I finally went ahead and ordered another “full coverage” swimsuit since the one I have from some years back is a fair bit too big now. Obviously this isn’t quite as much of an issue as in regular swimsuits, but it was starting to be a bit annoying with the amount of extra fabric and the overall appearance, and I’ve been eagerly looking forward to a trip to the pool this year in a new one.
Last time I bought a full-coverage suit, which was several years ago, I ordered from Splashgear. I had a good experience with them and have used the suit quite a few times, but also after having used it there were some additional things I was specifically looking for in a suit this time around. I looked over their offerings to see what had changed in the intervening years (some improvements) but ultimately decided to try something brand new for comparison. (I won’t go into that much detail about the pros and cons of Splashgear swimsuits here, maybe in another review if folks are interested 🙂 ).
After poking around online a bit, I decided to try Alsharifa this time. They had a lot of information about their suits (including positive reviews) on their websites, which is always a plus. Also, their suits came in at about $100 for top and bottom (with shipping and minus the coupon I found with a quick search online). Though expensive, this was comparable to what I’d spent on Splashgear way-back-when for a complete suit (top, bottom, and headpiece) and it was also cheaper than a lot of the other Islamic swimsuits out there. Some of them are really pricey!
Among these, I have been seeing ModestSea get a lot of press lately in the blogging world. Their suits are some of the more attractive looking that I’ve seen, and I did consider them at length. But even with coupons, they were pretty expensive for me. Also, different full coverage options had various picky things that I didn’t like one or the other. I wasn’t keen on all-black/black-next-to-my-face (it’s really not flattering against my skin. Yes, I want to look good in the mirror like almost everybody 🙂 ) It makes me look extremely pale (alright, it highlights the existing extreme palidity and any defects). So the cute sailor suity looking ones that I kinda liked the style of the most were out. The full coverage options had a mix of different length tops and narrow vs. wide leg pants. I wanted the wider leg pants (no way can I do “skinny leg” anything, and I doubt I ever will regardless of if I lose any more weight!) combined with one of the longer tops (I also know that because of my height, the things that look “mid-thigh” in the pictures probably wouldn’t cover my rear, and the ones that look knee-length in the pictures transform to about mid-thigh). Also I liked the little brim hats… that was a nice feature on ModestSea. Both for sun blockage and because I don’t really like the way my head looks with any type of shrink-wrapped head covering. I like a little peak on regular scarves too instead of tight against the forehead. Obviously this isn’t very practical with a swimming headpeice since it needs to be tight to keep your hair in place, so the brim seemed nice to generally improve the look of the headpeice. Now, ModestSea did have a lot of mix and matching options but not so much with the full coverage pieces in terms of mixing tops and bottoms, and I didn’t want to get the complete bodysuit with a little dress over top. Didn’t care for the look, and I also don’t care for getting into full body suits (I have worn wetsuits before for whitewater rafting…. 😛 if you’ve ever struggled into one of these you know what I mean). Also the full bodysuits were very snug looking. So out of the available options, the only one that really “fit” with what I was looking for was the Emma suit… and I wasn’t crazy about the price (and would have altered some colors too, in my mind). I noticed they sell the little caps separately, which is nice, but the individual ones don’t appear to have any neck coverage. Also the way the neck drawstring operates on the hoods that do, does not look terribly comfortable. It was also hard for me to picture how the ModestSea swimsuits would fit on me (too snug?) because I’m such a different shape than the models shown.
Also, one thing I was looking for based on my experience with Splashgear was some way to anchor the sides of the “tunic” part to the legs so it wouldn’t float up. I inquired about this on ModestSea a while ago but didn’t get a response unfortunately, so I don’t know if they do this or not. This unknown and the cost were factors in the “no” decision this time around, though I’m not writing them off entirely (and keeping an eye out for some more wide-leg-plus-long-top styles or huge markdowns). Maybe someone out there who has one can tell me about side ties/buckles?
This last item was one thing that tipped Alsharifa as a contender. They mentioned this on their site in detail, how there is a clip on each leg which attaches to the tunic. This seemed like a great idea to me. They also had a lot of information about how their suits repel water rather than absorbing it, for a lighter experience in the water (reviews appeared to confirm this). There were several different “styles” of suits, though honestly I had a hard time telling which ones would be better or how they would fit differently, aside from the fact that I knew the petite one was not for me.
