Autostraddle’s Swimsuit Issue: Butches, Bois, Femmes, Dykes, Grrrls and Otherwise-Identified Beachgoers

Let’s face the facts here: swimsuits are rarely marketed towards lesbians. Despite our propensity for gatherings on Shores and Springs, cruise ships, New England beach towns and giant parties in Miami Beach, most swimsuit related advice and imagery feels almost aggressively heterosexual.

I remember when a girl I was dating asked me who my favorite Victoria’s Secret model was; she had several but I had none and I was confused.  I’d never conceived of those women as being “women I want to make out with” but rather “pretty things that look pretty in photographs,” you know, like sunsets and fences and barns and shit. It just seemed like a different world that didn’t really apply to me and the swimsuits in those catalogs were for a different species of human being.

So let’s queer the beach, shall we? We’re covering a lot of ground here, so get ready! We’ve got guest writers GALORE!

Part One: The Butch Does The Beach

1a. The Butch & The Beach by Brandy Howard of Autostraddle’s In Your Box Office!
1b. How to Look as Cute as Fit for a Femme’s Tomboyfriend by Skinneh of Fit for a Femme
1c. Butch on the Cyberstreet by Riese of Autostraddle

Part Two: The In-Betweens

2a. Halters & Boyshorts for Boyishly Bodied Skinny Ladies with Flexible Gender Presentation by Editor-in-Chief Riese
2b. Just ‘Cause It’s for “Men” Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Wear It! (on buying boyshorts from the men’s section) by Autostraddle Design Director Alex
2c. Prepare to be Unprepared by Editor-in-Chief Riese

Part Three: Swimwear for Femmes

3a. Hotties with Bodies by Bevin aka “Queer Fat Femme”
3b. Just Your Average Everday Femmie by Autostraddle Style Editor Becky
3c. Get Fit for a F*cking Femme by Skinneh B. Jones aka “Fit for a Femme”


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Part One: The Butch & The Beach

Butches; your ladies love you so much, they can’t talk about anyone but you.  In fact, of three of the “femmes” consulted for this article submitted either exclusively or secondarily an (unrequested) guide for butch beachwear. Grrrls, they want you looking gooood and don’t think there’s enough good advice out there for ya. So here we’ve got it in SPADES. Ready?

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1a. The Butch & the Beach
by Brandy Howard (of Julie & Brandy in Your Box Office)

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Deciding what to wear at the pool or the beach is hard for EVERYONE. Waterfront fashion has to meet function AND be flattering. 99% of people get this wrong, and it’s especially easy to get wrong when you consider yourself a tomboy, a boy-girl, a masculine lady or a hardcore dykey-dyke. It is imperative that your swim-style match your street-style. I’d personally rather not see my favorite sexy tomboy in a string bikini.

Here’s how to avoid that:

TIP #1: Young, hipster boy-girls can never go wrong at the
beach in a sleeveless t-shirt and cool shades.

You can get your own D.A.R.E. Graduation t-shirts (as modeled by Alex, above) or Red China Star Black T-Shirt to dress just like the/our stars!

TIP #2: If you don’t have a sleeveless shirt, take your
favorite retro-fit and cut the sleeves off.

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Wear a sports bra underneath for the big boob-reveal right before you dive in the pool like a lesbro champ. Pair the sleeveless shirt and sports bra with cool board shorts and you’re set.

TIP #3: Don’t Vacation Without Your Stylist

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When I see this picture of Ellen & Portia I want to lift my arms to the sky and scream- WHYYYYY? What would motivate the BEST DRESSED woman on television to throw on a one-piece, brown, mom bathing suit? No offense to all the moms out there (cuz my mom Pam would rock that brown bathing suit and she’d be giving you gorgeous-mom-bathing-suit-realness), but Ellen doesn’t have any kids so she doesn’t need to rock maternal, ill-fitting one-pieces when she could pick a much better style.

She’s probably doing something very star-studded here (like swimming with sharks or scuba diving with dolphins) and the tour guide probably insisted that she wear an actual bathing suit. Backed into a corner, she grabbed an old one (that she’s probably had since she filmed Mr. Wrong) and she threw it on.

