Contrary to what you may have been told, wearing a swimsuit does not need to be an act of “bravery.” Not even if you’re fat—regardless of how microscopic your bikini may or may not be! Wearing a swimsuit is merely an act of clothing yourself, and does not require bravery unless the suit is made from live bees. Or ants. The only things you need to do to have a “beach body” is to have a body and put said body on a beach. Do, however, refrain from lugging unknown corpses to the beach, as you might be arrested for murder, but take your own body to the beach by all means, enjoyably and unashamedly, and send us landlocked folk a postcard.
I’ve waxed lyrical about my love of swimming before. It took me a while, however, to feel comfortable about wearing a swimsuit to a public pool. When I first started, I deliberately picked a location that was blissfully unpeopled—a shabby rundown pool that no one else went to. A couple of months later, I switched over to my (now) regular open-air place. I often asked a friend to come along with me, because having a swimming buddy was excellent for focusing attention away from my negative body image—it’s hard to think about jiggly thighs and wobbly bums when you’re busy trying to drown each other (purely in jest, I may add). Also wonderful: the immense variety of people I’d regularly find there, like toddlers floundering on floats in the shallow end, wrinkly old ladies swimming length after length without a care, pot-bellied, hairy men holding court on the affairs of the day in a corner, a conglomerate of boys launching themselves from the diving board, each trying to out-splash the others. There weren’t any perfect bodies that I could see, and no one seemed to mind very much.
It’s virtually impossible to believe when you’re feeling self-conscious, but the vast majority of people don’t have the time and energy to focus on the appearance of a stranger (in this case, you) when they’re too busy being awkward about themselves—something that everyone does basically all the time. People, as a rule, are self-conscious and even self-absorbed, and the ones who go out of their way to catcall or harass you have unfathomably puny and stunted lives that they need to fulfill by making others as miserable as they are. If you run into someone whose life is so bleak and empty that they need to drag you down that well with them, remember that they deserve nothing better than your utter disdain and maybe a well-placed comeback. One of my tried and true standbys is to turn around, confront the catcaller and urge them to examine the wasteland of their existence. A simple ‘What the fuck is wrong with you?’ is sufficient at times; on other occasions, I might pose something more intellectually challenging such as, “Is this what you do all day?” or “So that’s the best you could come up with?” or, simply, “Your fly’s open.”
If you’re worried your friends will body-shame you for wearing a bikini to the pool or beach with them, why, in all honesty, are they still your friends? If more accepting compatriots are in short supply at the moment, it’s helpful to draw some strict boundaries with the pals you’ve got. Clearly communicate to them that comments on your body or any aspect of your appearance and choice of clothing are totally unacceptable, and if their need to make those remarks is so great, they can air their opinions to a brick wall, because you’re not here for that shit. This also works if you’re with a larger group of people, some of whom you might not know very well.
You can feel confident for tons of reasons, not least of which is that your bathing-costume options are manifold and STUNNING. As if we didn’t already know you were going to look great: Cute swimsuits exist in your size. I repeat, cute swimsuits exist in your size, in your style, available for you to buy and wear and positively slay in. Similarly, your swimwear options aren’t confined to “tummy-trimming,” “curve-flattering” one-pieces in navy and black for you to try on as you stare longingly across the aisle at the riot of tropical hues and shed a single tear. (The author of the present piece confesses to having engaged in similarly melodramatic acts in the past.) Luckily, the internet exists, and so do good-looking plus-size lines at an increasing number of in-person stores.
“Cute” also extends to athletic suits that’ll stand up to acts of bodily strength and speed, don’t fret. My Sisterhood of Serious (Fat) Swimmers, worry not: Competition-worthy suits exist for us, and they’re not all depressing. In my experience, unpadded suits with bra shelves last much longer than their padded, underwired counterparts. Whatever you choose: It’s super important to rinse out your suit with tap water right after you get out of the pool, especially if it’s a chlorinated one. That way, when you find the right one, it’ll last you!
Look around—THIS SEASON RULES, which has nothing to do with your size. It’s summer! It’s finally warm, and the sun is out, and the flowers too, and to be alive and happy at a time like this is the greatest joy. Let your belly hang out, your arms and thighs find the sun, bask in the heat like a fat, content cat, and bliss out as your freckles and your glorious tan come alive again.
