Swimwear Fabric Recommendations

 Whether it’s soaking up the sun by the beach with sand between your toes, poolside lounging in boho-inspired resort wear, or powering through laps in an Olympic pool, the types of materials you pick out for your swimwear garment can differ vastly.

Traditional athletic swimsuits meant for swimming or watersports are made with design and fabrics that are more technical and performance-driven, such as reduced drag in the water, whereas casual, fashion-forward swimwear such as bikinis and one-pieces are more aesthetically and design-focused.

From properties such as chlorine resistance to dye and print suitability for the hottest summer bikini, having an idea of your garment’s purpose will help during the fabric selection process as you pick out materials that will aid in its performance and wear. In this guide, we’ll discuss the various recommended fabrics for garments from bikinis to board shorts.

Natural VS Synthetic Fibers

While natural fibers are loved for apparel such as dresses and shirts, they’re not commonly used in swimwear as they are not as long-lasting or resilient. They also tend to absorb water and get soggy and heavy when wet, leading to an uncomfortable and unpleasant experience.

Synthetic fibers are predominantly used as they have better performance qualities, abilities, and durabilities such as chlorine, saltwater, and sunlight resistance. These synthetic fabrics can also hold up more to wear and tear, which prolongs the garment’s lifespan. 

Elastane VS Spandex VS LYCRA®,
and why it’s important:

As fabrics such as polyester or nylon do not have natural elasticity in their fabric composition, these fabrics have to be blended with a stretchy material such as elastane which will provide movement, flexibility, and stretch. This allows the garment to contour to the curves of the body while allowing the wearer to remain comfortable without restriction or stiffness when moving.

Elastane: A lightweight, synthetic fiber known for its exceptional stretch and elasticity, commonly used to make stretchy clothing such as sportswear.

Spandex: An anagram of the word “expands”, which refers to the fibers’ ability to stretch and return to their original shape. Spandex is an alternative name for elastane.  

LYCRA® = A brand of elastane that was invented and patented by the company DuPont.

Although elastane’s ability to return to its original shape after being stretched is highly prized, it’s important to note that one of the downsides is that the fabric does not have the longest lifespan. Prolonged exposure to sunlight, chlorine, and saltwater can contribute to color fading, degradation and loss of elasticity. 

Swimwear properties to look out for:

  • Hydrophobic and quick-drying materials
  • Colorfast – resistance to dye fading or running
  • Four-way stretch to contour and hug the body
  • UV-resistant
  • Chlorine resistance
  • Anti-UV Finish (UPF+ resistance)
  • Drag reduction and resistance
  • Compression

Nylon-elastane Blends

The most commonly used fabric among female swimwear pieces, nylon blends are soft and comfortable with a good stretch that hugs the body well. Thin and lightweight, it offers a smooth and elegant fit, and is commonly used for outerwear, activewear and underwear due to its lightness, durability, lower price point and hydrophobic qualities.

An alternative to polyester, nylon is typically not as long-lasting and less resistant to chlorine as compared to polyester, but textile manufacturers today are coming up with innovative solutions that resist and tackle these shortcomings to rival the properties, durability, and longevity of polyester. 

Such an example is the Xtra Life LYCRA® which is specially designed to resist chlorine, heat and UV damage and last up to 10 times longer than swimwear made with unprotected spandex.

Pros:

  • Resilient 
  • Able to withstand rubbing and scraping
  • Great elasticity
  • Low in moisture absorbency
  • Abrasion Resistant

Cons:

  • Prone to degradation by acids, chlorine and sunlight
  • Might pill over time

Recommended for: One-piece suits, two-piece suits, bikinis,   swimming trunks

Patbo
Polyamide elastane bikini

Johanna Ortiz
Polyamide elastane ruffle bikini

Eres
Polyamide elastane swimsuit

Orlebar Brown
Nylon-spandex briefs

Polyester-elastane Blends

The leading fabric for competitive swimwear, polyester blend swimsuits offer chlorine and sunlight resistance and are known for being durable and long-lasting. Strong, soft, and extremely hardy, polyester blend fabrics also absorb and hold dyes well despite repeated use.

An extremely hydrophobic material that repels water, it remains a highly popular option in the industry not only for its quick-drying and resilient properties but also for its ability to withstand prolonged wear and contact with chlorine.