Another factor that made Alsharifa attractive is that it didn’t look like the suits would require a lot of extra accessories to make them work. With Splashgear, I bought the top and bottom and hood (all available separately), but since the top does float up (to where the waist tie tightens it) a one piece regular swimsuit is necessary underneath, preferably in a color that doesn’t look horribly garish. I had a terrible time finding a one piece that fit properly to go with it, too. Also I had to buy a swimcap to wear under the hood to keep my hair in place. This isn’t that much but it adds up to additional cost, additional pieces to put on, and worse, additional layers in the pool (not to mention more fiddle-faddle when you want to go to the bathroom). If the Alsharifa tunic didn’t float up due to the side buckles, maybe I could just get away with a bikini type suit underneath for support (which would not have to be coordinated either, since it wouldn’t show). The “hood” part on Alsharifa is attached to the tunic so that eliminated another fiddly bit that didn’t quite mesh together on separate assemblies (including ModestSea, this is the “roughest” looking part of the outfit to me and has an awkward cord hanging out in the pictures). All in all it seemed like a sleeker assembly with fewer accessories necessary or parts that could separate, plus a handy way to keep the top and bottom together.
I ended up choosing the “Laguna” suit, based on the fact that it had a loose cut and a longer tunic (some of the pictures, especially in blue, make it look like it has a shorter tunic, but clicking through it has a disclaimer that the tunic is actually “33 inches and should be at knee level for most”). Now, 33 inches is not knee level on me but it’s tunic length (about the minimum that I consider a tunic, preferring a bit longer). The other long one was the “Riviera,” but I liked the Laguna’s color block options and disliked the all-black-with-contrast stitching look of Riviera. I initially thought I would go with the grape/plum combo (not sure which purple is which 😉 since whoever saw a grape like this) because I like purple and wear a lot of it. However, envisioning myself dressed head to two in bright two-tone purple, I thought it might be a little too “Violet Beauregarde.” I decided to go with the pink/gray combo instead, since both colors were flattering and the color contrast would break up the outline more and be less “giant purple blob”, even though I really liked the purple color.
Something I’ve noticed before is, when you go to a typical pool here in the US, where everybody is wearing suits far skimpier, having some different colors instead of all one color is less out-of-place-looking and more swim-suity-looking. I don’t know why this is. Maybe because other people have the color broken up by the fact that their arms and legs are in contrast with the suit part? Or my preference has to do with the fact that I don’t like to wear all one color in regular clothes either.
I placed my order shortly after midnight on a Thursday (technically, very early Friday morning). Shipping was 10.90 (within the US), not exactly cheap considering this wasn’t a very big package (in comparison to other online orders I’ve made). However, it was very fast! The package was waiting for me when I got home from work on Monday :). So that was a good start. I like fast shipping.
Reading the instructions…
The first thing I noticed when I opened the package was a profusion of warning labels. There was a warning label on the inner plastic package itself with a STOP sign and washing instructions, and there were three sheets of instructions and warnings inside: My receipt (usual story), a care instructions sheet about how to wash and how not to used a Motorized Swimsuit Spinner (which I’m not familiar with, maybe for large amounts of suits?) coupled with “Warning! Warning!” (the spinner is bad for this suit) and another even bigger STOP sign about not getting the suit wet or it won’t be accepted for return. It went on to say that there are special tags to determine if the suit does get wet, and that you have to call (CALL!) customer service to obtain a “Returned Merchandise Authorization” or RMA number, or the return will be discarded (i.e. no refund). Then there was another sheet with the return/exchange form, on which the warnings about returning it without an RMA were repeated. Luckily, this sheet also included an email address for the RMA vs. the other sheet which provided a phone number. I don’t think I’ve ever had to call a phone number to return an item I had ordered online, and didn’t feel like starting now, so I was glad to see the second sheet! And this was before I even got to the garment. However, the warnings said to read all the paperwork first (so I did). It also directed me online to additional care instructions, which I didn’t. :P. The return policy also stated that the merchandise had to be returned within 15 days of date of package delivery. But also, the claim asking for the RMA had to be submitted with 7 days of package delivery for either exchange or return.
At this point, I was beginning to feel a little alarmed. I’ve bought lots of stuff online over the years, and returned or exchanged some of it along the way. I like the companies that include a little pre-printed return mailing sticker for you for exchanges, but I’m not going to fault somebody for not doing so. But rarely (in fact I can’t remember a case) have I encountered a company that sounded so… defensive, I guess, about returns and exchanges and foisted all these warnings about it with instructions to read it before I do anything else!
