In Defense of the Ugly But Glorious Mom Swimsuit

You say bathing tunic, I say super-practical, totally functional do-anything-you-want-in-it pool attire.

mom bathing suit

It’s time to give the mom swimsuit its due. Illustration by Bailey Watro

One day in early May, exactly 22 days before the local community pool opened, my phone buzzed. It was a half-panicky text from my friend Melissa, sent to our group of mom friends. She’d been online shopping for a bathing suit. She needed one for the pool, which — in a fit of desperation fueled by a year of raising children in a pandemic — we’d all decided to join.

Sure, she wanted to lose some weight, she explained, but she didn’t particularly mind being in a bathing suit, so long as it kept her bits and bumps tucked in while she splashed in the water with her two little girls. And apparently, Facebook had some ideas for her.

This keeps showing up in my Facebook and Instagram ads,” she texted. “Is it trying to tell me something??!!” She sent us a picture of a beautiful woman wearing a white swim t-shirt with, inexplicably, a loose-fitting bright pink floral bathing tunic layered on top.

The replies pinged in rapid-fire, a series of resounding thumbs-downs. (“Is that a … bathing apron?” asked one mom. “It’s definitely a bathing apron,” said another.)

The Mom Suit doesn’t have an official definition, of course, but everyone recognizes its vague characteristics: some sort of skirt, maybe a belt or a bow at the waist, hidden shorts, garish colors, a blouson top, a random frill, aggressively thick straps. You know, the kinds of suits moms wore in the ’80s, before companies like J.Crew and Athleta started offering cuter versions: retro-inspired high-waisted bikinis, sleek tankinis, super-chic maillots. But evidently, the iconic Mom Suit lives on, in the form of bathing tunics and dresses and swim shorts and something that looks like an apron. Some even have pockets, like men’s trunks. Pockets! How wonderfully useful!

Later that night, as I began my own swimsuit search, I clicked on the bathing apron again. It was ugly, completely and horrifically ugly. But it was also sort of … glorious. Not so much for what it covered, but for what it left open: the possibility of hoisting a screaming kid onto your hip without worrying about your bottoms getting yanked down in the process; the freedom to bend over to fix your kid’s goggles without fearing that your boobs will fall clear out of your top and be forever branded in the brains of a pool’s worth of children.

It’s not about body positivity or ageism — ­we all can, and should, wear anything we like — but sheer practicality. Because while the Mom Suit has evolved (God bless a high waist), so have we.

“The idea of a fashion suit — of looking cute at the expense of convenience — is dead to me,” one of my mom friends said when I confessed to her that I secretly liked a bathing dress. “The Mom Suit totally gets a bad rap.” And she’s right. Instead of maligning it, we should just embrace it. And perhaps we will, my group of 30-something mom friends. Perhaps we’ll proudly strut around the community pool this summer with a troop of sunscreen-sticky kids in tow, bending and chasing and lifting in tunics and t-shirts and swim dresses, canned wine tucked discreetly in our new pockets.

A little while later, my phone buzzed again. Melissa.

“You know,” she said. “The bathing apron comes in multiple colors. … ”

Published as “Bathing Beauties” in the July 2021 issue of Philadelphia magazine.