Finally, here’s my pro tip for feeling confident at airing your luxurious fat in public. First, find a full-length mirror. Put on your fatkini or other swimwear of choice, fix your hair and your makeup if you’re wearing any, and put on a pair of shoes you feel good in. Now hold your head high and walk towards that mirror till you’re facing yourself exactly as you are—and exactly as the world will see you. Look at yourself from every angle; strut a bit; do a little pirouette; put on your best pouty face and blow yourself a kiss. Be silly; laugh at yourself for the ridiculous things you just did—look yourself in the eye and laugh. The next time you do this, have someone you trust around, like your best friend or partner, and laugh with them. When you’re ready, go walk the length of a changing room in your swimsuit and look at the people around. If you hear a snicker, a whisper, or a snatch of muffled laughter, find its source and stare it down until it is quelled and extinguished completely.
And if “the worst” happens and some dickhead makes a comment, don’t flinch. When you’re a scared little squirrel (as I once was), you might be able to shut your eyes and block out the titters, but when you know the fury and strength of your own laughter, you can use it to overpower other people’s. Once you take whatever laughter you might have been afraid of and preempt it with your own—with actual joy—you have taken any power it has to hurt you because you’ve made it yours—and it looks absolutely great on you. And so does that cute-ass suit! ♦
I want a new bathing suit that’s a little different from the simple triangle or bandeau tops l see everywhere. I’m out of ideas about where I can find affordable, but unique swimwear options. Please help! —Maddie, 17, Toronto, Ontario
Though triangle tops and bandeaus are ALL THE RAGE RIGHT NOW, there are plenty of other bikini silhouettes to choose from, my boo! First, let’s discuss sporty styles. I’m really into cute rash guards, which look like the suits surfer girls wear. Check out this blue, long-sleeved rose-print one. This crop top is pretty cool, too!
If you are like, “OK, that’s cool, Marie, but I want something that actually LOOKS like a bikini, not a shirt!” I love this frilly bikini A LOT! And if you are feelin’ fringe, I like this halter-style top.
If you want to venture out from two-piece options, how about this radical monokini! A monokini is kind of like in between a bikini and a one-piece bathing suit. This one has side cutouts, which look totally rad. Yes, there’s a risk you might get some funky tan lines, but who cares?
Hope these inspire you, my bathing beauty! —Marie
I’m on the smaller-chested side (34A), and finding bikinis that I feel good in is really difficult. I don’t fill ones that are padded or have underwire. Smaller, less padded ones fit, but look very flat. I want to be comfortable, but also feel confident. Solutions? —C.
OH HI DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT FLAT CHESTS? ’Tis I, your humble friend A-Cup, who is here to take parley with you about them. I LOVE swimwear, and there are so many bikini options for those of us who are modestly endowed. The thing about having a small chest is that you don’t actually need any support, so I’d just avoid bikinis involving underwire if they’re giving you grief. Like you, I don’t enjoy padded tops either, so we’re going to focus mostly on designs without ’em.
Just one note: In a lot of social and cultural groups, having large breasts is still considered a feminine beauty ideal. It’s shitty to feel like your body isn’t good enough! But IT IS. I hate it when I read about dressing for different body shapes and the writer says something like, “[X detail] really draws attention away from your [X PART OF THE BODY THAT YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF SO DEFINITELY VEIL IT WITH 14 LAYERS OF FABRIC OR BETTER YET HIDE IN A CAVE!]” None of that here. Just kool designs 4 U.
OK, so now to styling your summer bodayyyyy. I am really into shapes inspired by athletic wear. I think a li’l crop-top style bikini or a racerback is SO CUTE. My fav is this black one from Akira. With mesh details and a high neckline, there are a lot of sleek and subtle aspects to it. You could also wear it as a bra outside of swim season! Double duty! Here’s another variant from Forever 21 with a cute triangular cut-out and a surf-style zip detail in back. What about an even bigger homage to surfwear? Try a short tee-style rash guard, like this one! Check out how cute they are:
Another way to feel Most Fantastic is to wear something a bit unusual. What do you think about playing around with shape some more? I am deep into this off-the-shoulder top in acid green. Plus it has tiny hearts on it, gah. You could go one-shoulder, even—try this plain black one from Victoria’s Secret. Don’t blame me that these are all so awesome—you asked! Here they are:
If you still feel stressed about the prospect of a bikini, you could ease into it by picking something that feels more like clothing you might wear on the average day. A tankini (ugh, who came up with that word, but anyway) looks and wears like a regular tank top, except you can take it for a dip. I like this strapless guy from Target!
