Is cheap swimwear any good?

Is cheap swimwear any good?

It's not the best year to be talking swimwear - I don't know about you but it's very unlikely I'll be able to go to a pool for, er . . . a while. But a friend got very excited about cheap, plus size swimwear with TENTACLES and then was like . . . but wait. How does this work? Why is it so cheap? And thus, I set off to explore the tentacular spectacular!

For background, I haven't ventured into swimwear buying for a while - Playful very kindly sent me a few swimsuits from their collab with Collectif. I do my sedate OAP breaststroke in both chlorinated and saltwater and then wash on a low temperature with no tumble dry and they are lasting well even with being scrumpled up regularly.

I do sometimes get tempted by extreme bargains online; I end up avoiding most after working out they have only been online for a month, don't accept paypal and rate badly on trust sites!

But some websites are the real deal - insofar as yes, you will get sent an item and it will resemble the one in the photo. The cheapest ones tend to be trading straight out of the garment manufacturing centers, so they can keep costs very low by either being integrated into factories, buying large bulk, etc.
But try using image search if you're like "this looks like fancy designer wear but it's $47.95?!", because a lot of them do steal images and you're not getting an elaborate ballgown for that price, trust me.

In this case my friend wanted to know about the tentacle swimsuit and some bikini designs; all of which were shot on mannequins so, a good start.

I also bought a couple of clothing items; ranging from a size S to a size 3XL, all of them arguably "fitted" but in that sort of "we designed this so you wouldn't know whether it was the right fit or not" sort of way. All of them had very thin fabrics - not always a problem, silk and satin are very delicate fabrics -  but I wouldn't expect that so much for swim and clothing.

I put all of these items through the wash on a lukewarm rinse when I got them, partly because factories are usually dusty and partly because I wanted to see if the fabric immediately fell apart. Nothing went splang straight away, no colours leaked, all good!


The Octopus Flounce Skew Swimsuit



My size wasn't available (I'm currently about 40/36/43 inches round the bust/waist/hip, making me more in the 3XL region) so I bought an XL and hoped for the best. All hail elastane, glory be for its stretch! It is the saviour of fast fashion.


  • Very unexpected hidden bust support! Underbust band, extra panel, and light moveable padding under the flounce. Extra work=extra expense so I hadn't expected this.
  • Looks like it fits great if photographed from twisty angle!
  • Love the print
  • Survived a wash
  • Lined all down the front

A friend once got asked to leave a public pool when their extremely bargain swimwear turned out to be transparent when wet. Cheap swim fabric and light colours have to be lined . . . or I guess you can live somewhere less British?


  • The support shelf is created from lingerie elastic - which will degrade rapidly in chlorine, salt, etc
  • Not lined at the back so guess I am just going to show folks my bum?
  • Very short in the body - a common issue when you're making in an area where people tend to be more petite and selling to an area where folks are built to different proportions (these are very broad brushstrokes)
  • Lining fabric is what I can only describe as 'nasty'
  • When you design to avoid things needing to fit properly, things don't fit properly, so insofar as I do go in at the waist, this doesn't. It also doesn't fit in the leg but to be fair it really shouldn't, so I can't blame it for that.

As a comparison here's last years Collectif x Playful sheer swimdress. The fabrics are better, the fit is great, the construction has more panels and so on.

My friend was also curious about the flounce tankini sets, mainly because it looks like you'd just fall out of the bottom of them or end up flashing everyone in the water.


Dragonfly Print Overlay Ruched Tankini Set

I tried a non-tentacle print, For Science, in a 3XL


  • Hidden support again!  Crop top with moveable pads under the flounce
  • I like the way the flounce works with my hips-bigger-than bust body
  • Shoulder straps can be lengthened (again this is a little more on the price so surprising to see)
  • Definitely uses swim elastic
  • I like the print, and both parts are lined
  • It survived a wash
  • Mostly fits! If you're 5'1
  • Pull on and off, no clips, no ties, nice for those of us with dexterity issues


  • Nobody thought through the fit on the top part. Folks bigger in the bust tend to also be rounder and this is just that bit too shallow in the crop top - just about ok for someone as short as me, but if you were taller, say hi to nip slips
  • This also meant the padding sat practically under my armpits. My breasts absolutely do sometimes try to live in my armpits, but it's not the most useful place for the padding.
  • The flounce fabric is SO cheap that it is permanently creased. The print hides this in a photo, but in real life, ugh.
  • Nobody needs swimwear that has to be steamed to sit right.
  • White, nasty liner again (probably a bulk deal)


Floral Print Knotted Ruched Bikini Set

I've been looking for a high waist black brief to go with various bikini tops I have knocking around so I added this. It's a moulded cup non-wired top and ruched bottom.


  • Waistband helps briefs stay up, lined at the centre front
  • Tie-neck, tie back top means it's easier to adjust the fit
  • Big enough cups that you're unlikely to fall out
  • I like the print in photos (in person, meh)
  • Surprising amount of superficial detail on the top


  • The bottom is if anything too big and also tends to look a bit nappy-ish around the crotch (this is like, lingerie designers first design problem, everyone's first brief looks nappy-ish round the crotch. Sorry, diapers, for the US folk!)
  • Moulded cups in this shape for someone with my volume and age just don't work well. You can't see it very well in photos but no matter where I tried the straps the cups would curl up and gape at the edges
  • Pretty certain if I swam in it it would try to flip inside out

Just for comparison, here's the same brief with an extremely fancy underwired, 3-part cut and sewn lightly padded reversible bikini top from Fraulein Annie. Normally I avoid wires but this bikini top is just worlds apart.

As regular readers may know, I'm not big on instagram, but I honestly feel like these are insta-clothes. If you want a different outfit for every shot, that you never actually go in the pool in, and that look work well in a photo - then yes, absolutely these are great choices.
If you are looking for swimwear that you can dive into the pool in and will survive many, many washes? Then it's probably worth looking for something mid-range instead, or finding a quality brand on sale or clearance.

All of that said - Playful also sent me their Peek & Beau bikini a while back. I never would have thought that an unstructured bikini top or, god help me, a side cut-out strappy brief would have worked for me, but I've been happily in and out of pools, hot tubs and saunas* in it, and this is a budget-friendly brand. So if you're more into a different look each day, worth heading over there to see :)

*British. The rest of Europe is SO annoyed with us about our sauna habits, really, I can't even tell you.