Once upon a time, there were only sarongs. And, of course, towels. But now, there are so many ways of protecting both your skin and your modesty by the shore that the “beach cover-up” has become a fashion genre all of its own, encompassing the copious options and styles of garment that fall loosely into the category.
There are kaftans, beach dresses, kimonos, beach jumpsuits, beach shirts and cardigans, beach trousers, beach skirts and, yes, beach sarongs, also variously referred to as beach wraps, scarves, shawls or pashminas – basically a large piece of fabric, usually colourful and/or printed, that you can tie about your person and over your swimwear in a variety of clever ways to resemble a skirt, dress or kimono-style jacket.
The first rule when it comes to cover-ups is, don’t skimp, meaning don’t choose anything too snug-fitting. Go up at least a size, if you have to. Beach cover-ups, by their very nature, are designed to be worn over wet and damp swimwear.
They should be in natural fabrics such as pure cotton and linen, which absorb moisture effectively and dry out quickly. And they should be loose-fitting, allowing the air and heat to circulate around so body, so that it can dry out thoroughly too.
Anything tight-fitting or in man-made fibres will trap the moisture and allow it to mingle with perspiration – as anyone stuffed into in a polyester or stretch jersey bodycon shift dress on a boiling hot day while attending a wedding breakfast in a conservatory-style dining room will already know, much to their discomfort.
Kaftans and kimonos are a good place to start. Both are loose, but the difference is that a kimono ought to be open at the front, and is usually drawn in at the waist and fastened with a drawstring.
The current fashion love affair with the Seventies means that there are plenty of options, especially in sunset yellow and burnt orange, both of which are ideal for a beach holiday in the sun.
Following on from the basic concept that every piece in your suitcase has to work and double up in function, it makes sense that any cover-up you choose should be suitable for wearing not just on the beach or by the pool (where semi nudity is acceptable), but also sight-seeing and out to dinner (for which, generally speaking, it is not).
Thin cotton fabrics do tend to be see-through, especially in this summer’s must-have white, so make sure you have something to wear underneath. A cotton slip, such as the ones that often come on the peg with a transparent chiffon dress, is ideal, so check to see if you have any in nude, black or white. If you don’t, try LordandTaylor.com.
Obviously, you can also wear your kimonos and kaftans over tees and shorts, but a cotton slip lets you wear them properly as dresses.
Marks & Spencer has a great range of beach dresses, which tend to be of a higher quality than some other High Street stores and so can often be worn by themselves quite easily. Look out for lovely wrap and twist-front styles, falling to just below the knee and so flattering, you’ll be wanting to mix them into your at-home daywear and working wardrobe.
For this summer, off-the-shoulder beach dresses and all-in-ones are very much on-trend, and work well with swimwear. If you choose one that matches or suits the straps on your swimsuit or bikini, that’s a ready-made outfit you could go anywhere in, without anyone guessing you are actually stepping out in your beach gear.
Finally, don’t forget the humble sarong, not least because it can be fashioned to create different looks. Take a look at Fairwindssarongs.com, which gives descriptions of 21 ways including hareem jumpsuit and Toga dress. What more do you need?