Sara Wolf was running around a water park in an oversized T-shirt when she became acutely aware of the need for a “less frumpy” yet covered-up swimwear option. So she and Daniella Teutsch, a former fashion industry colleague, launched HydroChic, a swimwear company for women who want to enjoy the water and stay modest at the same time.
“The only options we were finding were these long, flowery dresses that just weren’t our style or skin-tight surfing-style wetsuits,” Wolf says.
The company specializes in casual, sporty mix-and-match tops and bottoms. The tops come in all sleeve lengths – from sleeveless to long sleeves – and the bottoms are pants, skirts, shorts or skorts of different lengths, too.
HydroChic, Wolf says, has grown by 20 percent every year since it started in 2007. And it’s not alone – modest swimwear is taking off in a big way. In fact, according to the fashion website Refinery 29, some of the most stylish bathing suits of the season are of the more covered-up variety; some are even long-sleeved.
High-end designers like Tory Burch and Nanette Lepore are selling bathing suits with sleeves extending down to the wrists. Major retailers are in on the act, too: The offerings from Athleta, for example, as well as Land’s End, run the gamut from swim dresses to shorts and rash guards.
“Every designer now makes tankinis and one-pieces,” says Nicole Bruderer, co-owner of Lime Ricki Swimwear, a Utah-based company that specializes in bathing suits with more coverage, from high-waisted bikini bottoms to rash guards.
From evening gowns to streetwear and swimwear, modesty is having a bit of a moment. Modest bloggers are enjoying widespread popularity, while “style stars” such as Alexa Chung and Olivia Palermo are frequently seen wearing more covered-up looks. Clothing brands are increasingly selling modest clothing, from high-end labels like Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s Elizabeth & James to modest-specific websites such as Modli to mainstream companies like Uniqlo. Even on red carpets, celebrities like Cate Blanchett and Julianne Moore are showing less skin.
“I would dare to say that there is a quiet social revolution taking place in which women are saying that they value privacy and they are tired of unrealistic expectations about their bodies,” Wolf says. “They are protesting being constantly bombarded with oversexualized messages. They want to be seen and heard for who they really are, their inner voice, and not just for a first physical impression.”
Vintage-syle bathing suits, in particular, are making a comeback. (Taylor Swift, for one, is a fan of the retro look – she’s known for donning high-waisted bikinis and has even been spotted in skirted numbers.)
But modesty, of course, is relative. Many of the season’s chicest offerings aren’t quite up to Orthodox Jewish standards, as they don’t cover arms to the elbows or legs down to the knees. (There are counter trends in play, too, including the advent of the so-called “Brazilian bikini.”) Still, for those who already were in the habit of showing less skin, suddenly they’re not the odd woman out amid a sea of bare flesh.
The increasing popularity of more modest swimwear is partially the result of increased awareness about sun safety and UV protection – after all, nobody wants skin cancer or wrinkles.
But whatever the reason, it’s clear that covering up is a trend – and not just among religious women.
“When we started, about 85 percent of our customers were modern Orthodox,” Wolf says. “Now I’d say that number is closer to 15 or 20 percent.”
Bruderer says: “I think it’s really empowering to women to know they can choose whatever they feel comfortable in.”