Last but not least, I like to include a cute print, bow, or ruffle in an outfit when I’m not feeling so confidenté. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t apply to bikinis, too! This swing top has a ruffle and a delicate floral print. SO HELP ME if you won’t Nicki-and-Beyoncé style Feel Yourself in this. Speaking of florals, I also really dig the cherry-blossom print and deco-style piping on this ModCloth bikini top.
Finally, if you really wanna feel BADASS in the water, learn how to do a tumble turn! I used to know and now I’ve forgotten, and whenever I see someone do one, I think: WHOA. —Estelle
l’m going on a family vacation soon where I’ll inevitably have to go to the beach, and I need to find a bathing suit. I used to self-harm around my waist, so I have scars there, and I also have my nipple pierced. My family doesn’t know about either of these things. I also have DD breasts, which is another factor to consider. Are there any bathing suits that are still cute, but cover up the cuts? —Leah, 17, Canada
The best swimsuit combination for you would be a halter-style, high-waisted bikini or one-piece suit. The halter style will help support your boobs much more than something like a bandeau top.Look for one that has underwire for extra help. Triangle bikinis are usually fine for all bust sizes, whether large or small, but you’ll want something that’s padded enough to hide your nipple rings. Don’t go for anything that’s made with thin material, because your piercings will most likely show!
I’m crazy about this striped halter top. This lavender polka-dot bikini is also a favorite of mine. And then there’s this cherry-print beauty!
To hide your scars, go for a high-waisted bottom that will cover your tummy and hips. Luckily, the swimwear market is overflowing with this style of retro suit these days. Plus, there are so many cute ones! I love this pair of pastel-pink bottoms so much I could scream. You can mix and match with this top. Now, since I’m not sure exactly where your scars are, I’d suggest taking a look at one-pieces. This emerald green one is just darling. And this shark-print one is just AWESOME! Here are some more ideas:
And: I know this is a style answer, but if you are ever in need: You can check out some resources here if you’re ever feeling like you might self-harm in the future. All our love to you, too.
Hope this helps and have the best summer, my darling! —Marie
Since I don’t like regular bikini bottoms, where I can find the kind of swim shorts that look like volleyball shorts, or vintage-style bottoms with a bit of a skirt for relatively cheap? ~Hannah, 14, Canada
The bikini bottoms that look a bit like volleyball shorts are usually referred to as “boy-cut” or “boy shorts” by retailers, in case you want to look in person, too! These ones are $28 and come in a few different colors. These ones are the same price and have a cute ruched side-tie detail. If you want something cheaper…no worries, we’ll find it! These black side-tie ones are only $11, and what’s cool about getting a black pair is that you can mix and match with pretty much any color top you like. These ones are also really cute—and just $9.
Now, for vintage-style bottoms! This is a REALLY cute retro-style two-piece with a skirted bottom. Even though it’s $52, that’s for the whole bikini set, so the price is still pretty good! And, chances are, there will be no one at the pool and the beach with something similar—so you will definitely stand out! This is another adorable set that has a red leopard-print design. And there’s this one that has palm trees all over it! So sweet.
The bottom on this two-piece is more like a miniskirt! There’s also this baby blue polka-dotted bottom that has a pleated skirt.
Lastly, if you’re open to it, there’s one-piece bathing suits that have skirted bottoms as well, like this gorgeous striped number, this blue gingham cutie, and this ruffled number that comes in a bunch of different prints for only $28! Get your swim on, my little mermaid! —Marie ♦
Damn, girl, ya already look great, but if you have further questions about dressing up, send them to Marie and her stylish pals at [email protected] including your NAME, AGE, and CITY.
I’m trying to find a high-waisted bikini with a unique print that doesn’t break the bank. I saw some at the beginning of the season at Forever 21, but they don’t carry the same ones anymore, and the ones at PacSun and ModCloth are a little too expensive for me. —Michelle, Colorado
One thing I’ve learned from shopping regrets: Mall shops have a very high merchandise turnover, so if you see something you love in right price range, get it while you can! Otherwise, as you unfortunately experienced, it’ll most likely disappear for good, no matter how many Missed Connections love notes you write to it in your imaginationz.