What she should have done was make her stylist pick her up a cool rash guard and some boy shorts!

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See, isn’t Brandy Howard magical, don’t you wish you could just go shopping with her every day of your life, so do we.


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1b. How to Look as Cute as Fit for a Femme’s Tomboyfriend
by Fit For a Femme

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For most of us, swimwear is a fact of life. It can be a matter fact or a dreaded fact or a fact like “This crochet bikini does NOT go with my new embellished sandals, clearly I need to find the perfect maillot or, like, DIE of fail.” For others, it’s a necessary part of a fun hobby, like Sex Wax or flip-flops with built-in flasks. Still for others, well… nevermind them. They’re boring and we don’t care about them right now.

With summer upon us all, we wanted to provide you with a quick and dirty Queer Guide to Swimwear. Service-y!

Let’s get started. We’re going to go in order from least to most revealing:

1. It looks like there are a lot of cheeky, over-the-top prints happening in the board shorts department presently, in addition to predictable Hawaiian prints, solids, vomit-inducing Ed Hardy garbage and vertigo-inducing graphic prints. Only one of those previously described are truly wrong, and I think we all know which one I mean.

Clockwise from top right:

RVCA Danny Fuller Trunk, $29.99
Original Penguin India Ink Board Shorts, $39
Element Local Stranger Board Shorts, $49.50
Reef Rainbrella Board Short, $45
Ezekiel ‘Danson’ Board Shorts, $54
Hurley ‘Puerto Rico’ Recycled + ‘Icon Pattern’ Board Shorts, $49 each

Board shorts are board shorts and for women, they’re practical and functional and it shouldn’t be hard to find a pair in a design that suits you stylistically.

2. HOWEVER, board shorts become a nice alternative to bikini bottoms when the length gets several inches hacked off, falling mid-thigh instead of at or just above the knee. Like a compromise, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Imagine the possibilities! That useless H&M sale on $4.99 bikini tops can suddenly mean you’ve quadrupled your swimwear wardrobe with a pair of these. How? Pick a pair of mini board shorts and wear bikini tops in different styles and colors to switch it up. Sundek even lets you custom design a pair in either length, and more brands are taking cues, meaning it should be easier to hunt them down.

3. The swim trunk is a classic. They’re not Speedos but they’re certainly not for the faint of heart, and on tomboys they are EFFING HOTTER THAN HELL. I prefer to see a butch go topless in these, but a sport bra, wifebeater or muscle tank works and is just as sexy if you don’t have the luxury of living a stone’s throw away from a nudist beach (or private pool).

I am fond of finding the odd vintage treasure for my loverbird because it’s so hard to find them nowadays with the same attention to detail and old-timey uniqueness, but there are plenty of new versions as well. Since this is my favorite and I want you to visualize the hotness with me, let’s take a trip down memory lane:


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Part 1d. Butch on the Cyberstreet, by Autostraddle Editor Riese

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While editing this piece, my LWEP virus (Lesbian Website Editor Paranoia, a PTSD caused by repeated flame wars with emotional and perpetually pissed-at-me lesbian internet commenters) flared up big time. Would we get yelled at for providing butch fashion advice from butch admirers/lovers rather than the actual butches themselves? ARE WE SILENCING OUR MASCULINE-IDENTIFIED LADYMEN?

Perhaps, to fend off this potential vulnerability, I ought to directly consult an actual masculine-identified lady for the final word on the topic. I know. I know. We’re still one step removed, and next time we will be better advance planners.

However in a pinch, I hit the virtual “streets,” otherwise known as “gchat.”

First up was our special butch correspondent w., an Autostraddle reader best known for frequently making smart/witty comments occasionally worthy of awards. Luckily, a few weeks ago, she’d made the mistake of personally mentioning offhand that if I ever needed  “a token butch perspective,” she’d be there for me, furthermore adding “and you don’t have to use that word if it skeeves you out” (I have been known to be “afraid of labels” but now realize that these are not labels so much as “identities” for people, and that’s cool, yay! I am not skeeved I am delighted! Let’s all call ourselves whatever we want!)

