The bathing beauties, all finalists in a contest that will culminate with a winner being photographed for the February Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated, rocked styles such as bust-enhancing metallic one-pieces, super-high-cut briefs designed to flaunt strong legs, and tiny tops revealing gorgeously rounded tummies.
“[People in the crowd] lost their minds when the curvy girls came out,” MJ Day, editor of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, tells The Post.
“I think they were shocked because you don’t typically see that at fashion week … especially at swim fashion week,” Day says. “Some people [in the audience] were moved to tears because they saw themselves represented on the runway, which they never thought they would.”
Not too long ago, women larger than a size 12 had little choice but to hit the beach in matronly one-pieces and tent-like caftans. Now, thanks to a body-positive bathing suit boom, women of all shapes are swimming in strappy monokinis, pinup-style two-pieces, teeny triangle bikinis and more. Leading the charge are brands such as Swimsuits for All, Chromat and the New Zealand-based Lonely, which not only design sizzling suits in a wide array of sizes but feature diverse models in their campaigns and runway shows. Major retailers are jumping on the bandwagon.
Target unveiled a body-inclusive swimwear collection back in March, while SI’s swimsuit brand will drop its new line in early 2018, with styles up to size 20 at prices of $40 to $160 a suit.
“I feel like this trend has just exploded,” says Rebecca Lee, assistant buyer at Azaleas, a lingerie and swimwear boutique with locations in the East and West Villages.
And not a moment too soon.
“Being a larger person myself, I know that if you’re over a size 10, there often isn’t an option for you,” Day says. “That’s really frustrating because I’m happy to spend my money — if I can just find what I want.” Indeed, a 2016 study by market research firm NPD Group found that annual US sales of women’s apparel size 14 and up soared by 17 percent to $20.4 billion in 2016, compared with $17.4 billion in 2013.
“Retailers are noticing that a large majority of the population are demanding more body diversity,” says Jessica Lewis, producer of the modeling-industry documentary “Straight/Curve,” currently streaming on Epix. That diversity includes not just types of swimwear on offer, but also images of models in the media.
“It’s a great opportunity not only to be more socially responsible and ethical, but also for marketing,” says Lewis, who says brands get good press and lots of Instagram love when they make strides toward being inclusive. “Social media has empowered the public to let their voice be heard [by retailers].”
Lee, of Azaleas, agrees that social media is shaping the trend. “With Instagram, you have to look cute 24/7, including in your bathing suit,” she says. “The bigger-size women who come into the store needing specialty bikinis want a bathing suit that they feel cute in and that supports them … and that they can take vacation snaps in.”
Smart designers are adapting old methods to serve those needs. Lee says the best new swimwear styles incorporate elements of lingerie design, such as bra sliders or laces.
“There is so much more variety [in swimsuits],” says Susan Marasco, fashion director of ready-to-wear at Bloomingdale’s, who counts off-the-shoulder ruffled tops and cutout one-pieces as some of the more popular styles at the store. “You can go for a deeper-V to enhance your top, or a bathing suit with a sexy cutout,” she says.
And unlike fashion fads, she predicts the body-positive movement is here to stay. “I think now more than ever, with supermodels promoting body diversity on Instagram” — such as Iskra Lawrence, size 14, with 3.5 million followers — “a younger audience is expecting more trends to become available for everyone. I think the trend is only going to get stronger.”
Additional reporting by Jaclyn Hendricks
Suitable for every body type
Sports Illustrated’s 72-piece collection won’t be available until February, so let these styles tide you over until then!