It reminded me a little bit of this fish & chip place I went to last summer at the beach. I love fish & chips and I’m always looking for good ones, and the coast usually has some nice options it seems. I had looked up this little place in advance which had rave reviews, and after some extensive driving around (blindly apparently), finally located it in plain view on the main road. It was a tiny cafe, all red and white with a counter and tables and a succinct menu dedicated to fish & chips options. The food was amazing, as promised, and we all raved about it. The waitress/sole occupant was also perfectly nice. But what really stood out about the place at the time and even now, was the fact that there were little signs taped on every surface. DO NOT MOVE THE TABLES AROUND. Make sure you remember to lock the bathroom door! RETURN THE BATHROOM KEY TO THE COUNTER, DO NOT LEAVE IT IN THE LOCK. No rearranging tables or stools! DO NOT THROW PLASTIC BASKET INTO THE GARBAGE, WE WASH AND REUSE THESE. Absolutely NO outside trash allowed in the garbage bin… and so on. And so on. They were all reasonable requests, and I can only assume they had issues with this, but the little angry notes everywhere reminding you of proper behavior were, shall we say, a tad passive-aggressive, and were an unfortunate contrast in atmosphere to the great fish & chips shack which was everything a fish & chips shack should be in other respects.
Likewise, I do get the issue with the returns. I’m not trying to say they should be accepting swimsuits worn in the water, etc. The time allowance for processing a return (especially considering you have to contact them first to get the number) seemed a little short, when I think about all the things I have to cram into a typical week. But mainly, the warning signs and notices and return disclaimers repeated on multiple papers didn’t exactly inspire confidence. They must have had some bad experiences…. but keeping calm and reassuring about things such as the return policy is always good too :P. Although a master of verbosity myself, the piles of warnings on everything reeked of a certain panicky feeling.
Once I got through the assigned reading, I examined the suit, with now-heightened senses :P. The fabric felt nice and slick and of actual swimsuit material, with a sheen, but not too stretchy/clingy. (I remember long ago I ordered from some company I can’t remember the name of something that was supposed to be a swimming outfit… but was made out of some sort of thick polyester jersey knit. Horrible. I shudder at the memory. So when I say swimsuit material, I mean the sort of thing you might actually find in a swim shop). The pink and grey color were as expected, perfect in that aspect.
I pulled on the pants and felt a pop at the ankle. Around each ankle is a pullcord with a toggle, like you see on the drawstrings of some jackets. The two string ends are pulled through the toggle and knotted, so the toggle can be slid further up the cord to make the ankles gathered or loose. What had happened was when I put my foot through on one leg, the knot must have come untied, because one end of the cord came out of the toggle and shimmied up the drawstring hole out of sight. This was a problematic start. I felt around inside the drawstring tube/leg hem and determined that the cord hadn’t gone too far in. Unfortunately, I knew from experience with similar drawstring incidents before (frequently on pajama waists, it seems) that taking it off would probably worsen the problem. So I spent the first few minutes, before even examining the outfit, massaging the cord back out of the small hole. then I took the pants off and worked it back into the toggle and retied the knot. I then checked the knot on the other pants leg, it was also not too tight so I pulled it tighter to secure it. The cords themselves were not stretchy, unlike most cords I’ve seen on sports garments with this sort of drawstring toggle. I think using slightly stretchy cords might help prevent this issue… first there would be a little give putting your foot through, and second, the stretchiness of the cords usually means the knot stays tighter. Despite tightening the knots I was not at all confident that they wouldn’t loosen again without any tension on them since the cords were a little stiff.
Once the ankles were fixed, I examined the look of the pants on me. They were a little slimmer cut around the lower leg than I am used to (I usually buy boot cut, flare, or wide leg pants), but not tight. They were more fitted at the tops of the thighs, in a comfortable way, but this part would be covered by the tunic top. They were the perfect length, which was nice (too short pants is often a problem for me). The drawstrings should eliminate any length issues in slightly shorter people, and if a lot shorter, the petite suit option might be best. The pants weren’t unflattering, and they seemed slim, functional for swimming, and concealing.
The pants also had a small internal pocket with an overlapping fabric edge, presumably to hold a locker key or other small item. I think this pocket would do better with a zipper as I’ve seen on some other garments of this type, otherwise there is a risk of losing whatever you put in there. Another option is putting the key or whatever in the pocket and using a safety pin to also pin the item to the pocket for added security.