Pros:

  • Strong and resilient fibers
  • Provides a soft and comfortable fit
  • Durable and resistant to shrinkage
  • Abrasion and pilling resistant
  • Quick-drying
  • Chlorine-resistant
  • Provides UV protection

Cons:

  • Lack of breathability
  • Does not absorb moisture

Recommended for: One-piece suits, two-piece suits, bikinis, swimming trunks

Nike
Polyester swimming briefs

Patbo
Polyamide elastane chiffon-trim swimsuit

Norma Kamali
Polyester elastane

Norma Kamali
Ruched polyester spandex swimsuit

PBT (Microfiber Polyester) 

Known as polybutylene terephthalate texturized, PBT fabrics are a member of the polyester family of plastic fibers. Although PBT fabrics can be used as an alternative to elastane fabrics due to their natural stretch, they are not as stretchy as elastane. 

PBT fabrics are commonly used for swimwear due to their unique recovery properties that return to their original shape after major stretch and strain, as well as resistance against the effects of chlorine and saltwater.

Pros:

  • Wrinkle-resistant
  • Colorfast and resistant to UV light
  • Resistant to fading
  • Durable
  • Light and smooth
  • More resistant to wear and external factors

Cons:

  • Stiffer than elastane
  • Not as stretchy as elastane

Recommended for: One-piece suits, two-piece suits, bikinis, swimming trunks

Speedo
Polyester PBT swimming costume

Speedo
Polyester PBT bikini 

YES I AM
Polyester PBT swimming trunks

Stretch Mesh 

Characterized by its net-like open pattern, lightweight heft, permeable texture, and added elasticized property, stretch mesh fabrics are woven or knitted loosely, resulting in its open hole structure. Similar to traditional mesh fabrics, the elastic open-net fabric allows for movement and stretch to contour around the body for a good fit.

The lightweight properties and open holes provide breathable ventilation while remaining durable against ripping or tearing, making it a great choice for swimwear as it wicks moisture away quickly.

Pros:

  • Allows for ventilation
  • Mildew resistant
  • Lightweight, breathable
  • Wicks sweat and moisture away quickly

Cons:

  • Holes in mesh fabric can easily catch onto things and snag if not careful

     

Recommended for: One-piece suits, two-piece suits, bikinis,   swimming trunks

Melissa Odabash
Mesh swimsuit

Jets Swimwear
Stretch mesh swimsuit

COSABELLA
Mixed Mesh bodysuit

Norma Kamali
Ruched stretch mesh swimsuit

Tricot-blends

A smooth-textured knit fabric, tricot is known for its resilience, breathable and quick-drying properties. Tricot-blend fabrics for swimwear garments are mostly made with a blend of elastane, increasing the fabric’s elasticity to improve stretch abilities and movement when worn.

Conforming nicely to the body while retaining its shape, the lightweight yet durable fabric can be combined with yarns of various properties such as deodorizing or heat retention for cooler climates to create a suite of swimwear products with various advantages.

Pros:

  • Durable and resilient
  • Good elasticity and shape stability
  • Crease and wrinkle-resistant
  • Breathable
  • Can be combined with other yarns for various advantages and properties

Cons:

  • Fabric surface can snag


Recommended for:
One-piece suits, two-piece suits, bikinis,  swimming trunks

Alexander Wang
Tricot swimsuit

Onia
Tricot bikini top

T by Alexander Wang
Mesh tricot swimsuit

Rib-knit 

Also known as ribbed fabric, rib-knit fabrics are more durable and elastic than regular plain knits. Rib-knit fabrics use knit and purl stitches in alternating raised and lowered rows, creating cross-grain elasticity.

Available in an array of textures and weights, the fabric’s density is determined by the closeness of the knitting stitches. Its stretchy and elastic properties are especially favored for making elevated basics such as t-shirts. A great option for swimwear, ribbed fabrics provide an interesting parallel line pattern with a soft feel while allowing movement and comfort.

