The other day I was looking for a bandeau bikini of mine but couldn’t find it. Which is odd, because I like to keep all of my clothing and accessories right where I can see them. This means my entire jewelry collection is sprawled out across my credenza and all of my hangers are jam-packed with clothing. The drawers in my closet are see-through, so I can easily tell where my favorite jeans are at any given time. And yet I still keep all my bathing suits—bandeau bikinis, high-waist two-pieces, printed one pieces—stuffed into a box.
I actually don’t even keep that box in my apartment but in my storage unit, 15 minutes away, at my parents’ house in Queens. My bikini box, as it’s come to be called, sits underneath a pile of things I have deemed absolutely necessary to keep but will definitely never wear again: my high school varsity track jersey, my college graduation gown, and a pair of tiny knit socks I wore as a baby.
My bathing suits started to get stuffed into said bikini box in middle school, when I decided I hated them. The day before a big, crazy parent-supervised middle school party at the house of the only kid in our grade who had a pool in their backyard (New York!), some boy casually turned to me and said, “Maybe you don’t have any boobs because you’re a vegetarian.” As a self-righteous, self-conscious middle schooler, this stung. How dare he poke fun at my body and my choices (although to be fair, I carried around a bright yellow bag decorated with cartoon chickens holding signs that said “We aren’t nuggets!”). When the time for the party came, I wore two bathing suit tops layered on top of each other. A leopard-print bikini top for my animal brethren and another push-up plain black bikini top for my Victoria’s Secret–brainwashed self. Spoiler: It didn’t go over well and I cried.
I stuffed both bikinis into that box for the first time shortly thereafter, and I haven’t stopped since. Even after the sting of the insult faded when puberty came and went, other things came up that made me want to keep my bathing suits at a distance. That made me want to forget about all the weird feelings of not having enough or having too much to put into small pieces of fabric that consume large parts of my brain in the summer. That made me stuff them into a box.
This summer I really want it to be different. I’m going to Spain with my family and Greece for one of my first friends’ wedding (she was at the fateful middle school pool party). And although I am notoriously bad at packing (or really good at overpacking, depending on how you look at it), I don’t think even I could find a way to pack an entire box. Funny enough, the first bikini I’ve bought since making this vow is a bandeau bikini from Solid & Striped’s Memorial Day sale that actually reminds me of middle school.
The bandeau bikini doesn’t remind me of the leopard-print bathing suit top or the black push-up bikini or the insult. It reminds me of all the good parts of middle school, of wearing bandanas in my hair at recess, of wearing every single color because I could.
I can say with almost 100 percent certainty Solid & Striped did not include middle school on their mood board. But the collection is inherently nostalgic, like a throwback to the seventies, with retro flower and stripe prints. Maybe I was drawn to the Bianca bathing suit because it’s the opposite of what I thought bathing suits had to look like when I was 11. It isn’t deep-cut or push-up. It isn’t even entirely skimpy. Solid & Striped’s bandeau bikini top looks like something I would probably purchase at a thrift shop and wear with my vintage jeans or maxi skirts.
Which brings me to all the other things I love about this particular bikini. For one, it’s versatile, with the bandeau bikini bandana top serving as something I could realistically wear by itself in the spring and summer or layered on top of a turtleneck or long-sleeve top in the fall and winter. The fact that it’s strapless eliminates the awkward need to pull down the straps when tanning, and the tie at the back is easy to undo when you want to tan your back. But it isn’t just practical. I love this bikini because it reminds me of how I used to wish I could hide behind a T-shirt or a plain top at the beach. And now that I’ve found a bikini that does just that, it isn’t so much because I feel like I have to but because I want to.
The day I couldn’t find the bandeau bikini, I realized hours later that it was because I was looking in the wrong place. I had gone all the way to my parents’ house to unearth the bikini box only to find what I was looking for wasn’t there. Instead it was at home in my dresser, hiding in plain sight.