From swimming costumes that stay put when small children grab at them to dresses that are chic but practical, these are the secret weapons of mothers on the beach: the swimwear and accessories that will make you look and feel fabulous, not mumsy.
1. The perfect bikini
Never let it be said that mums don’t wear bikinis. We do, albeit with trepidation. Boden’s are more considerate towards the unconfident wearer than most brands, since they’re available in a range of mix-and-match styles that run the gamut from bandeau through to triangle through to tankini. Bottoms are similarly variable: choose from tie-sided, skirted or foldover, the latter allowing you to reveal or conceal the belly at whim. A woman can never have too many options on the bikini front. They’re available in sizes 6-20, too. From £24.50 for bottoms; £29.50 for tops. Boden.co.uk.
2. The ideal one-piece
I love this swimsuit, I have this swimsuit and I know it works: the clever yet unobtrusive ruching across the stomach hides a mumtitude of sins, and the fabric holds you in beautifully. Don’t dismiss strapless bandeaus if you’re bigger than a D cup: this one is engineered to stay up, with plenty of secret support, plus an optional strap should you need an extra shot of confidence. Available in sizes 8-20. £55; Johnlewis.com.
I’m not normally a fan of spurious zips and other hardware, particularly on the beach (hot metal = ouch) but this one allows for variable cleavage, and therefore is quite useful. Feeling sexy? Go for it. Kids out of kids club? Primly zip it up again. Also: grey swimsuits can be hard to find, despite being a chic, neutral alternative to black. This one, by Heidi Klein, comes in a highly compact SPF50 fabric, and has a built-in shelf bra. And we all know how important those are. £190; heidiklein.com.
. Statement shoes
When you’re unsure which shoes to take and loathe to pack too many, instead of pondering which ones will go with everything, try packing a pair that will go with nothing. It might sound counterintuitive, but a statement shoe will come in far handier than you expected. You’re on holiday: you don’t need to matchy-match. These cheerfully striped espadrilles are just the ticket, and at £22, you don’t need to be precious about them in the sand. Asos.com.
6. The elegant cover-up: part I
If you have ever wondered where that woman got that perfect white dress that somehow manages to look beachy in the daytime and fancy in the evening (while also looking just-right for the buffet breakfast), chances are it was by Thierry Colson. His beachwear isn’t the cheapest, but it is among the best. This roomy, breezy little number falls just above the knee, and is pitch-perfect for every moment of your holiday bar the one where the kids order chocolate ice cream with sticky caramel sauce. £280; matchesfashion.com.
7. The elegant cover-up: part II
If you only pack a white cover-up you’ll just wish you’d packed a black one as well (see: ice cream, above), so you may as well pack both. There is nothing Australian sisters Simone and Nicky Zimmerman don’t know about beachwear: they’ve been designing it for years. This broderie Anglaise dress gives a subtle peekaboo effect, allowing slivers of skin to show through without frightening the horses. If sheer fabric gives you nightmares, this is for you. And it has a hood! For those hair-mergencies when you emerge, like Medussa, from the sea! £375; net-a-porter.com.
8. Just your bag
There’s something quite grandiloquent about a monogrammed beach bag, namely because there is so little need to stamp your initials on what is, essentially, a straw basket. Which is precisely why doing so feels so fabulous. You may call it a conceit: I call it lessening the likelihood of yours being the bag that gets nicked while you’re swimming (unless the thief shares your initials). This one is made in Devon, roomy and, at £47, considerably less than those offered by some leading beach brands. Etsy.com.
9. The sunglasses
I have no truck with small / flimsy / mirrored sunglasses while on holiday: they have to be huge and they have to be black, with lenses as dark as possible to prevent me squinting at my paperback in the stark white sunshine. Lord knows parenthood gives you enough wrinkles without inviting more. These oversized shades by Linda Farrow have a louche seventies feel: chic, with oodles of coverage to minimise sun damage to the face. £355; lindafarrow.com.
10. The multi-tasking towel
There’s a time and a place for luxurious, fluffy beach towels, but being on holiday with small kids isn’t one of them. The idea that you can fill 70% of your bag with a towel is but a daydream: the reality is that it will be filled with provisions for little Ottilie and Tybalt, who are too young to carry their own stuff. Which is why Rae Feather’s hamman is such a godsend: it’s lightweight, absorbant, fast-drying and barely takes up any room. Oh, and it can also double as a cover-up. £50; raefeather.com.