However, when I first brought up “swimwear,” it didn’t exactly seem to be her favorite conversation topic and she attempted to re-orient the conversation in more exciting directions several times. After about thirty minutes of beating around this particular bush, she offered the following, detail-free, explanation:

“I wear swim trunks and usually some kind of tank top, like a beater but dark so it’s not see-through when I get wet.”

I was curious about how this particular outfit handled her rack, so about an hour later I brought the conversation right back around to unpack that mystery: it turns out she just wears the tank top plain, sans sports bra/swim top. So. Hawt.

I then forced her to select her favorite boardshorts from the 6,780 available via Autostraddle’s Shopstyle Affiliate Network. Her picks:

These aren’t bad but I tend to wear plaid which is frowned upon.”

“I’d probably wear the ones that cost $12.

“These Original Penguin ones are okay.”

Here’s her demonstration of how her fashions function while snorkeling:

I then consulted “butch” source #2, my ex-girlfriend, who (last I checked) usually wears all black and generally finds fashion/style annoying and really hates clothes shopping. Mostly I thought she could provide some insight on how to buy actual swimsuits when you’d rather be dressed as the Lord of Darkness 24/7, because I remember last year she’d told me that she actually owned (and wore) a bikini on a beach in Greece or something, I don’t know, so maybe she had some shopping tips for ladymen who don’t give a shit or go swimming enough to bother with anything besides a regular lady-oriented bikini. Confirmed:

“I haven’t bought a swim suit in ages. I think the last one i got was at h&m, cause they’re cheap and i’m not very picky w/r/t swim suits.”

I’d like to draw a conclusion of sorts from this Butch Intensive research, but I won’t, I will just close my eyes and think about dolphins.

UPDATE: Our Queer Fat Femme alerted us to this post by Saritorial Butch which offers very valuable advice for butches directly from the source. SB recommends rash guards and board shorts, and also offers these wise words:

… you can bind underneath the guard, or wear a tight sports bra – I usually wear a lightweight sportsbra under because the guard dries pretty fast, and I like my bra to as well. I don’t have a large chest at all, but I live where the beaches are such that the ocean only gets up to like 60 degrees on really really hot days. I’d rather not appear so visibly cold to all of the other beach dwellers.


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NEXT PAGE: Andros, Hot Messes and Everything in Between with tips from Autostraddle’s Becky, Riese & Alex!

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Pages: 1 2 3 See entire article on one page

Avatar of Becky

I'm Becky. I write about style because I think anybody can look great and I think everybody usually does. I'm into self-expression. I'm into being expressive. When I'm not writing about style for Autostraddle I'm usually trying to make a film. I'm also a dancer, so I will Gahu with you anytime, anywhere.

Becky has written 26 articles for us.

63 Comments

  1. Thumb up 0

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    OMG, I seriously needed this blog. I haven’t even finished reading but I had to comment… I HATE the beach! And not because of the water, or because I’m an albino. Its because I NEVER know what to wear and end up feeling uncomfortable and refusing to take of my clothes ’cause I don’t want to look beach-inept or stupid.

    THANK-YOU! I gotta go find a shirt to cut the sleeves off of now…

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    Thank you so so so much for the in-betweeners section, especially brand recommendations.

    I was already kinda leaning toward the halter top/boyshort combo, but I never even thought about men’s short trunks! Genius. I know just the place in town to shop for those.

    Thank you Autostraddle, for making swimsuit season stress-free.

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    I really like the idea of men’s short trunks. Maybe my friends will be able to get me into a swimming pool this year. I still don’t know quite what to do for a top though. I cannot do a halter bikini thing but maybe if I found a tankini that could cover my gut?

    I liked the rash-guards but do any come as a tank? Also how hot do they get? Is the material like a bathing suit or like a scuba suit?