Pros:

  • Available in a wide variety of textures and weights
  • Elastic and stretchy
  • Adds an interesting appearance with its parallel line patterns

Cons:

  • Fabric surface may snag


Recommended for:
One-piece suits, two-piece suits, bikinis, trunks

Mermaids Swimwear
Ribbed Swimsuit

Missoni
Ribbed swimsuit

River Island
Ribbed one-shoulder swimsuit

Topshop
Ribbed swimsuit

Textured Jacquard Knit 

Characterized by intricate designs and patterns woven directly into the fabric, jacquard is one of the most complex woven fabrics used today, and can be commonly spotted on suits worn by celebrities on the red carpet or at formal events.

 

Woven into the warp on a jacquard loom invented by French weaver Joseph-Marie Jacquard, the fabric is prized for its ornamental properties, offering a luxurious appeal in its intricacy and unique designs to garments and upholstery. Its complexity and labor-intensive production process make jacquard a luxurious and premium fabric, and its unique patterns and designs transform any type of garment into a statement piece.

 

Pros:

  • Luxurious in appearance
  • Strong and resilient
  • Wrinkle and wear-resistant
  • Durable

Cons:

  • Embroidered patterns may snag and unravel if not careful


Recommended for:
One-piece suits, two-piece suits, bikinis

Fendi
Jacquard swimsuit

Zara
Jacquard bikini

ÉNFASIS
Plain jacquard swimsuit

Missoni Mare
Striped lurex-jacquard bikini

Lurex® 

Image via Yes Fabrics

A registered trademark name for a shiny synthetic fiber with a metallic, glitter-like appearance, Lurex® was widely used for party costumes and evening wear in the olden days.

Made of thin strips of aluminum sandwiched between plastic films, the stretchy knit fabric molds to the body with a shimmery shiny appearance, adding a touch of glitz and glamour to traditional swimwear pieces.

Pros:

  • Holds up against effects of saltwater
  • Interesting glittery appearance and texture
  • Does not tarnish
  • Chic and versatile

Cons:

  • Not breathable
  • Can be itchy on the skin if unlined


Recommended for:
One-piece suits, two-piece suits, bikinis

LA Hearts by PacSun
Lurex crisscross one-piece swimsuit

Mikoh Lele
Lurex one-piece

Oséree
Lumière stretch lurex bikini

Oséree
Lumière lurex bikini

Chiffon 

Loosely woven to achieve its signature sheer and see-through appearance, chiffon is a weaving process using S and Z-twist crepe yarns that results in small puckers that are a little rough to the touch.

Lightweight, strong, semi-transparent and flowy, the gauze-like fabric makes an ideal choice for layering and creating playful, flouncy cover-up dresses with an interesting texture and delicate feminine appearance.

Pros:

  • Drapes well
  • Lightweight and breathable
  • Ideal for layering
  • Strong and stretchy due to yarn twist and weaving pattern
  • Better movement than cotton and polyester

Cons:

  • Prone to fraying and pulling
  • Prone to shrinking and stretching
  • Susceptible to stains


Recommended for:
beach coverups

Anjuna
Silk-blend chiffon kaftan

ASOS
Chiffon beach dress

MLM Label
Chiffon dress

Gauze

Image via Loop of the loom

A light, open-weave fabric that’s usually made from cotton, gauze fabrics are made by twisting horizontal warp threads around the vertical weft threads, resulting in a soft, crinkled, and loosely woven texture with a slight vertical stretch. 

Light and airy with a crinkled texture, gauze fabrics are a lightweight, sheer form of muslin and are commonly used for baby products and loose, lightweight unstructured womenswear garments such as blouses and dresses.

Pros:

  • Lightweight with a soft hand
  • Breathable
  • Soft and flouncy

Cons:

  • Shrinks easily
  • Delicate fabric

Recommended for: beach coverups

Lemlem
Gauze Beach Dress  

Lisa Marie Fernandez
Cotton-gauze kaftan

Su Paris
Cotton-gauze Kaftan

Muslin

Image via fabricgateway

A loose plain weave fabric with a bit of stretch, muslin is loved for its light weight and breathability. Available in a selection of various forms and weights, muslin is extremely versatile and widely used not only for baby swaddles, apparel and home textiles but also for cheesemaking and surgery. Holding dyes well, muslin offers a great option for light, summery dresses that double up as beach coverups. 

