It’s Not Easy: Teen Swimsuit Shopping in Antibes

When we arrive in France’s Riviera this summer, Lolo doesn’t have a swimsuit.  It’s not because she forgot to pack it.  She simply doesn’t own one that fits.

My new teenager is growing like the queues of passengers waiting for the next French train that’s actually running.  That’s to say, quickly.  Nothing fits her anymore.  Number one on my French shopping list – once we get the food in – is a swimsuit for Lolo. Probably three swimsuits, in fact, as she needs at least one one-piece for camp back in Canada.

Finding a swimsuit in this seaside town will be easy.

Buying a few swimsuits in a French seaside town for a tall, willowy, 13-year old will be a piece of cake (or a slice of sumptuous millefeuille), I assure myself.  It will be positively simple compared to my own expeditions into swimsuit stores.  It will be a fun, joyful occasion.  We will bring the poodle.

On the day of our outing, Antibes’ Kiwi shop (Lolo’s favourite for swimwear) is closed exceptionnellementNot much is exceptional about this situation.  It simply reminds us that we are back in France.  We return to the old town a couple days later, this time without the dog.

“Bonjour!” I say to the shop attendant, because that’s what you say when you enter a French shop.

“Bonjour,” she chimes in return, fulfilling her part of the formula.

On a street boasting enormous pots of hanging petunias, across from a pharmacie and in front of the mairie, there lies Antibes’ Kiwi shop.

Lolo and I are her only customers, and she’s the only sales assistant, again a situation that is common in Antibes’ old town, and one that can make shopping experiences surprisingly intimate.  Conversation could meander, say, to where my family lives for the majority of the year, the beauty of Canada, the fact that the clerk was snowmobiling somewhere in our vast country two winters ago – Oh, it was epic! – or how her uncle moved there 20 years ago so a visit remains high on her list.  Or, our chit-chat could tread into the jurisdiction of the French language (how long I’ve studied, how tough it is) before merging into how long we’ve come to Antibes and where the attendant herself calls home.  In the end, she wraps up the can opener or doormat, or whatever it is that I’ve purchased, and that can opener or doormat will carry memories of the saleswoman down at the quincaillerie whenever I call that object into service.

In any case, Lolo and I find ourselves alone in her favourite swimsuit shop with the sole attendant, a smiling blonde woman, presiding as official greeter and knowledgeable aid to all our shopping needs.  I feel the need to explain.

“Nous cherchons un maillot de bain,” I say.  We’re looking for a swimming suit.  Maybe even two or three suits.

“Iz it for you?”  The clerk replies with interest, in English.

“Non,” I begin, when Lolo finishes my thought in French that bears no trace of my Anglophone accent:  “Oui, c’est pour moi, merci.”

The cheerful attendant does a double-take, like most people do.  My teenager speaks beautiful French and I – the mother, the one who’s meant to be in charge – don’t.  With Lolo’s tanned skin and extra-long hair, pushed as it is these days into the perfect messy bun, my kid also looks more local than I do.  She thinks this juxtaposition is hilarious.

The three-way conversation between the clerk, Lolo and me continues mostly in French, as my daughter and I flick through a few dozen varieties of swimsuits hanging on Kiwi’s double-racked wall.  Each model is displayed in a single size, while alternate sizing – the inventory you might try on and eventually purchase – is packed into drawers beneath a central display table.

Lolo has graduated from these models.

The old part of Antibes was built for the 17th century.  Most stores are, you could say, cozy, a state that lends itself to this shopping intimacy.  The setting also creates a new challenge:  Once you find an agreeable swimsuit in an acceptable colour, you must hope the hovering attendant can dig your size out of some hidden crevice.

Lolo avoids the array of girls’ swimsuits, having fully graduated to the women’s models – if in mind more than form.  She makes a few selections, and the assistant rifles through the drawers.  Voilà!  We are in luck.  It’s early in the season.  Lolo takes the suits into a curtained change cabin.

The assistant keeps flicking through options.  “Vhat about zhis?” she asks, insisting on English now that my daughter has disappeared from sight.  “Or zhis one?”  She holds a couple bikinis on their hangers.

I shake my head.  Lolo began this excursion with an open mind – she’s an easygoing ado, as the French say, with the smallest obsession over fashion – but she does have her limits.  Big busty cups obviously won’t work, but “less ample” models also can be challenging, even if I can’t put my finger on the problem.

There’s nothing wrong with it.

Lolo calls me to her change cabin.  She refuses to come out.  I draw back the curtain to see my kid wearing a simple, teal, one-piece swimsuit.  She looks beautiful.

“It’s awful,” she says. “It looks like your kind of swimsuit.”

That would be the problem I was trying to pinpoint.  Are my swimsuits that, well, mumsie?  I swallow hard and encourage my teenager to try the other swimsuits.  What else can I do?

The attendant suggests a kids’ one-piece.  “Vhat about zhis in zhe biggest size?”

The suit looks perfectly Lolo to me, light turquoise and simply cut with a contrasting lime green belt.  I slot the suit with a couple others between the curtain and the side of Lolo’s cabin.

“Mom!”  she calls.  “Don’t come in!”

The turquoise swimsuit is so Lolo . . .

“I’m not!”  I say to the curtain concealing the child to whom I gave birth.  “What do you think of these suits?”  My voice is still somehow upbeat.

“No and no” comes the resolution from the other side.

“But the turquoise one! It’s so you!”

“No it’s not!  The colours are too happy.”

Of all the excuses I never would’ve guessed that one.  Lolo loves turquoise.  Of all the suits I slip inside, I get a single “maybe” for an all-black bikini.