But fear not! I’ve lurked the World Wide Web and found you some possible replacements! Here are a few inexpensive options to check out:
Ranging from the cost of a medium pizza ($12) to upwards of about 30 bucks or so, any of these high-waisted two-pieces would look bomb on the beach. It all depends on what tickles your fancy. If you’re into the pinup look, the polka-dot and nautical suits would be perfecto (and on the cheaper end of the range!), but if you’re willing to shed a few more hard-earned coins, that macaron print one is totally worth it!
I do want to say, though, that while cheaper suits might be easier on your wallet in the short term, higher-end ones can last for years. I have an Esther Williams swimsuit that’s still going strong after six years! Good luck on your high-waisted hunt! —Marie
I need a swimsuit that will feel comfortable and also look super hot. I don’t shave down there, so I was wondering if there are reasonably priced, flattering bikinis with bottoms that’ll cover my pubes. —Marie, 15, Phoenix
Recently, as I was preparing to go on vacation, I had the same query. I had recently stopped shaving my Venus Mound, and this was going to be my first swimsuit-required trip after the return of my bush! Was this something I should worry about? Should I let my pubes hang out with me by the pool? I’m sure they wanted to enjoy the vacation as well!
It just so happened that a retro-style bathing suit I bought around that time was cut low on the leg, so it concealed all parts of my magical puffball. It was a similar cut to the high-waisted bikini bottoms in this collage of cool options for you:
Most bikini bottoms, including some of the shorts I found for you, range from about $10-$20. Once you find the right pubes-disguising bottom, pick out a cute top to go with it! A lot of stores are offering “mix and match” bikinis, like ASOS and GoJane, the latter of which has tops in different colors for $12 and tankinis for $19. Hope that helps! —Marie
I like dressing androgynously, but most girls’ bathing suits don’t suit a tomboy look. I was thinking swim trunks would work for the bottom, but I’m having trouble with the top. I’ve seen some people wear what look like swim shirts, but I’m worried about the tan lines those would make. How can I look good, but still feel like me? —Caroline, 19, Nashville
You’re so right—most ladies’ swimsuits are NOT geared towards those who might like to dress androgynously. But never fear: Tomboys, queers, and all stripes of non-tiny-bikini-lovers have been dealing with this EXACT issue for decades, and now there are tons of swimwear options to suit your tastes!
For an androgynous look at the beach, start from the bottom. Swim trunks, as you mention, will totally work. If you need some inspiration, there are lots of different types to choose from—I mean, there are boyshort-style bottoms! Cute vintage men’s trunks! You could also try board shorts or modern men’s swim shorts.
As far as tops go, you’re in luck, because anything and everything can be paired with those bottoms: For full coverage, if you decide you don’t mind odd tan lines so very much, you could try a rash guard, easily findable at places like Roxy, Volcom, and Athleta. You could also pair one of the bottoms mentioned above with, say, a breezy, open muscle tank top and a sports bra (this is a lot of my friends’ #1 favorite beach look, and it always looks badass). But, since you say you’re worried about tan lines, you could also try a sporty racerback top, or one that looks like a sports bra. Go forth and splash! – Krista
I have small breasts. While I’m mostly able to wear clothing I feel comfortable in, swimsuits are tougher for me. I’m mostly concerned that if I wear a one-piece, I’ll look too adolescent, and I find two-pieces don’t really flatter me. Any tips? —Nicola
I know you might feel self-conscious about your chi-chis, but you’re lucky you don’t have to worry about them falling out of your suit! The grass is always greener. Anyway, with so many different options in swimwear now, we can definitely find you something. One-piece-wise, I suggest you go with something TRULY WILD. I LOVE the idea of you parading around in this rainbow-dot monokini. You could also sport something with more risqué details, like the first suit here:
A cool suit like one of those probably won’t make you feel like a little kid! And if you want to flaunt and/or enhance what you got, try something with underwire or padding, like that Charlotte Russe number above, or this super-cute striped suit. As for bikinis, I’d go for a bandeau-style top or something with a ruffle, like the three on the bottom up there. I also love this blue swimsuit, which has sexy side straps, and this crazy windowpane bikini! —Marie ♦
If you are like, “I love clothes, but why are they a confusing nightmare?” email your fashion questions to Marie and her crew at [email protected]. Please let us know your first name (or nickname), your age, and where you live.