    Also where was this website when I had 9th and 10th grade swimming class (or as I like to call it a special kind of hell)?

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      I’ve worn basically a full body version of those (stinger suits – they are important when swimming in the Great Barrier Reef to avoid evil jellyfish) and they’re actually not that bad. They’re very lightweight, and not lined like a full swimsuit is.

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    I am so grateful that the wonderful ladies at Autostraddle are slowly and meticulously teaching me how to dress because I KNEW NOT HOW :(

    However, you have all I need from accessories to headphones to pics of supersexy butches that I aspire to be and now butch swimwear?!?

    Thank you so much, and excuse me while I change my underwear. This blog is better than a foreign accent.

  5. Thumb up 0

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    “Probably because summer is already over in the fashion world or something ridiculous like that.”

    omg becky you are so right, american eagle is starting back to school on july 6 or something, shoot me in the face.

    anyways, this article is wonderful. makes me want to try on my bathing suit. also i hate swimming and want to find a bikini that doesn’t fall off when i jump in the pool.

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    I dunno. I kinda feel torn. I do NOT have abs, and I’m like, at least 20lbs heavier than I wanna be, and I’m no where NEAR as skinny as half of the tomboys in this issue..however, I’m not fat…I’m not nearly as big as any of the girls on the 3rd page…so..I’m still stuck on what to wear for beach.
    I liked the halter top though.

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      I know what you mean. I’m not fat but my stomach isn’t flat either. Tankinis and rashguards with board shorts or something would probably be best for us.

      I don’t know how to swim, though, so that takes care of that problem. No bathing suit for me.

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        i didn’t learn how to swim ’til I was 18! srsly. ’cause i was afraid to wear swimsuits. fitforafemme recommended some hot one-pieces. i actually, if i had to buy a bathing suit, which i obviously cannot do as i cannot even buy myself breakfast, i would get one of those old-school one-pieces with the boyshort bottoms and all the extra scrunchy fabric and stuff that was like a romper practically. LOVE IT

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          It’s good to hear about late bloomers! I think my problem is part swimsuit anxiety and also part irrational fear of drowning – which is a whole ‘nother issue.

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      When I saw the cute one-pieces (that didn’t resemble Ellen’s brown p.o.s.) I was excited.

      Caprina: you and I feel exactly the same about ourselves. I went over to Target.com and found some cute suits with “shirring”. It’s that bunchy stuff in the middle? Anyway, I think they are gonna be cute (who knows though, I may get there and do myself in in the dressing room).

      Anyway, before I read this article today, I always thought of a one-piece as something girls had to wear when they weren’t hot anymore, or when they were too old for a bikini. As of today, I will rock the one-piece, and seriously “fake it til I make it” when I show myself in it.

      I have to go to Vegas in 5 weeks, so I need a new bathing suit fast. I don’t care what little girls in bikinis I see, I will wear it like it was my FIRST CHOICE, not the alternative because I don’t think I’m hot enough for a two piece (they don’t need to know I’m not!)

      We can fake it together :) Get that one-piece!

  7. Thumb up 0

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    can i change my identity to “hot mess?” like instead of queer, or female, or like “person.” i am a hot mess and i am going to dress like one at the beach. the end.

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    I never knew that there were such cool boyshort/brief type suits! Those seem perfect for surfing because I have no idea how pro surfers like Alana Blanchard wear brazilian bikini bottoms and continue to rip without them completely falling off. For me, bikini bottoms are def a no-go for surfing. They fall down the minute I duck-dive under a wave, and then I’m paddling and trying to hold them up, but since I’m only paddling with one arm, I can’t get anywhere, and then I’m just like, fuck it, and let the top third of my bum hang out, and then it gets burnt. So ya, thanks for saving me from a bum-burn this summer!!