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Breathable
  • Soft and flouncy

Cons:

  • Shrinks with heat and washing
  • Unfinished fabrics can tend to stretch


Recommended for:
beach coverups

Badger And Fox
Cotton-muslin dress

Su Paris
Cotton-muslin kaftan

TWIN SET
Cotton-muslin dress

Voile

Image via Fabric supplier

A lightweight, plain woven fabric made with tightly twisted yarns, voile is usually made from cotton or a blend of it. Typically made with a higher thread count than most cotton textiles, this results in a silkier and softer fabric with a smooth hand feel.

A great fabric option for summer clothing thanks to its semi-sheer, breathable and lightweight properties, voile is also available in heavier weights which add a crisp finish for a more structured look.

Pros:

  • Very lightweight and breathable
  • Great drape
  • Soft, silky finish

Cons:

  • Prone to wrinkles
  • Fabric may shrink during wash


Recommended for: beach coverups

Charo Ruiz Ibiza
Cotton-blend voile coverup

MIGUELINA
Crocheted cotton-voile kaftan

Melissa Odabash
Tassel-trimmed embroidered voile coverup

Tory Burch
Floral-print cotton and silk-blend voile coverup

Poplin

Image via spoonflower.com

A ribbed variation of the plain weave fabric, poplin boasts softness and durability due to its weaving structure and high density, which also allows the fabric to be reversible. Fine and smooth, poplin is available in various weights from heavier to provide a good drape and sturdier silhouette, or lighter to result in a thinner fabric with more movement.

Pros:

  • Luxurious sheen
  • Wrinkle and crease-resistant
  • Easy to iron
  • Breathable

Cons:

  • Gets wet easily
  • Not very moisture-wicking
  • Dries slower than other materials such as polyester


Recommended for:
beach coverups

Co Charmant
Cotton-Poplin Slip Dress 

H&M
Cotton poplin beach dress

Loup Charmant
Cotton-Poplin Slip Dress

Linen

Made from fibers derived from the stems of flax plants, linen is a highly popular fabric choice for summer clothing thanks to its antibacterial, quick-drying and natural heat and moisture-wicking properties.

Distinguishable by its unique appearance from irregularly shaped yarns containing lumps or “slubs”, linen can have a crisp hand for more structured and tailored apparel, or soft-finished for a softer drape.

A functional fabric that is available in a variety of types depending on yarn size and weave density, linen is almost three times stronger than cotton. This makes it a versatile choice not only for summer-themed womenswear and resort wear-style dresses, but also for homewares such as bedding.

Pros:

  • Softens with wash
  • Highly durable
  • Lightweight, cooling, breathable and quick-drying
  • Sustainable
  • Antibacterial

Cons:

  • Tendency to shrink
  • Wrinkle-prone


Recommended for: beach coverups

ANJUNA
Linen and cotton-blend coverup

Emilio Pucci
Linen beach shirt cover-up

Marysia
Linen coverup

Tory Burch
Linen coverup

Crochet

By definition, crochet refers to the needlework technique and process involving the interlocking of looped stitches, which eventually form a ‘fabric’. Composed of a variety of stitches crochet ‘fabrics’ are available in a wide variety of patterns and designs, from simple knit-like stitches to elaborate floral motifs. 

With its open hole structure which allows breathability, crochet fabrics are a great way to add an interesting feature in your beach coverup garments. 

Pros:

  • Breathable
  • Available in a wide variety of unique patterns

Cons:

  • Fabric may snag due to its open hole structure

Recommended for: beach coverups

CHARO RUIZ IBIZA
Crocheted lace kaftan

PATBO
Crochet Beach Dress

MISSONI MARE
Fringed crochet-knit coverup

Cult Gaia
Crochet dress

Mesh

Characterized by its net-like open pattern, lightweight heft and permeable texture, mesh fabrics are woven or knitted loosely, resulting in its open hole structure. 

The lightweight properties and open holes provide breathable ventilation while remaining durable against ripping or tearing, making it a great choice for layering and breathable garments to rock by the beach or pool.

