Bathing Suits That Cost $5 to Make Can Cost $100 in Stores

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At left, $125 bottoms and a $140 top by Malia Mills; at right, a $10.80 top and $10.80 bottoms from Forever 21. Photo: Malia Mills, Forever 21

Bathing-suit season is hard enough for women who are socialized to feel bad about the way they look in swimwear. But it gets even harder when you want to find something that looks good but don't want to pay a stupid amount of money for a few scraps of fabric with strings hanging off them. According to the Times, suits that cost $5 to make can sell for $100 in stores. If swimsuit prices seem to be rising, that's because the pieces are supposedly more advanced:

The answer, it seems, has partly to do with advances in swimsuit “technology” — that is, fabrics that are weatherproof and hold the wearer in place like a girdle — and the advent of mix-and-match, which lets customers choose one size on top and a different one on the bottom. This is good for the consumer and costly for the retailer.


So because you are a normal person who needs a different size in bikini top and bikini bottom (don't so many of us?) you have to pay more! It's more cost-effective for retailers to sell them in sets — only make one set of tags, rather than two, and so forth. Of course what you'll pay depends on where you shop. At H&M or Forever 21 you can easily find both pieces of your bikini for under $30 total. At J.Crew you'll probably pay around $100 to mix and match your separates. Malia Mills makes swim separates that could cost you $340 for a whole suit. She notes that swimsuits have to cost so much more than panties, for instance, because they have to sustain the assaults of saltwater, chlorine, sunscreen, and body oil and remain opaque at the pool bar. "It really has to perform," she says.

Trend forecaster Shayna Kulik thinks spending $100 on a suit is worth it because her friends say their "J.Crew bathing suits last forever." It's unclear whether these are the suits that cost $5 to make, but if they are, we don't even want to know what the $25 suits cost to make and if they're actually in danger of snapping in two in a brisk wave.

How Much for a Bikini That Suits You? [NYT]