Washington - It’s a summer ritual: walk into a clothes shop, pick up a swimsuit, flip over the price tag – and hastily return the suit to its rack. How can a scant handful of fabric squares, strings, and clasps be so expensive?
Swimsuits are complicated garments whose prices are tied up in the complexities of global manufacturing, seasonal retailing and designing for a range of activities and body types.
“Constructing even a simple swimsuit is every bit as complex as constructing a dress,” says Nancy Stanforth, a professor of fashion merchandising at Kent State University.
Designers must push the latest trends, while carefully considering fit: A survey by the market research company, NPD Group showed that fit outranked comfort, style, quality, and price for women when buying a swimsuit.
Ideally a swimsuit will compress some places and reveal others. It won’t ride up and won’t come undone with the first wave or jump off the diving board – all while making the wearer feel comfortable and confident.
Another reason swimsuits are costly? They’re stretchy. Stretchable fabrics are more expensive than other materials. Manufacturers need special machines to handle the spandex, Lycra and similar fabrics typically used in women’s swimwear.
Swimsuit material is also expensive because much is required of it. The fabrics and other components, such as underwires, must stand up to many elements – water, chlorine, sand, salt, sun – and activities.
“It is just as important that the style looks great as it is that the item is technically stable and able to withstand sunbathing, swimming, etc,” says Samara Fetto, a manager at ModCloth, an online swimsuit retailer.
The relatively brief amount of time swimsuits spend on store shelves also contributes to higher prices. Peak customer demand is limited to a few months of the year, so designers have less leeway on the time needed to get garments made. Seasonality may slap a little extra on to the price of your new bikini, but it’s not as hard as it used to be to find a swimming costume off-season. Online shopping has made swimwear a year-round venture.
Web-based stores can also offer more sizes, particularly plus sizes. “Plus-size swimwear has been a huge growth opportunity and something we have seen success with,” Fetto says.
Unfortunately for consumers, longer shopping seasons and a greater range of sizes haven’t translated into lower prices.
But swimwear, like swimming itself, has long been democratic, says Christine Schmidt, author of The Swimsuit: Fashion From Poolside to Catwalk.
The swimwear industry – a $3.5-billion-a-year-and-growing business (R30.5bn), according to the NPD Group, with women’s swimwear accounting for 70 percent of the market – is rife with competition.
There are lower-cost alternatives for even the most basic of suits that retail for double at Victoria’s Secret or tenfold with a Dolce & Gabbana tag.
More competition brings lower prices – and more excuses to hang out at the pool. Just don’t forget the sunscreen. – Slate / The Washington Post News Service