I’m obsessed with retro-style swimsuits, which is somewhat ironic, since this B wouldn’t know how to doggy paddle if you threw me into a kiddie pool. In fact, I’d probably panic for fear of drowning, which is the leftover trauma from childhood ear surgeries that prevented me from even being able to put my head underwater, let alone learn how to swim. But that didn’t stop me from admiring the angels of las aguas, like swimmer and actress Esther Williams or the ladies in this hypnotizingly beautiful Busby Berkeley scene from the 1933 movie Footlight Parade. In middle school, my friends and I got really into beach-party movies, a corny collection of surf films from the 1960s, the most famous of which starred Annette Funicello. So even though I couldn’t be a little mermaid myself, there was one thing that I always wanted: a fly-ass, vintage-style swimsuit.
For six or seven years, I’ve searched for these sweet silhouettes: fetching one-pieces with ruched fabric and semi-corseted bodices, and crop tops with high-waisted bikini bottoms. They’re super flattering on everyone, and IMHO, more sophisticated than the standard one-piece/string bikini. Finding an actual vintage bathing suit is the real score, but it’s pretty tough, unless you got that magic thrifting touch or access to some gems in your memaw’s closet. Etsy and eBay are a good place to start. I found this ’60s floral number and this awesome gingham two-piece, but of course it’s hard to get the right size, or to know how it fits without trying it on, which is why I’m psyched to see so many clothing companies doing throwbacks to the style. (Also nice? Not wearing a pre-owned suit, which is not different enough from “vintage underwear,” amirite?) Every year since my search began, I’ve seen more and more options, so these days you have plenty to choose from.
First, I have to begin with the Million-Dollar Mermaid herself, Ms. Esther Williams. The timing of this post is eerie and sad: Esther died today at the age of 91. She was an amazing competitive swimmer who turned to acting when World War II led to the cancellation of the 1940 Olympics, where she’d hoped to compete. (Do yourself a favor and get in the mood for summer by renting Bathing Beauty or Dangerous When Wet. Hey, gurl.) Best of all, Esther started a swim line in the ’90s, and you gotta love her raison d’être: “I put you in a suit that contains you and you will swim in. I don’t want you to be in two Dixie cups and a fish line.” Check out some of her pieces below:
Nautical-themed fashion is my absolute favorite. It’s just a classic color palette, and never is sailor chic more appropriate than when it comes to swimwear. This tankini is perfect: It looks like a one-piece, but it’s got the comfort of separates, and comes in all sizes. And I love the anchor buttons on this one. (Incidentally, Fables by Barrie is a cool company. They make everything in San Diego, CA, so it’s sweatshop-free.) And Lolita Girl’s suits are adorable. If you’re doing red, white, and blue, you might as well go all in and get the hat, too.
For those of you who don’t want to swim (or can’t, like moi), you can have more fun with your beach attire by going for a playsuit, which are pinup-style rompers. This one, with the red bow and the peek-a-boo front, is kind of the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s perfect for poolside BBQs, or for changing into at the end of the day, when you somehow have an uncomfortable amount of sand downtown.
Everything here is a little pricey, because naturally everything that looks old needs to be as expensive as new, but never fret. If you don’t want to throw your dollahs around that much, Target has a good selection of retro suits, too.
Also, if you’re not looking to wade too far into the past, check out this awesome pink suit, designed by our very own Gabi Gregg. It features the flattering cut of the high-waisted bottom and halter top without seeming like something li’l Sally Draper would wear. Whatever you decide to get, pick up some cat-eye sunglasses and a pretty flower clip to match, and you’ll be playing beach-blanket bingo in no time! ♦
Right now, there’s a complicated national debate about whether teens who are 15 or older should be able to access Plan B—otherwise known as the “morning-after pill”—with ID but without a prescription or permission from a parent or guardian. Plan B is a type of “emergency” contraception, which means that if you take it within 72 hours of having unprotected sex or an incident in which your regular birth control fails, it MAY help prevent an unplanned pregnancy. (ALERT! Plan B isn’t meant to be taken as regular birth control, and it does not prevent STIs!) Many adults have many opinions about whether teens should have access to Plan B, but it seems like none of those adults have actually asked and listened to real teens about it—until now. Jezebel’s awesome Katie J.M. Baker recently interviewed public school students, ages 13 to 16, in downtown Manhattan about what they think about Plan B. It’s refreshing because, regardless of where anyone stands on the debate, issues that affect teens should include the voices and opinions of teens, no?
