Is a $15 swimsuit from Shein any good? I bought 6 to find out
They weren’t all winners, but now my beach wardrobe is poppin’.
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When it comes to my fashion shopping habits, I’m generally of the mind to spend less on more stuff. A few years back, I konmaried my closet and donated no fewer than six large black trash bags. (I also learned how to fold my clothes to fit more stuff in the dresser drawers, which I’m pretty sure is not what Marie Kondo intended as a takeaway.) That said, hailing from the land of TJ Maxx and Marshalls, I try to buy better quality stuff on sale than hit up fast-fashion retailers, which are often too trendy for my tastes.
That changed when I fell down the online-shopping rabbit hole known as Shein. On the Hong Kong retailer's site, nothing seems to cost more than $20, and reviewers sing the praises en masse of their budget buys (seriously: only Amazon has more raves per item sold). After 2020, when the beaches were often closed for COVID on the Caribbean island where I live (cue world’s smallest violin), I was itching to expand my bathing suit wardrobe. And once I learned that Shein ships worldwide—for free to the U.S. Virgin Islands with a purchase of $129 and to the rest of the U.S. with no minimum purchase—I filled my cart.
What kinds of swimwear does Shein sell?
In a word: tons. A search for “Swimwear” under the “Beachwear” category turns up over 6,000 products, in women’s sizes XXS to XXXL (though most are S to XL). The majority cost between $6 and $23 for a full one-piece, a two-piece bikini, or a three-piece set (usually a bikini and some sort of skirt-like coverup). Shein also sells separates—which I didn’t realize when I was shopping—as well as a small selection of burkinis and other full-coverage swimwear.
To make my perusing less daunting, I narrowed my selections using the options on the side rail to bikini sets, my size, and “bottom type: natural” (as “high cut,” “high waist,” and “thong” do not appeal to me). I'm not as fussy about tops, but Shein offers filters there, too. I also played around with winnowing by color. I did the same things with one-pieces, and sorted each search by “price: low to high” (because that’s how I roll).
By the end of a night scrolling while also watching TV, I bought three one-pieces and three bikinis, all in size small. (I usually wear a size XS/2, but with Asia-based companies, I’ve found it wise to size up.) My picks:
- Contrast Binding Cut-Out Bikini Swimsuit in red for $12
- Floral & Tropical Random Print Bikini Swimsuit for $13
V Neck Tie Back Bikini Swimsuit in teal blue for $13
- Allover Graphic Plunging One-Piece Swimsuit for $13
- Cut-Out Plunging One-Piece Swimsuit in “multicolor” (mine is rainbow) for $15
- Tropical One-Piece Swimsuit for $15
What I like about Shein swimwear
The first thing I noticed upon tearing into the many layers of plastic wrapping: The styles, cuts, and colors look just like their photos on the site (well, minus the swimsuit models). The one that excited me most straight from the bag was the multicolor Cut-Out Plunging One-Piece, which has a photo-realistic print of crocheted yarn “woven” in rainbow stripes. I’d seen one on my Instagram feed from an unknown retailer that looked similar—or, let’s face it, probably identical—that I was remiss to order from an ad. I was pumped that Shein came through with it.
Another thing that impressed me was the quality in general. I can’t say I expected much for these prices, but the suits seem well sewn and the polyester-spandex fabric isn’t too thin to feel flimsy nor too thick and therefore unlikely to ever dry after a dip. The suits are all lined for modesty and a measure of durability, albeit with white mesh fabric rather than material dyed to match, which is a sign of better quality in swimwear.
Once I tried them on, the suits I liked on my body, I really liked. That one-piece, now my runaway favorite, did not disappoint. It hugged my body nicely, with the plunging neckline secured by two appropriately placed horizontal straps and a racerback that eliminates any concern the straps would fall off my shoulders. The faux-woven chevron design plus the front plunge draws the eyes in and down and the side cutouts create an hourglass look. Hidden seams in the lining provide unexpected but welcome support in the bust. The bottom is cheeky without being too revealing and felt like it would stay in place and not migrate inward any time I moved.
Another suit that I liked right away was the red Contrast Binding Cut-Out Bikini. The top offers less front coverage than Shein’s photo led me to believe, but I appreciated the adjustable bra-like straps for a more customized fit. The two-part metal rear clasp also seems more secure than the typical band closure of a plastic hook on one side that inserts into the fabric band on the other. I was also relieved that the skinny “bindings” that form the sides of the bottom didn’t dig into my flesh and, again, that the rear coverage looked sexy but felt adequate.
What I didn’t like about Shein swimwear
Let me preface this by saying: I am always cold. (Yes, even in the Caribbean.) So while I'm not looking to supplement my size 30D bust, I prefer to retain the thin pads in my swimwear for the nipple modesty they offer. Like many swimsuits, the Shein tops contain removable pads. However, Shein’s pads, at least in the size small suits, are basically foam pasties (that's how they appeared on my body anyway). In fact, when I first tried on the suits, I thought most of the tops were too small and/or misshapen with an awkward ridge showing around the edges of the pad on each breast. The full-coverage V Neck Tie Back Bikini in teal best demonstrated the mismatch between top size and pad size—the fabric covered a lot, almost as if the top itself ran large, while the outline of dinky liners showed their full triangular shape through the material on every edge. The good news is, I have a basket full of pads from various bras and swimsuits of seasons’ past, so once I swapped in foam liners that fully filled the pockets of the cups, things looked much better.
As mentioned, I ordered everything in the same size. But everything did not fit in the same way. I felt like the Goldilocks of swimwear, with this suit being too small and this one being too large. Two of the tops fell into the first camp, the aforementioned contrast-binding bikini and the Floral & Tropical Print bikini. From the Shein site, I thought the bandeau-look top with its hipster bottom would be my favorite set. But while the bottoms fit just fine, the top was way too narrow to cover the width of my chest. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the cups were constructed independently then sewn together at the center. This meant that I could break the stitches at the middle seam and be able to keep the cups joined together with the formerly vertical tie. This changed the look of the bandeau by creating a ring-shaped cutout at the center, but it allowed me to space the cups further apart on my frame. Once I slid in better-shaped liner pads, I was thrilled with the result: a top that fit my body and looked cute! I did the same seam trick on the bottoms so the style matched, though it fit fine as it was. As a final minor modification, I trimmed and re-knotted the absurdly long ties on the top that loop around the neck and back. I’m not saying everyone should take to amateur tailoring, but it worked for me.
Another last quibble: Shein doesn’t permit returns on swimwear. It’s not a rare policy, but all the bottoms came with those plastic hygiene liners, and in the age of online shopping, it’s not fair to expect people to be satisfied with what they buy—especially when what they buy is something as fit-specific as a bathing suit. Luckily Shein’s offerings are cheap, and luckily for me, I live on an island with lots of friends who appreciate a new swimsuit. I gave away two of the one-pieces, which both fit me too loosely through my waist. The Tropical print one-piece, er, suited a curvy, size-6 friend’s frame just right, and the Allover Graphic Plunging one-piece was just too revealing for me but looked hot on an also-size-4, more bootilicious pal (though she said she probably would only wear it on vacation with her boyfriend).
Is buying swimwear from Shein worth it?
If your aim is to pick up a trendy swimsuit or two, the stakes are low and the potential payoff is high for shopping at Shein. The suits cost around $15 each, and with no minimum purchase required for free shipping in the US, you could gamble on just one and win big, like I did with my fun-and-funky one-piece. But with offerings this vast, I’ll be impressed if you don’t find yourself with a full cart (and, later, maybe bequeathing one or two to a friend because you can’t return them).
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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.