blocking bikini top for maximum impact.

The Board Short

For a classic knee-length surf short, there are a variety of options on offer to shop for the perfect hit of nostalgia.

For Added Coverage

For additional coverage, there is a range of separates that can offer extra support in the elements, with modest fashion specialists setting the bar high for both practicality and design.

The Short Shorts

A tidy short that skims the mid-thigh is an eternally smart option to consider whether you’re on land or sea.

The Briefs

The classic swim brief makes a surprising return in 2023, with various iterations available to shop right now.

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