At Autostraddle, Rose Bridges wrote an awesome ode to Sailor Moon and other shows in the “Magical Girl” Japanese anime subgenre. Not only did they prove to her at an early age that young girls are powerful in the kicking-butt kind of way, but also that gals can have noncompetitive friendships and healthy queer relationships. “It’s often not easy to be a feminist, queer anime fan, as the culture, like a lot of other geek subcultures, is full of less-than-savory elements,” she writes. “Many of those Magical Girl shows [have] given us something that’s so rare in media from either side of the Pacific: truly strong, yet relatable female heroes, with close relationships—platonic or otherwise—with other women.”
Rookie’s own style genius, Gabi, launched a swim line this week for Swimsuits for All, and it’s HOT. It’s all sesssssy sheer cut-outs, the highest high-waisted bikini bottoms, and bonkers galaxy prints like this:
And Audiomack put up a new Solange jam featuring Kendrick Lamar and even more smoky, summery vibes.
I admit, the Scale of the Universe 2, pictured above, ain’t a new link (it came out last year), but I saw it for the first time this week. The way the site zooms in and out from Earth’s tiniest particles to galaxies so far away that they’re practically unknowable is so exquisitely, exquisitely beautiful that I wanted to share it with all of y’all again. ♦
With summer around the corner, it’s time for my most dreaded shopping task: swimsuit shopping. All my friends like to show off their bods in bikinis, but I’m not really into wearing them. How can I look fashionable, good, and, if possible, smokin’ in a more modest swimsuit? ♥ Mary
Hi, Mary! Don’t fret, my pet—there are plenty of non-bikini swimsuits available that are not granny status and are actually pretty cute! First of all, know that showing more skin doesn’t automatically make someone look sexy. It’s all about finding the right kind of outfit and working it. I’m sure you know that already. I’m really into vintage bathing suits. Modcloth carried a bunch of great ones, including this one-piece black ruched Esther Williams number. (If you haven’t heard of Esther, she was a movie siren who was famous for her swimming scenes.) Here’s a sample of some of Modcloth’s suits, in both retro and modern cuts:
If you’re looking for a cheaper suit, Target has some cute one-pieces, too; and Delia’s has some cool tankinis:
See which one feels right on your bod (not too tight anywhere, no boob popping out, no merf/wedgie situation, etc.) and that you feel comfortable in. And a little tip for added SMOKIN’-ness: put a flower in your hair, or use this mermaid hair clip from Cutie Dynamite. Good luck on finding your dream bathing suit! (Don’t forget the sunscreen!) Xoxo, Marie
Can you give me some recommendations for high-quality, sweatshop-free clothing stores and brands? I love thrifting, but since I live in a hipster-populated area, most of the stores are cleaned out of the good stuff. My mom offered me some new clothes for my birthday, and I would like to use the opportunity to get some stuff that’s slightly more pricey than what I can afford on my own, and I would LOVE it if I weren’t exploiting workers and children in the process.
The dignity and pride that a bitchin’ outfit affords us have to also be granted to the workers who made said bitchin’ outfit. So big, shiny, sparkly, fairy-dusted high-fives to you for wanting to shop consciously and save up your pennies (or your mom’s pennies) to buy clothes that are made with love and personal care.
You’re absolutely right that buying clothes from local, independent designers will cost more—often a lot more—than buying from fast-fashion chain stores, but I personally feel that if you have the means to do so, it’s way worth it to buy one well-made item of clothing from an independent designer rather than five items from a chain that employs sweatshop and/or child labor to churn out poorly made clothes that will likely fall apart after a few seasons.
