Goodbye, skimpy yellow polka-dot bikini.
This season, the must-have swimsuit is a long-sleeve, full-coverage spandex number called a rash guard, often paired with bikini bottoms. It’s a look that’s currently adored by a bevy of Victoria’s Secret models, from Miranda Kerr to Alessandra Ambrosio to Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Reese Witherspoon, Lea Michele and Blake Lively are fans. And Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop newsletter recently touted a Breton-inspired version from Lands’ End for $45.
It’s a swimwear option surfers and parents of school-aged kids have known about for years. The name “rash guard” comes from the protection it provides against sunburn and abrasions from surfing. (They can be worn over a bikini top or in place of one.)
But over the past several summer seasons, the pragmatic rash guard has gone from protection convenience to major style object — after all, who wouldn’t want to look like a hard-core surfer or paddleboarder?
This season, J.Crew carries a number of versions, and many of its striking, tropical-print styles are already out of stock, underlining the popularity of the look this summer.
“Rash guards are having a moment right now because of the public’s newfound interest in surfing and the culture that surrounds it,” says Ariel Bishop, swimwear designer at activewear retailer Athleta, which is owned by the Gap and offers a range of brightly hued and patterned rash guards.
“It is a garment grounded in function and necessity. [But] it is important to create something feminine and cute with print and color.”
While rash guards used to be utilitarian gear made of scuba-ready materials to keep athletes warm in the waves, today the look is unapologetically pretty, rendered in wild floral prints or with sexy, peekaboo details like cutouts or cropped edges that show more than their share of midriff.