Several minutes later a frustrated voice emerges from the cabin.  “I can’t do the black bikini!”  The curtain shimmies to the side.  A black bikini top flops on its hanger, a tangle of silky material and cords.  “It’s too complicated.”

Why does swimwear turn us females, younger and older alike, into our own worst enemies?  The affable assistant and I never delve into personal matters – after all this time, I know nothing of the region of her birth nor does she comment on my French – because there is no bandwidth.  Finding a swimsuit is a far more wretched business than all other shopping trips.  Still the kind woman never appears to tire of Lolo and me, even as the discarded options mound on the table outside the change cabin.

. . . but this one’s the winner.

Fortunately one bikini – a model that Lolo picked herself – fits the bill.  The bandeau top is not complicated, and apparently its light pastel colours are not too happy.  In fact, the peach-and-lilac pattern brings out my daughter’s tanned skin tones, and with her messy bun even messier after the swimsuit scuffles, she wears it like a stunning French teen.

I pay for the suit and, as you do when leaving a small French shop, whether or not a bag dangles in your hand, we wish the patient clerk “Au revoir.” To see again.  You say it even if you don’t expect to.

Lolo’s new pastel bikini is perfect for the Côte d’Azur – but it won’t do in a murky Ontario lake. Our foray into the teenage swimsuit scene is not over, but a simple solution lies just over the hill.

Antibes is the elder sister to its amalgamated town of Juan-les-Pins, the younger sibling who parties a little too hard.  Antibes is the one with the cathedral and archeology museum.  Juan-les-Pins has the casino.

Both towns, though, have long, sandy beaches.  The little sister will be an ideal place to shop for a teenager’s swimsuit.  I am sure of it.  Stay tuned . . . .

26 thoughts on “It’s Not Easy: Teen Swimsuit Shopping in Antibes

  1. Ah, shopping with one’s teenaged daughter! The major traumas and minor victories! Enjoying this from rainy, cold Reykjavik.

  2. I’m so glad to be back in Antibes (at least in my mind) with your summer stories!! Merci beaucoup, and keep them coming! xoxo

  3. We are howling over here at Turtle Lake. You can guess why??!! Good luck with the second swimsuit adventure… and btw Gemma immediately rejected the belted blue one as well 🙂

    1. It sounds like there are many who’ve been here along with us. I like these sorts of well-trod paths! Lolo does enjoy being a subject of this blog, btw. Just thought I should add that little factoid!

  4. Ah dear friend – you know I’ve been there! With two teenage daughters – one with form and the other still lacking – and with most swimsuits still needing a LOT more coverage before I’ll allow them in public! – I finally found my solution.

    Online shopping. They scroll through the pics, send me a few links, I make sure there’s an easy return policy, and voila. Problem solved. Best of luck as you navigate these fascinating waters!! 🙂

    1. Ahhhh, bonjour Lisa… You’re hitting on Part Two, if I can get myself mustered to write it! As ever, you’re six steps ahead of me…

  5. Try shopping with your size 6 granddaughter “Everything looks so beautiful on you” and the answer I get I look fat in this outfit I would never attempt bath suit shopping
    Glad to see these emails now I know it is summer
    Laura

  6. Love this! I think it’s the same all over the world – Noa and I had little success bathing suit and cloths shopping here in Israel because everything was either too kiddish or too grown up. We did get her the perfect Bat Mitzvah dress though which was designed with this age group in mind.

  7. I was transported back in time to shopping for swimsuits with my own teenage daughters. How well I remember the universal cry–“Mom, don’t come in!” Thanks for that trip down memory lane.

  8. I can just picture Lolo in that messy bun, particularly as my young teen is sporting one herself! Hugs to all from a short flight away!

  9. Alas, have never known this joy – in fact it’s the opposite problem, my boys wondering why their boxers or gym shorts won’t do….Yeeeeesh!

  10. Never having taken my daughters swimsuit shopping, I can’t relate to the specifics, but it’s fun to be hearing of your adventures again this summer. Keep them coming.

    1. Memories of shopping with our eldest at 13, a stringbean sweetie who desperately wanted her first bikini. Alas, it was way more in price than in material but her “I promise I’ll wear it the rest of my life” won me over. Enjoy.Conie

  11. Soooo, what’s more difficult, picking out a swimsuit or a ski jacket? (I’m guessing swimsuit.) Love reading about this adventure and can picture you saying it all, even the French part, ha!

  12. I love this…. be prepared, shopping for swim suits and well, really, any clothing item only gets more challenging. I always pack water, a snack and patience!!!

  13. Wish I could wear “your kind of swimsuit” but, alas, I think I will keep my cover-up on all summer. Your story was a fun read, and brought back memories of bathing suit shopping years ago with a classmate of yours — as long as she would let me come along. (Paying for it helped.)

  14. Plenty of beautiful choices so no wonder it’s difficult to decide. The turquoise one would be definitely my choice. Happy shopping!

  15. I bet you had a really nice coffee after that experience! Thank you for fulfilling my special request. “Your kind of swimsuit” might be the best line of the summer!

  16. I think in the end that Lolo made a very great choice…colours complimentary for a tanned teenager, uncomplicated with expansion potential, conservative yet a bikini. Well done.

  17. I am now feeling grateful my daughter’s suit currently fits. Perhaps when this is no longer her reality I will insist that she bring a friend with her to shop. After all, if I choose to say I like something or even braver, how lovely a bathing suit looks on her, it will very likely end up in the discard pile. 😉

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