This article is brought to you by Spavelous.com.
The great cover-up is on, and it happened almost overnight: All of a sudden, spas – the last accepted venue for public nudity – have become discreet. Never mind that camisoles are being worn as business attire – and at Los Angeles Fashion Week, the runways saw a chorus line of bare legs and more – but inside Southern California spas, tank suits, bikinis and tankinis are taking over the steam rooms and hot tubs.
Rianna Riego has been in the spa industry for 15 years. She got started “back when everyone was naked,” but as the spa director at La Costa Resort and Spa, Riego is well aware of the trend. When she and her staff take fact-finding trips to other spas, she packs a swimsuit.
“I won’t go naked in front of my staff,” she says. Neither, she says, do many other guests, who may know each other from their country clubs or children’s schools. “You don’t want them to see you naked.”
No longer is the spa the sanctuary removed from the pressures of the world, an escape from concerns about body image. Now spas are social venues where bachelorettes, business associates, families and party revelers partake of the waters en masse. Today at some resorts, group spa retreats are more popular than golf outings or tennis games, according to the International Spa Association.
“There is a pendulum swing,” says Michelle Heston, West Coast publicity director for Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. At the eight properties she oversees, suits are the rule, for every kind of guest. When guests know everyone will be dressed, “there are no questions.”
“We have a lot of intergenerational travel, too,” Heston says. Grandmothers, mothers and daughters may immerse in a group spa day, but even familial bonds don’t overcome awkwardness. “Just like my daughters don’t want to see me naked, I don’t want to see grandma,” Heston says.
As a result, spa attire is coming under the same scrutiny once reserved for the links. Gone is the white robe, once a class equalizer, a cloak of conformity. Now it’s the layer beneath that counts.
Unfortunately, most swimwear is designed for swimming in cool water, not sweating in a steam room. And who wants to immerse a beautiful, expensive suit in hot, chlorinated water instead of strutting it on the beach? If modesty is the new spa-going rule, then the challenge is to find a “spa suit,” something discreet and durable that’s also engineered to take the heat. Ordinary suits often don’t stand up to the test.
Chemicals, steam and lotions quickly can fade fabrics and destroy stretch fibers. Suits with thick and heavy fabrics are too hot for the sauna, and the powerful jets of hot tubs can blow a bikini or tankini top right off your body. No one ever wants to be the subject of that water-cooler banter.
A few brands are beginning to make suits that offer fabrics engineered to maintain color, shape and stretch. I tested three in a variety of spa environments, even wearing them for a few trips down a 100-foot pool slide. Here’s what I learned:
Reebok has answered the needs of spa customers with its Water Fitness collection, a group of suits, $70 to $80, made to withstand the rigors of aquatic exercise. The Xtra Life Lycra and the new Endurotex fabrics are said to extend the life of the suit by resisting chlorine, holding color, retaining shape and offering UV protection.
In my trials of a $78 tank suit, the fabric featured excellent breathability, stretch and support and a fast drying time. The built-in bra cups added shape and style. Most impressive, the light but supportive Silver Lining added a reassuring list of features: Silver particles woven into the lining claim to fight fungi and bacteria and minimize the acrid, chlorine odors. This suit also fit me the best and became my go-to favorite.
Speedo, outfitters to dozens of Olympic swimmers, has got your back and front, too.
The company has collaborated with experts in physiology, biomechanics and computational fluid dynamics (who knew?) to build top-tier suits for serious athletes. For the rest of us, they’ve applied the lessons to Endurance(plus), a new chlorine-resistant fabric that the company claims can last up to 20 times longer than ordinary synthetics.
I put a T-back tank, the Side Splice Endurance(plus), through its paces. The $84 suit, made for water exercise and swimming, offered the best overall stretch and support of the three. The fabric also felt thicker and as a result trapped the heat and shortened my time in the sauna and hot tub. Engineered to stay put, the suit didn’t budge, even when I hit the water after that intense water slide.
Rygy, a swimwear line from Brazil, is making its suits with a heavier gauge of Lycra and sturdier stitching. That makes them less likely to wear out than most flimsy and trendy swimwear. The line’s styling is by far the most fashionable of the three, and my $67.50 Rygy Sport tank suit, the Atlantica, featured V-neck styling and a silky fabric that felt nice against my skin.
The hangtag, however, cautioned against “contact with tanning oils, sunscreens and any chemical products.” That’s hardly compatible with the spa environment. I’ll pack this one for lazy lounging by the pool.