But enough preaching to the choir, and on to your question! Here’s a round-up of my favorite independent designers who make their clothes by hand or produce them in ethical, fair-trade working environments:
1. My favorite, favorite, favorite clothing label of all time is Mandate of Heaven. If you live in New York City, get thee to Fort Mandate, their retail store and studio in Brooklyn. Inside you’ll find purring cats, mint walls, vintage furniture, and knick-knacks that’ll charm the underpants right off you, and beautiful, one-of-a-kind playsuits draped over antique dressing screens, backless dresses hanging from the ceilings, party pajamas lining the walls, convertible faux-fur capes, organic bamboo long johns, and more. The Mint Collection is their line of one-of-a-kind, handmade designs made from vintage, recycled, and leftover fabrics, and the Opiate Collection features garments made from organic and fair-trade bamboo, hemp, and hand-dyed silk, made to order or in small runs produced locally by ethically compensated hands. Doing things ethically, sustainably, and lovingly ain’t cheap, so a lot of their clothes are investment pieces. Over the years, I’ve amassed a mini collection of MoH playsuits that are as much pure, frothy fantasy as they are practical (all of their onesies come with crotch snaps for easy peein’ and poopin’). I recently bought a pair of their mushroom-pocket shorts in organic dark denim and have been getting seriously hollered at by all the old ladies on my block.
2. Brooklyn-based designer Ashley Cheeks named her clothing and accessories line, It’s Okay My Dear, after a lullaby her mom wrote for her when she was a child. The clothes are just as sweet as that story—lots of pale silk dresses with cut-outs, checkered dresses, and crop tops adorned with bows. Ashley sources all of her materially locally in New York, sometimes using one-of-a-kind vintage materials, makes everything by hand in her home studio. Also, It’s Okay My Dear’s spring 2011 lookbook featured Rachel Trachtenburg from Supercute!—the band that did the first-ever Rookie theme song! I’ve been greedily eyeing the Picnic Dress in navy gingham—it has silk ribbon straps and pockets for when you feel like being a wallflower outdoors.
3. L.A. designer Jenny Reyes’s line, Geronimo, features resort wear that seems extra appropriate for the California desert, and vintage silhouettes from the ’50s and ’60s. Jenny’s crop tops and halter dresses make me wanna have week-long pool parties with my girlfriends. Ninety percent of Geronimo’s clothing is made from vintage material found in thrift stores and old fabric stores in downtown L.A., and everything is handmade to order with love. I can personally attest to this, since I am the proud owner of the Julia dress and the Catherine Holly two-piecer. Every time I step out in Geronimo, I feel like a retro babe about to conquer the world, one exposed shoulder at a time.
4. Ellen Van Dusen’s label, Dusen Dusen, reminds me of the 1980s in the best and baddest way, with its shark-print canvas backpacks and high-waisted shorts. Ellen’s prints are ill, especially her bug prints for spring 2012. All of Dusen Dusen’s production is done in New York’s Garment District, and Ellen works closely with all of her factories. She gets most of her fabric from Missouri, then gets it printed by hand in San Francisco. I have a hand-painted cape from a limited-edition Dusen Dusen collaboration two years ago with Daily Candy’s editor Erin Wylie, and whenever I wear it out, I get stopped in the street and sweetly manhandled by random strangers who wanna fondle my cape.
5. A few other independent designers worth checking out: Alexandra Grecco makes soft, wispy, ballet-inspired clothes. Blooming Leopold’s Etsy shop sells lots of simple handmade cotton and velvet dresses that are prefect for a romp outside, alongside a nicely curated selection of vintage finds. The Loved One makes sheer, lacy, pinup-style intimates. We Never Sleep deals in hand-dyed silk bras and accessories. And Erica Weiner makes her exquisite vintage-inspired jewelry by hand.
These humble suggestions are just a starting point. If you find a designer you like, you can always email them and ask for recommendations. Chances are, if they make their designs locally and ethically, they’ll also know, love, and be able to recommend other designers who do the same. Ellen from Dusen Dusen told me about ALL Knitwear and Erin Considine’s jewelry line. Ashley from It’s Okay My Dear tipped me off to Leah Goren’s pretty prints and Cold Picnic’s jewelry and accessories. Ask around. Research online. Look at Pinterest and Polyvore if you know what they are and how to use them (I don’t).
Another good way to find about independent local designers is to research craft fairs in your neighborhood. When I lived in Iowa City, I used to go to this biannual event called What a Load of Craft, and learned about a lot of designers just by browsing the booths—including this one adorable lady who recycled and repurposed vintage cat sweaters. If you live in Austin, NYC, L.A., San Francisco, Chicago, or London, find out when the Renegade Craft Fair is rolling through your town. It’s basically a smorgasbord of local, independent artists and designers selling their handmade wares.