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    My little sexy butch was afraid of the beach because she didn’t know what to wear. I got her a pair of these:
    http://www.jcrew.com/AST/Browse/WomenBrowse/Women_Shop_By_Category/swim/solids/PRDOVR~12910/12910.jsp
    and she goes topless. It is hot! I am glad Aja agrees with me. I suggested this on the afterellen (swimsuit styled out) and got thrown off the site. They thought I was a troll! Whatevs, Autostraddle is better.
    Viva la topfreedom! http://www.007b.com/topfreedom.php

  10. Thumb up 0

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    So this article is PERFECT for me ’cause I’m getting married in Hawaii next year and I’m thinking my normal racing suit + board shorts so I don’t have to shave thing’s not gonna cut it. I’m lusting after this… nngh.

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    riese, I never ever want to be an angry lesbian commenter who intimidates you from posting ever again.

    Please put everything on the internet by you for us to read. You’re great!

    Also this post changed my swimsuit life. I wish I had $90 for the Gentlemen Prefer Plaid Two Piece in “plus size” because honestly if I could design my own swimsuit, it’d look just like that.

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    i absolutely love this.

    i just bought a rashguard for a surfing trip that went array [the resort/city we went to had a no-alcohol policy (it was a dry city! wtf), so we had to leave as i wcouldn't have been able to stay more than 6 hours, obviously] but i still totally recommend the rashguard approach.

    also, this article/issue is awesome. also, i really like the RVCA trunks.

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    I’m lucky enough to fit into large boys’ stuff. This means that I have a collection of the sweetest board shorts ever. Plus, boys clothes are super, super, super cheap. I have robots, sharks, dinosaurs, crazy patterns, and plain basic colors. I pair them with bikini tops or beaters, depending on what I’m doing.

    Another good thing about boy board shorts: free gifts! They tend to come with pool toys, swim goggles, or badass waterproof wallets.

  14. Thumb up 0

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    okay, so help me here. i’m on the femme side of things, but bathing suits *don’t fit me*. like, size 14 AE girls jeans, 36c/34d bra, and way need support. i have no idea what to wear to the beach!

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    I’ve always wanted to rock board shorts instead of a femmey, plus-size bathing suit with a skirt (because I feel like an impostor when I wear the skirt-suit I own), but wasn’t sure what to do about my top half. Never thought about a sports bra and tshirt/tank top! Now let us see if I actually make it to the beach this summer (I live a mile from Montrose Beach but haven’t been once yet this year.)

  16. Thumb up 0

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    it’s so true! bathing suit tops are made for people with breasts which is something that i don’t have. there’s this trick i do to make a regular string bikini look 5 times fancier and not fall off. american apparel sells a suit made to be worn this way, but you can do it with other bathing suits as well. it’s hard to explain, but i’m going to try:
    1: move the triangles so that they are closer to the opposite ends of the string that would normally wrap around your ribcage.
    2: the ribcage string is going to go around your neck instead and the bunched-up strung-up part of the triangles are going to be the sides of the triangles instead of the bottom.
    3: once you tie the string behind your back, you should have two more strings attached to the triangles that are flapping around the front. cross the triangles over and wrap the strings around and tie them in the back as well.

  17. Thumb up 1

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    It’s nice to see options for everyoneImeanbutches, plus FFAF is just a kickass writer. If she told me jumping off a cliff was the new black, I’d do it.

  18. Pingback: Out of the gay news loop post-pride? Catch up here! | qPDX.com - Queer news, views and events for Portland

  19. Thumb up 0

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    Update:
    bathing suit found! Cute black one-piece with shirring. Makes me look slim and gives great cleave!!!!! What more could I ask for.

    SRsly, thank you. I would not have run out today and tried on bathing suits had yesterday’s article not prompted me. NO JOKE.

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    this article is as awesome as epic. I’m actually considering buying a one-piece again for the first time since ages.

    I mostly do identify as some sort of femme, but I have been, when not feeling too comfortable with my body, wearing simple boy shorts since I was a teenager. It’s a great solution if you don’t feel like strutting around half naked. (though, the upper half still is rather naked.) anyways – a bikini, and sometimes boy shorts and a bikini top.

    also, I had the perfect theory going on for bcw, thinking it was dara nai commenting under cover on autostraddle and being just awesomesauce. however, neither dara w. nai nor bad w. machine sound convincing.
    have to make up another theory.

