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

Part Two: The In-Between


1. For Catastrophe-Prone Boyishly-Bodied
Skinny Grrrls with Flexible Gender Presentation

Hi! It’s me Riese your editor in chief (with a special comment from Alex) here to provide advice for girls who don’t know jack about fashionable swimwear but are paid in lesbian cruises instead of actual money, therefore requiring donning such objects regularly.

This is advice for skinny ladies who are not butches, femmes or fat but instead just dear catastrophe waitresses.

I attempt to avoid swimsuit shopping at all costs by strategically mixing & matching, stealing swimsuits from friends/lovers, and sticking to basics. I haven’t tried on swimsuits in the mall since the ’90s, and as I recall, I was scarred for life.

Rule #1: You Must, You Must, You Must Get a Halter Top for Your Non-Existent Bust

Most swimsuits are designed for women with breasts. Like this.

Then there are swimsuit models. If you’re skinny, you might think you and these women will see eye-to-eye on your shopping needs. Um, not so, because they have implants, and you don’t:

If you’re anywhere between nothing and a small B-cup, then the only kind of swimsuit top you should ever wear is a halter with real straps (not spaghetti straps, what if they come undone? these things concern me). Underwires aren’t your friend and padding is a lie and honesty is important. Furthermore I find mainstream magazines are always telling thin girls to wear teeny-tiny string triangle-top bikinis. That’s great if you’re 14 or super-confident, but that shit ain’t practical, we’ve got trees to climb!

Here’s two random people I found on the beach displaying halter top/no-chest success with their tops:

Or try:

+ I personally own this Solid Wide-Band halter from JCrew (A) ($40) — no padding, no underwire, and nothing trying to lift something that actually lifts itself just fine.
+ Basic Roxy halters (B) ($34) come in a several colors — Roxy runs small, so get a size larger than you normally would.
+ Roxy 70’s Striped Halter Top (C) ($40)
+ Mossimo Black Women’s Bikini Halter Top (D)– it’s the bargain option! ($17.99)
+ Body Glove Smoothies Foxy Bikini Top ($48)

If you’re not totally sold on the halter suggestion, these offer other small-chest-friendly styles.

+ Twist Bandeau & Foldover Hipster (E) ($24.50)
+ This black/blue/blue bandeau halter from Rip Curl ($27)
+ Like a sports bra, but for the pool: Body Glove Vapor Racer Top ($40)


Rule #2: Boyshorts Cannot Do Wrong

Boyshorts is the best thing to happen to swimsuits since the 50’s, when women still had to mostly cover themselves up which I wish we still did. Boyshorts free us from submitting to patriarchal bikini waxes every three weeks and they make your ass look good. Do people really feel good in those tiny string things? I don’t.

I feel like you’d have to stand perfectly still and probably shave your cervix twice a week to successfully rock a side-tied napkin-sized bottom. Okay, grow up and cover your fucking private parts. Unless you are Dana Fairbanks, I guess, she can do no wrong.

So, a good pair of boyshorts is an investment worth making — think of the valuable time you’ll save hating yourself in the dressing room if you have to shop AGAIN next year. Get lining, something thick & durable; the works. Make sure it covers your entire ass with room for ass growth so you won’t need to replace it for several years. And get BASIC COLORS, like black. Why? Because that makes it easier to mix and match with other people’s swimsuits or with whatever’s cheapest at TJ Maxx the night before your beach vaycay, as I will explain later.

+ Roxy Venice Beach Cheeky Hipster Bottoms (A) ($28) are a little closer to the goods than I’d like, but the string is super cute and the side detailing is fun.
+ Hurleys One & Only Solid Boyshort Bottoms offer full ass coverage (B), which is key. They’re pricey ($50) but it’s a good brand that will last forever.
+ These Nike Mod Boyshorts (C) ($40) have a colorful belt detail which guarantees thick fabric and lots of coverage.
+ Roxy Neo Leg Boy Bottom (D): ($46) An athletic, 80’s inspired boy bottom with neon trim.
+ If you’re looking for a one-off ’cause you plan to grow a size next year (please don’t shrink a size, it drives me crazy when girls get skinnier/have less ass to grab) then Top Shop has some cute simple little boyshorts for only $14.
+ JCrew’s gone a little retro with this girly take on the boyshort with the solid ruched sonsie short (E) ($44) — it might make your ass look even sexier than it probs already is, and they come in all the colors of the wind.


Alex says: Just ‘Cause it Says “Men’s” Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Wear It

Hello ladies! Or should I say andros? Whatever we’re calling ourselves these days. I’d like to tell you a thing or two I’ve learned about swim suits this past year…

RULE #infinity:
Just because it’s labeled “mens” doesn’t mean you can’t wear it.

I noticed that board shorts weren’t the only mens swimsuit style available to the world (’cause I’m not into them. Sorz.). And I also noticed the only underwear I wear are men’s briefs. (You can read about the specific kinds of mens briefs/underwear that we wear and recommend inour “boyshorts” post.)

These are things I enjoy about mens underwear/briefs:

The extra space in my area.
No wedgies — frontal or posterior.
Plenty of upper leg coverage.

So I put this equation together and thought: I CAN WEAR MENS SWIMSUITS. The same rules apply!

