I don’t know about you ladies, but there are more occasions in my life that call for “swimsuit alternatives” rather than an actual swimsuit. I spend most of my water time doing things like rafting, camping, or hiking; where I’m actually mostly doing something active, but the need to swim might arise and I would hate to be unprepared! This is where swimsuit alternatives, a hybrid between swimwear and activewear, comes in handy!
I’m sure some of you might also be interested in swimsuit alternatives for other active pursuits like kayaking or paddleboarding, but I bet they are equally useful for those of you that might be clocking some hours lounging at the beach (jealous!) or watching the kids at the pool. I think swimsuit alternatives are perfect for those times when you want more modesty or sun protection for hanging out near the water, but you can’t be sure you won’t be getting wet unexpectedly!
First, I’m going to share with you a few of the swimsuit alternatives I have sewn and love to wear, then I’ll include a roundup with some additional pattern suggestions. I find that almost pattern intended for knits works well as a swimsuit alternative when sewn out of swimsuit material or just your standard spandex fabric!
First up is my Jalie 2796 skort worn with a lounge bra pattern (self drafted-ish) turned bikini top/sports bra. I LOVE this skort pattern; it’s my go-to in the summer for water activities or even just a hike. I always wear this with a long sleeve shirt for sun protection, so I really need to get motivated make that Archer pattern that I bought ages ago. Any well fitting button down shirt pattern in a lightweight cotton should be perfect for the job!
This next top I made from a rub-off of a RTW tank top that had a great center back seam. I’ve made it for casual wear out of rayon and cotton knits, but it works just as well for rafting and hiking when made out of this swimsuit material. I gave it a bit of a high/low hem for more modesty, but it would be just as easy to crop at hip level and wear with bikini bottoms or swim shorts. I wear this one with a sports bra.
This top is probably more ideal than the first as actual swimwear. I used the Jalie 2536 sports bra. Instead of trying to insert a shelf bra into a tank pattern, I just started with the sports bra pattern and lengthened and widened it. Then it was super easy to first sew the bra, then sew the shirt, then sew them as one at the neck and armholes following the pattern directions. I’m wearing this with self drafted leggings here because I thought this would actually be something great to swim in for pear shaped ladies like me who want more lower body modesty. I really flared the top so it’s not clingy through the waist or hips (ahem, you may notice that the panel in the back isn’t technically a design detail, it’s more of the result of a miscalculation upon initial drafting) and lengthened it to cover the booty. The built-in bra provides good support. I know it could also double as yoga wear, but I guess that’s not necessarily a problem. Just imagine yourself on a beach somewhere exotic…
Finally for something a little different; this is a tunic I made primarily for travel. It is from the same pattern as the black and white tank above, but you could use literally any knit tank or tunic pattern that fits you well. It’s not necessarily swimwear, but it have found it VERY helpful for travel days when I am either sweating a lot or in and out of the water (but not necessarily fully swimming) all day. Think more like a hike up a creek or drinking beers at the hot springs than swimming laps! It is made out of a swimwear fabric (the print) and spandex (the silver). I had better mention that with all these items, I prefer to wear quick dry underwear I’ve made out of swimsuit lining fabric (I love the stuff they have at Joann’s, it has a smooth hand and doesn’t catch on the nails or fingers like some other stuff).
Ok, I think you all get the picture that I spend way too much time thinking about clothing that can get wet at a moment’s notice! I am a hydrologist after all, so water is literally my job.
One more thing: I would be remiss if I didn’t point you towards the blog of one my fave internet sewing buddies, Gwen at Calm Under Tension! She is cranking out swimsuit alternative items like it’s her job! Some of my personal favorites are her recently made swim shorts and rash guard (photo below). Plus, she is an engineer, so she always includes great construction photos and details. Check out Gwen’s blog for swimsuit alternatives inspiration!
Below is a list of more patterns that Meg and I put together that should let you sew up all of your wildest swimsuit alternative dreams!
Swimsuit Alternative Pattern Round-up
Rash guards are a great option for swimming, boating, diving, lounging…! McCalls 7417, McCalls 7261 and the Fehr Trade Surf to Summit Top (I’ve been wanting to make this one, but it will require some grading) are a couple options that come to mind, but you can always sew up your favorite t-shirt pattern (Teresa of Dandelion Drift made a rash guard with a built-in bra from the Union St. Tee pattern), or even a dress pattern, as Gwen demonstrated, in a swimwear fabric to turn it into a rash guard… I’m thinking the Cashmerette Concord Tee, Greenstyle Centerfield Raglan, Style Arc Tamara, Style Arc Marlo or Seamwork Rio patterns could all work well as a rash guard.
Board/swim shorts and skorts can be thrown over a swimsuit, combined with a bikini or tankini top or paired with a rash guard so that you can be prepared to ride a wive or climb a cliff. For curvy-friendy board/swim shorts options, try Jalie 3351 (been wanting to make these too!), the 5 Out of 4 Patterns Adventure Skort, Jalie 2796 skort, Stitch Upon a Time Copenhagen Harbor Board Shorts or use your favorite shorts pattern like Prefontaine shorts or Juba shorts in a durable, quick-dry fabric. Melly Sews has a post on sourcing board shorts fabrics if you’re having trouble finding fabrics for board shorts near you.
Swimdresses are a fun and lady-like swimsuit alternative. Luckily there are several options, ranging from sporty to vintage-style girly… check out Kwik Sew 3609, Simplicity 8139, Butterick 5795, or Jalie Anne-Marie Tanks and Dress. Or turn your favorite tank dress, like the Greenstyle Lille Racerback Tank Dress, for example, into a swim dress with lycra fabrics.
Leggings or bikeshorts can be paired with a rash guard or swim top to keep you covered this summer! Choose one of these sporty options, or use the leggings pattern that works best for you with a swimsuit fabric: Jalie 3247, 2563 2444, Seamwork Aires or Greenstyle Inspire tights. Suzy also wrote a whole series on activewear and drafting your own stretch pants/leggings for the CSC- have a look!
Finally, workout tank tops and sportsbras can provide support and coverage when you’re in and out of the water. Try out the 5 Out of 4 Patterns Resolution Bra and Tank or Journey Tank and Dress, the Greenstyle Jillian tank, maybe one of the Jalie patterns listed earlier that has sports bra/tank options (see 3247, 2444, 3463) or Lisette for Butterick 6295. Also check out Michelle’s bra pattern round-up, which includes options for sports bras, including the Pin-up Girls Kerri and Alison sports bras.