  21. Thumb up 0

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    Ech, I’ve never really felt even remotely comfortable in any swimwear. I’m pearshaped and that makes me feel pretty awkward in most swimwear. Tiny shoulders = swimsuits/bikinis that slip off. Curvy woman shape = too girlie to look awesome in butchie swimwear. Thankfully I live in a cold climate so I don’t have to actually face up to this particular ridiculous fear.

    I have a foxy androgynous gf who will look super HAWT in some boy shorts though. Note to self: email link to blog.

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    It was helpful… but not as helpful as I originally thought it might be. I’m really not trying to be the person who’s all like “Well i’m different and you didn’t represent me!”
    I consider myself to be neither butch or femme but somewhere in the middle. I’m also a size 10 with a size 40D chest. So i’m still really kind of lost here… I don’t feel that my tummy is really THAT bad but every bikini i’ve ever tried doesn’t support my chest.
    I DO NOT like the looks of tankinis either… I guess I was just hoping maybe for some good options for bikinis with full support.
    You ladies do great work and I love you all! Please don’t view this as whiny! Because I swear i’m not trying to be!!!

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    It is interesting that you chose to have three butch swimwear pieces all authored by femmes. i know that butch/femme is really central to how some butches construct their identity, but as a butch who doesn’t do that, doesn’t do butch/femme, I gotta say I’m a little creeped out.
    It’s nice that you acknowledge the weirdness of having *all three* of your butch swimwear posts written by femme- identified people, but still. Dude. What if all of your femme swimwear posts were written by butches? Wouldn’t you find that a little skeevey?

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    Comment from a lifeguard here. After spending many years in bathing suits watching other people in bathing suits and seeing what fun in the sun can do to said suits, I recommend that you avoid the sports bra. I’m sure it works for some, but being well-endowed myself, I find that the second mine hits the water it might as well not be there. If it’s the route you’d like to take, check out the “workout bikinis” made by racing suit companies. They have the same look, but keep the support when wet. They’ll last much longer too.

    Great place to find them? Swimoutlet.com. They have a variety of brands and provide many options for swimming shoppers. I suggest you check them out for any swimming needs as they have a great selection at a range of prices and in plenty of styles. Here you can find board shorts, fashion suits, racing suits, mens suits, even those adorable little trunks. This site always takes care of my swimming woes.

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    what about if your a tomboyish girl who has a giant rack but hates the uniboob look of sports bras? also, i hate the feeling of my clothes dragging when i swim, but don’t really have the body confidence for a teeny bikini. also, i hate one pieces because they are so super inconvenient! tankinis have gotten smaller and smaller.

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    As an extremely busty plus-sized lady (14 on bottom, and a 38 H on top) I have always STRUGGLED to find suits the fit, well, MY BOOBS! Old Navy and Torrid never worked for me in this department. I would be in a size 22 suit before the cups in the top were ever close to kind of fitting and the rest of the damn thing was falling off my bod. This year I did some internet scavaging and found figleaves.com that sells swimwear based on cup size! MIRACLE! I bought a really cute 1950′s inspired underwired halter one piece. It’s the best bathing suit I’ve ever owned. SO if you’re like me and stopped being able to fit into Vitcoria’s Secret at age 15 and are desperate for some sweet suits, get yer but over to figleaves.com. Seriously. Would I lie to you? No.

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    Great article! But I wonder if anyone can offer some additional advice about boy shorts styles or brands? I hate my below-the-belt curves and I’ve found that most shorts emphasize them in an unflattering way, or if I buy ‘em baggy, they make me look way bigger than I am (I’m actually quite petite). Any tips for hiding my hips and ass without my lower half looking like a circus tent?

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    the only thing lacking from this article was actual solutions or any mention of boyishly shaped femmes with flexible gender presentation and assigned male bodies. the halter rule is definitely on point for growing chests but what about the terrifying possibility of outing yourself by the pool or the daunting task of passing in board shorts?

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