Ah, summer! Season of snorkeling, lemonade, and butch anxiety about what to wear to the pool. If you feel like sporting a regular ol' swimsuit, but want something a little more conservative than the bikinis lining the racks at Macy's, check out Speedos. They tend to be comfier, sleeker, and provide more coverage than most bathing suits. They even offer suits that look like conventional swimsuits with bike shorts sewn on.
But if you're like many butches (including me), something that form-fitting makes you look like this guy, but with bigger breasts and less hair. If so, your options are less obvious. A good standby formula for a butch in the water = shorts + boob coverage + shirt. I'll discuss each component separately, and you can mix and match as you like. (And of course, you should always wear sunscreen, even if your shoulders are covered.)
COMPONENT #1: SHORTS
Boardshorts are long (at or a little past the knees, usually 21"-22"), lightweight shorts that come in a variety of brands and colors. Some of my favorites are Hurley's Puerto Rico Board Shorts (pictured at right), Quiksilver's Cypher Alpha Board Shorts (pictured below), and Quiksilver's Slightly Choppy Boardshorts.
You'll find boardshorts in the men's section of department stores, Pacific Sunwear, and online retailers like Zappo's. Some brands make women's board shorts, but these tend to be far shorter than men's, presumably because it's more important for women to show off their bodies than to reap such trivial benefits as coverage and functionality.
Workout/running shorts can double as swim shorts, and often have more coverage and lining. My favorite are Brooks men's Infiniti Notch Shorts. This style has full lining--thin, built-in bike shorts under the regular shorts. There's no need to wear underwear or a swimsuit under them, and no one underwater gets a glimpse of more butch than they bargained for. Plenty of other running shorts come with built-in lining, too, though usually it's underwear-style rather than bike-short-style. Check out your local running store for ideas (Nike, and North Face often have cool styles).
Standard men's swim trunks can also be a good, cheap option, as this post from Butch and Pregnant suggests. Standard men's trunks are lightweight, dry fast, and have mesh lining. Note that unlike boardshorts, you shouldn't wear swim trunks to the mall. Also, make sure to get a pair with a drawstring. Since most ladies have bigger hips than guys, you may have to buy a baggier size than your waist requires. A drawstring will ensure that you don't expose yourself to that cute lifeguard you've been eyeing--well, not unless she asks you to...
COMPONENT #2: BOOB COVERAGE
Swimsuit or bikini top: This option is pretty straightforward, right? Buy a swimsuit or a bikini and, assuming you don't want to wear it on its own, you can use it as the "boob coverage" component of the BW Swimming Formula.
Next option: Sports bra. Or, to many butches, "bra." (First, a sidenote: other bloggers, such as A Stranger in this Place and the Sartorial Butch, have written eloquently and humorously about butch bra shopping. My everyday bra preferences are slightly different from theirs, but I'll save that TMI post for later.) As you probably know, sports bras by brands such as Nike and Champion come in sizes of the S/M/XL variety. If these suit you, great! If they're not perfect you might want to look into bras that come in actual numbered sizes (more on this, too, in a later post). One great place to buy sports bras is Title Nine, an athletic clothing chain for women with a great selection and a rating system to help you find a sports bra with the amount of support you want. Moving Comfort is my favorite brand, and I particularly like their Fiona model.
"Tankini" sounds like a cocktail made from vodka, a twist of lime, and a splash of water from the bartender's fish tank. Basically, these creations are like swimsuits that end at your belly button. Though I dislike nearly all tankinis (ugh--just typing that word gives me an eye twitch), a few--like this one (pictured at right)--aren't too bad. And if there's enough coverage built in, you can wear just a tankini and shorts--no other shirt necessary.
COMPONENT #3: SHIRT
A tank top over one of the "boob coverage" options I listed above is a good bet if it's extra hot or you want to look casual. If you're feeling saucy, go for something with attitude, and/or a little queer pride. Note that a tank top itself does not constitute "boob coverage." You may not think your smallish breasts merit coverage, but if you are over the age of 12, I assure you that they do. Your fellow swimmers should not be able to discern the water temperature by glancing at your chest.
Next, a regular cotton T-shirt is always a decent choice, and I'm guessing your closet is chock full of 'em. The downsides are that they feel wet and heavy while swimming and take a while to dry (you can pack another one to throw on afterwards). Also, make sure the shirt is darker than your boob coverage du jour; it's not uber-classy to showcase your sports bra through a wet tee. Since chlorine and salt water can cause fading, don't wear a favorite to the beach unless you're prepared to relegate it to sleepwear status at the end of the summer.
Now, a story: One day, a tank top and a T-shirt met in a forest. They decided they loved each other very, very much. Soon, they made a baby. That baby's name was muscle shirt. Muscle shirts offer more coverage than tank tops, on which the arm holes are sometimes too large. One tip about muscle shirts: in public, don't wear one you "made" by cutting the sleeves off one of your T-shirts. Such creations are appropriate only in one's own home, while running on secluded trails, and at the home of one's DGF ( with the DGF's consent). And if you decide to buy a new muscle shirt, why not choose one that shows your butch pride?
Rash guards are cool-looking, sold in lots of different places, and come in hundreds of colors and styles--both men's and women's. (I was pleased to see that Butch Style and the Sartorial Butch have endorsed rash guards--so you know you'll be in good company!) Unless the water is especially cold, I recommend a short-sleeved rash guard. They're made of thicker material than T-shirts--usually lycra, nylon, and/or polyester, kind of like the top half of a wet suit. A quick Googling suggests that despite the thickness, you should probably wear something underneath, such as a bikini top or a sports bra.
So, fellow butches, when in doubt about swimwear, remember that shorts + boob coverage + shirt = happy butch. And trust me on the sunscreen.