It’s that time of year when we Rangeley women might want to anticipate the need for appropriate swimwear. Somewhere, sometime between now and Labor Day, we will supposedly have a few 80-degree days. And, if we’re really lucky, we might actually be able to intentionally take a dip in the lake rather than floating above it hoping whatever splashes on us doesn’t soak through our waiting-for-summer windbreakers.
Being ready to take that epic plunge, I’ve discovered, takes serious planning and more support than we’re likely to find in available retail. It takes more than figuring the suit you left up at camp as a “spare” is still going to work for you like it did back in the ’80s when it was your best suit ever.
Even the top outdoor outlets with their active women’s straps-that-stay-put suits don’t really measure up for water sportwear in these parts. We need coverage that withstands flying off a float tube or water skiis at 30 miles per hour. We need super resilient Lycra that doesn’t snag when we crab crawl along the rocks enroute to our sandier beach access areas. Requiring function above fashion, we definitely need straps that hold in what God gave us whether we’re breast stroking away from the deer flies, bending half out of the boat to net a salmon, or just wanting to hang out on the dock without really hanging out. With the right design specs, we could fashion our own line of Mooselook maillots and Toothaker tankinis. The tankini should have a small side pocket sewn inside near the hip, I figure. Those of us who multitask when we take a dip could use it as an optional soap holder, demonstrating why our swimwear is aptly called a bathing suit. And, if we got really daring, we might even dream up a couple Bemis bikinis. For those of us blessed with the right curves and thermal adaptability, they’d be offered in a deep Rangeley green and perhaps a bold South Arm sunset pattern to camouflage our goose bumps.
Until then, I’m grateful for Land’s End and how their promise to be “true to size” did, in fact, hold true for me. A couple years ago I let their bathing suit ‘bot—a simulated version of my measurements and other physical characteristics—select my perfect tankini. Shopping with this perky little cartoon girl model of me was way better than braving the mall dressing room or ordering off the web purely on faith. She showed me enough to know that what I’d try on in my bedroom after ripping into the Land’s End package might actually be a suit I’d come out of the bedroom in and end up wearing in public. She was right…I love my latest suit! But even though it’s withstanding scraping along the dock and hours of churning, stretching and snapping, I know it will become my nostalgic “spare” suit before too long. And before it does, I have a couple program enhancements in mind for my mail order ‘bot.
I’d like to work with the online catalogue engineers to design a super customized Bathing Suit Buddy. Real-time customer support at its finest, she’d pop up to ensure my suit shopping would not leave me crushed and despondent with my virtual shopping cart empty. She’d automatically be programmed to know that I’d been exposed to the latest Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. By default, she’d realize I’d seen the women’s magazines that show “Suits to Suit Your Shape (where the woman illustrating “thick waist” measures about 25 inches at her thickest part). Her data base would not contain fashion designers’ stats for “average.” She’d boot up with real world honest-to-goodness average-bodied women shapes and sizes at her fingertips. And, not only would my Bathing Suit Buddy have a believable build–showing me at first glance that she’d made some effort to stay fit and trim and had achieved moderate success—she’d also have a soft soothing voice.
“Hello! I’m your Bathing Suit Buddy,” she’ll pop up and announce as I sit peering over thumbnails of the latest online selections. She’ll walk me through the process, convincing me I’m not a heap of useless skin, showing that halters are more my style, proving that “boy short” bottoms are built for boys. By the time I click on “add this to my cart,” I’ll be confident, enthusiastically waiting for my Land’s End package to arrive, and hoping summer in Rangeley arrives before it goes out of style.
“Do camp suits ever really go out of style?” I found myself wondering recently when I came across my last mall-purchased suit. It brought back memories of dressing room mirrors stolen from the fun house at the Fryeburg Fair, where I had no one (expect for my own destructive inner selves) to accompany me through the brave world of trying on swimwear. One tiny voice kept mumbling about how I’d done my best with diet and exercise to prepare for that year’s search. “The Abs of Steel video, the good old ‘Never eat unless you’re hungry’ motto, the stairs instead of the elevator…you’ve done your part…” I’d mutter. But then the other tiny voice would insist I’d obviously failed. “Abs of Steel, what a joke!” it would taunt as I struggled with sheath after sheath of unforgivable spandex. “Next winter, why don’t you try sitting in your typing chair for 12 hours a day instead of just eight? Then you can graduate to the suits with the little skirts on them!”
By the time I emerged from the dressing room, I must have looked emotionally flogged.
“No luck today?” the sales clerk asked.
“No, not unless you’d call it luck to have one of the “mature” styles fit like I’d been thrown into an ice cream cone dispenser.”
I did manage to squeeze into a few of the flimsier styles that made me look like a painted summer squash. And then there were those “cookie cutter” suits—one-piece suits with a big piece missing in the area I personally liked to hide with a one-piece. I tried a couple on and my reflection reminded me of the Pillsbury Dough Woman after an attack by a giant cookie cutter.
“I’m an average size 10 woman!” I remember protesting to my husband half-way through my swimsuit search that year. “If I feel like a squished out marshmallow in most of the suits available, what are fuller figured women left with? How do they feel?”
“Umm…like larger squished out marshmallows,” he stated with all the empathy of someone who tore the legs off his Levis when he needed swimwear.
Fortunately, for me and my silent majority of women who weren’t blessed with mannequin perfection, there was a trend on the market that offered a solution. “Slim suits,” they called ’em, even though they came in all sizes. (Ever heard of a chubby size 6?) Anyway, if you could get past the way the manufacturer dangled a tape measure off the price tag, you’d end up with a multitude of styles and colors to choose from.
I didn’t rise to the challenge of measuring myself with and without the slim suit. I just scurried into the dressing room and let the hangers fly. “Please, please, please,” one tiny voice pleaded. I prayed the neon stripes on the front of the suit would go diagonal, like the picture on the tag, without any dips, bulges or zig zags to spoil the effect.
“Any luck this time?” the clerk asked when I re-emerged.
“Yes, thank you. I found a real pretty one.” But my other tiny voice was still shopping.
“Course it looks pretty. It’s the consistency of an ace bandage!” I hid the dangling tape measure and made my way to the cash register.
Until it got retired to my camp closet sometime in the ’90s, that was my best suit ever. I guess I should just leave it there as my spare, just in case the Land’s End one finally gives up the good fight.