Pros:

  • Durable and resistant to rips/tears
  • Allows for ventilation
  • Mildew resistant
  • Lightweight, breathable

Cons:

  • Holes in mesh fabric can easily catch onto things and snag if not careful


Recommended for: beach coverups

Free People
Mesh Slip

PatBO
Mesh beach dress

Solid & Striped
Mesh dress

Lace

A symbol of status and luxury in the olden days, lace is an exquisite patterned fabric with unique and romantic characteristics. Hand or machine-made using loops or interlacing threads in a web-like pattern, the lace openwork features a delicate mesh fabric with a range of intricate designs and styles.

Previously only available to the wealthy until machines that could imitate openwork thread designs in lace were invented, most laces in the market are machine-made due to the labor-intensive skill and cost of handmade lace.

Hollow and see-through with a jacquard or embroidery pattern, the fabric is lightweight and sheer, which makes it great for layering with other fabrics. Available in a wide range of colors, patterns and intricacies, lace fabrics are a great way to add a touch of elegance, mystery and romantic allure.

Pros:

  • Beautiful and unique pattern
  • Adds a luxurious, romantic and feminine touch
  • Breathable
  • Great for formal or festive wear

Cons:

  • More fragile and delicate – requires extra care
  • Open hole structure can make it prone to snags, pulls and abrasions

Recommended for: beach coverups

CHARO RUIZ IBIZA
Guipure lace-paneled cotton-blend voile coverup

EMILIO PUCCI
Ruffled cotton-blend lace coverup

H&M
Lace beach kaftan

Patbo
Lace Beach Dress

Woven Nylon / Polyamide 

Image via Mini Textiles

Nylon, also known by its chemical name polyamide (which refers to a range of polymers with repeating units linked by amide bonds) is a synthetic man-made fiber derived from petrochemicals. Similar to polyester, it is also extensively used in the industry due to its durability and weather resistance. 

Nylon fabrics are exceptionally strong, resistant to abrasions and damage, and hold up well against chlorine and saltwater. Stronger than polyester, nylon has a slightly lower moisture absorbency than polyester, which means that it also wears warmer and is more likely to cling on to the body when damp. An extremely robust fabric, nylon is a great choice for making swimwear shorts that will hold up against weather and wear. 

Pros:

  • Extremely durable and resilient
  • Resistant to weather and external factors

Cons:

  • Can feel warm as traps moisture
  • Not breathable
  • Wears warmer than polyester

Recommended for: board shorts, swim shorts

Dries Van Noten
Nylon swim shorts

Neil Barrett
Nylon swim shorts

Saint Laurent
Polaymide shorts

Vilebrequin X Massimo Vitali
Swim shorts

Woven Polyester

Image via DK fabrics

One of the most popular materials utilized in the industry, polyester is a petroleum-derived synthetic fabric that is used for a plethora of garments and finished products such as outdoor and camping gear. The strong fabric is highly resistant to environmental conditions, and when blended with other fabrics, it introduces attributes such as improved shrinkage, durability and hardiness. 

Polyester woven fabrics are a great choice for swimwear shorts as they resist liquids and wick moisture away rather than absorb it, which also makes them pretty resilient against stains. Loved for their durability and low production cost, polyester and polyester blend fabrics have become the most popular synthetic and human-made materials today.

Pros:

  • Wrinkle-wicking and resistant 
  • Highly durable
  • Moisture-wicking

Cons:

  • Can feel warm as traps moisture
  • Not breathable


Recommended for:
board shorts, swim shorts

Adidas Originals
Polyester twill shorts

Burberry
Polyester shorts

Paul Smith
Polyester swim shorts

Polo Ralph Lauren
Polyester elastane swim shorts

Ripstop

Typically used for tactical gear and outdoor products such as sleeping bags, ripstop was originally designed to prevent ripping and tearing.

Highly versatile and durable, the balanced square weave is made with an extra set of warp and weft yarns which creates extra reinforcement and tearing resistance. A great choice for swimwear shorts, ripstop fabrics offer a lightweight and durable choice that holds up against wear.

Pros:

  • Durable and strong
  • Interesting square texture and appearance
  • Lightweight and smooth
  • Moisture-wicking
  • Can be made to resist and repel water

Cons:

  • Abrasion can cause holes to open along seams


Recommended for:
board shorts, swim shorts

HUGO BOSS
Ripstock swim shorts

Dries Van Noten
Ripstop swim trunks

Saturdays NYC
Ripstop swim shorts

ASOS Design
Ripstop tie-dye shorts

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