The price we pay for a happy, clean conscience is significantly higher than buying from a chain retail store, but if you can afford it, do it. It’s worth it. —Jenny
I barely have boobs! I know that there’s not much to be done about it, but I’m desperate! It makes me feel ugly and disproportionate. I feel less like a girl because of it. HELP, I don’t want plastic surgery! —Amelia
Ack, Amelia! I feel your pain. I have been flat, Flat, FLAT all my life, and I remember reading stories about girls that were also FLAT and then woke up one day with BOOBS like a miracle and I would go to bed praying that it would happen to me too. It never did. My distress over my lack of chesticles did not come from not being able to “get” guys (although that certainly didn’t make matters any better) but because I felt like less of a woman because of it. Eventually, though, I realized that this was a total crap way to feel. We talk about body acceptance all the time in terms of “curvy” girls or women who do not fit into society’s notion of what a perfect body should be, but that extends to everything! Real women don’t just have curves; some of us have no boobs and some of us are short and some of us have big butts and some of us have no butts and some maybe were biologically born male but WHO CARES? Your feelings of worth should really not be attached to any body part (I know, I know, easier said than done, but it’s the truth). I don’t know how old you are, so I don’t know if maybe the boobs will come for you one day (and not because you got pregnant, which is what everyone tells me all the time—thanks, but I don’t want boobs that bad!). I always looked up to Gwen Stefani, and she had no boobs and wore bright bras all the time with little tank tops, so I followed suit. To me Gwen was the epitome of the girliest girl who kicked butt, which was exactly what I wanted to be. No one ever thought Gwen looked like a boy because of her lack of boobs—not even when she cut her hair all short! Because in the end, it doesn’t really matter, you know? Of course, if you really, REALLY just want to have the look of BOOBS you can get padded bras or those little chicken-cutlet things that you put in your bra (hey, your body, YOUR CHOICE!). Personally I can’t ever deal with those things because they feel alien to my body, and I’ve come to love the freedom that my lack of boobs has brought to my life, fashion- and otherwise. In any case: forget this nonsense that boobs are what define your femininity, because they don’t! You are who you are and you are BEAUTIFUL that way. Not in an after-school special way either, but f’realsies. —Laia
I’m an Orthodox Jew, which means that my skirts all must fall below the knee and can’t show my knees when I sit, my shirtsleeves must cover my elbows, and my shirts’ necklines must cover my clavicles. Also, my parents are pretty strict about how much I spend on clothes. Do you have any relatively cheap ideas for revamping a wardrobe consisting of solid and patterned L.L. Bean shirts and five skirts (one denim, two black, one khaki, one gray)? In case it helps, I’m a fan of vintage-inspired clothing.
Hey girl! You definitely can spruce up your outfits while making sure you adhere to the basic rules of tzniut. Peter Pan-collared shirts, like this one from Forever 21, worn under your tops and sweaters are a good way to capture that vintage vibe you like. They would look great with this retro-looking polka-dot skirt. Funkyfrum.com also has Peter Pan-collared tops in various colors at a very low price. I also love this houndstooth skirt they sell. You can also get a few detachable collars like these from Modcloth, or try your hand at making your own with our tutorial. Mix and match different combinations inspired by these looks from Forever 21, and you’ll become a master at layering in no time:
Before you (rightly) take us to task in the comments for our hypocrisy—recommending ethically sourced and produced clothing in one answer, while pointing (and linking) to stuff from Forever 21 and Target in others—we just wanna say that we’re totally aware of our hypocrisy! And, unfortunately, we couldn’t find a way around it. One reader was asking for clothes that are made with workers and the environment in mind; another specifically needed CHEAP clothes. In an ideal world, those two things—clothing made ethically and clothing sold cheaply—would overlap far more than they actually do. We’re also keenly aware that most of you readers are teenagers, and don’t have the kind of disposable incomes that would allow you to choose only the sorts of things Jenny recommends above. And so we find ourselves recommending both kinds of things, at different times, in response to different questions. We also recommend thrifting as much as possible, as it’s a relatively cheap and environmentally/ethically responsible way to shop. All this said, if any of you readers knows of designers who are creating ethically sourced/made clothes that don’t cost a lot of money, please enlighten us in the comments. Finally, if you have a question for a future Damn Girl, please send it to Marie at [email protected].