It’s kind of that “retro” look that Fit for a Femme talked about before. You want to make sure you’re looking for “square leg”, “square cut” or “short” suits — those are the keywords. The thing is — briefs/boyshorts made for women just don’t work for me. You’re guaranteed more room and more coverage with a mens swimsuit. And they generally come in a variety of sizes!

Where can you get these puppies?

One word: What a great resource for SO many different styles of mens suits! The one I currently own is the Dolfin Poly Solid Aussie suit (A). It might be just this specific pair or all men’s swimwear in general, I’m not sure… But it might be a good idea to order a waist size larger than usual. The Dolfin pair definitely ran quite small on me.

If you’re still confused about how your size translates into mens sizes, the sizing charts on shopping sites are helpful. If you know your waist size, you can use that to make sure you get the correct size for you.

My recommendations:

Hugo Boss ‘Oyster’ briefs (B),
these cute Diesel “Aloha” swim trunks (C),
of course Calvin Klein Swimwear (D),
the Speedo Shoreline Square leg suit (E)
and maybe this is just me, but I want these Dolfin “Uglies” Spritzer Baggies (F)!

So, you get the idea yeah? Get your briefs in black or a neutral color and you can pair it with virtually any top you have or steal from a friend. Or get crazy-colored briefs and top it off with a black top. (More on this mixing/matching idea in Riese’s next segment below…)

You can’t go wrong. I promise.


and now back to Riese’s Segment…


Rule #3: Prepare to be Unprepared

I’m a bad planner: I really FEEL like I own a lot of swimsuits. Yet I perpetually seem to be packing the night before a free lesbian cruise asking myself, “why don’t I have any swimsuits?” Therefore I have become adept at two very important swimsuit wearing skills:

a) Mixing & Matching: As Becky will mention in her upcoming section, tops need not match bottoms. One day in Summer ’05 I snagged an invite to the Hamptons with 24-hour advance notice and had nothing to wear. (Sidenote: I’m not frequently called to the Hamptons. This was the only time I’ve been,Natalie and I basically crashed a WASPy party and haven’t been invited back). Sooooo, I made a JCrew sale rack pit stop the night before and although the top & bottom I found did not match, it worked well enough and I still wear it to this day (though often with shorts over the bottom ’cause they aren’t boyshorts, see “Rule #2”) — this is illustrated below in picture #3 — orange top, pink bottom. Matchy, almost! Buying seperates is also good if you wear a small up top but a medium/large for your ass. Hypothetically.

I also “borrow” swimsuit pieces from friends which match tops I already own. That’s why it’s so important to buy tops and bottoms that can go with lots of different styles.

A mixing & matching key is a solid pair of black boyshort swim trunks. If worse comes to worse, you can wear it with a bra, but you can also wear it with just about any color swimsuit you want! I got a black top at H&M, didn’t even try it on, holler.

b) What Else: The “cover-ups” section of a beachwear website confuses me. One need not purchase special items simply to cover up beachwear! You need only need to own some athletic shorts and/or mini skirts within at least 3 of the 4 color following schemes: denim, navy, black, grey/white. I also find that this particular American Apparel dress, which you can tie up in 546 ways, is convenient for shifting swim strap styles.

This simple American Apparel California Fleece Skirt (with drawstring) is available in many colors for the a sweet price of $12.15 and looks good on everyone. They don’t sell it anymore at American Apparel, thank god for the internet right?

American Eagle has cute navy drawstrings shorts if you can handle sporting that big ass brand name.

Stock up on cheap athletic shorts of every color — Champion Cheer Shorts are shorter than boy’s XL (my prior choice) without being too teenagery, or these super-short vintage-style cheapies from Forever 21. A

That’s so whatever you end up buying/stealing/finding while abroad will match whatever you wear on top of it to the beach. Or the underpants you end up wearing instead.

c) Tops: If you’re going with the halter suit top — and you should — a racerback tank will look the least redic. Get a 3-pack of Hanes WifeBeaters ($7.90) or if you want your tan line to match up perfectly with your halter and be semi-stylish, these Delia’s knot racerbank tanks are hawt.


Femmes with tips from Queer Fat Femme, Fit for a Femme, and Autostraddle’s Becky!


Pages: 1 2 3See entire article on one page

Before you go! It takes funding to keep this publication by and for queer women and trans people of all genders running every day. And A+ members keep the majority of our site free for everyone. Still, 99.9% of our readers are not members. A+ membership starts at just $4/month. If you're able to, will you join A+ and keep Autostraddle here and working for everyone?

Join A+


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 1 article for us.


  1. 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…

  2. 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.

  3. 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)?

    • 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.

  4. 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. “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.

  6. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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

    • 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 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. 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!!

  8. My little sexy butch was afraid of the beach because she didn’t know what to wear. I got her a pair of these:
    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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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.)

  15. 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.

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

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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!!!

  21. 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?

  22. 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? 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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 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 Seriously. Would I lie to you? No.

  25. 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?

  26. 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?

  27. I’m so excited to discover this article, but the links to parts 2 & 3 are broken! I’ve scoured the interwebs and can’t find a work-around. Please send me the direct link or let me know when it’s fixed? Thanks!!!

  28. Pingback: Dolfin Uglies Amazon | Todays Smiling Experts

  29. Pingback: links for 2011-06-01 –

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!