When I unfolded the top I was a little disappointed because the first thing I noticed was that the hood had a lot of threads hanging out. At first I thought it was inside out, but then I noticed that they were just not cut or finished (in an oversight, I’m pretty sure). In light of this and the drawstring incident, I checked the other edges carefully.
Most of the seams were tightly finished and serged. Each cheek seam had reinforced stitching. However I noticed on one cheek, also, that the threads at the end of the line of stitching were loose instead of being tied off. Normally, I’m not really THAT picky about this sort of thing (and I do a lot of minor home sewing repairs), but on a stretchy swimming garment this is the sort of thing that could unravel quickly, and is a pain to fix yourself without being obvious/removing the flexibility of that seam.
Attached near the inside waist there were two long stretchy cords made of the shirt fabric, with a clip on the end of each. These corresponded to clips on the side of each pant thigh. The pants clips were attached well with a short strip of stretchy fabric, but remembering the drawstring incident and the other not-quite finished seams I’d seen, I checked the buckles carefully on the tunic too (which, in swimming, would receive some tension) and found some more loose threads :/. Again, prone to unraveling in spandex under stress.
After examining the details, I tried the top on. The overall fit of the tunic top and headpiece was not so good, compared to the pants. The length was okay… it didn’t come anywhere near my knees, as I expected, but reached the tips of my fingers with my arms hanging down, about mid-thigh. I considered the length adequate when combined with the fit of the pants. In other aspects, however, the top didn’t really match my shape. It was a bit wider/bigger around than it needed to be, but everybody is a different shape so this might be okay for some (based on the pants fit, a size down would definitely have been too small). There is no doubt whatsoever that you would HAVE to wear a swimsuit, most likely with cup lining or light padding, because despite being very loose around the waist/hips, the top clearly outlines the bust area. It was not at all tight there on me, rather it was due to the nature of swimsuit fabric and is an issue with pretty much any single layer of swimsuit fabric without some amount of padding or thickness between you and the fabric. Personally, I would wear something underneath anyway for support, but for anyone who thinks that their body type might get away without it… not in this garment :P. Since I was already planning on this (though I was hoping to do so with a two-piece for several reasons mentioned earlier), this part didn’t bug me that much.
Incidentally, the website had a nifty little tool for determining size. It has a lot of different dropdowns where you can pick your different measurements and it tells you what garment size you would fit. I’m used to seeing charts but it was pretty nice once I got the hang of fiddling with it, and it was definitely accurate in my case with the pants. For tops, the site suggested laying a shirt flat and measuring armpit to armpit and using this as the base. I did this, with two relaxed-fitting tee shirts. The actual tunic I got was an inch bigger armpit-to-armpit than the garment measurements that I’d fed into the sizing tool (translating to two inches in total circumference). This doesn’t seem like much, but it also flared out a lot from the armpits so it was considerably looser than the shirt I measured from. However, that part didn’t really bother me. Several other things did.
First, the aforementioned clips. I clipped them to the sides and raised my arms. I could raise my arms all the way up, so there was freedom of movement for swimming int hat aspect. However, if (in relaxed position) I lifted the tunic edge above my waist as if it were floating up, there was a gap of several inches between the top edge of the pants and where the cord fastened to the tunic, so it didn’t look like it would actually keep the garments overlapping in the water, either when first getting in or with movement. I think this could easily have been solved by positioning the tunic end of the clip further down the tunic (below where the top of the pants waistline would be instead of so far above, and using a much shorter cord (or almost no cord, just buckle to buckle). This would still allow freedom of movement, but it wouldn’t allow the top to go up above the edge of the pants. As it is, forget about wearing a bikini underneath, despite the side clips this would still require a one-piece underneath to keep the midriff area covered when the tunic floated up or shifted up while swimming. Since that was one of the main “selling points” of this style for me, this was quite a disappointment. Especially since it seems that a slightly different construction of the way the clips fasten the top to the bottom would have completely solved this problem. This might be less of an issue on a shorter person if they also had a shorter torso (because the tunic clips would then be positioned closer to the pants waistline), but it seems like the long cords would then be even more too long in allowing the tunic top to get far away from the pants while floating in the water.
The triangularish color block (created by the solid gray in the middle meeting the armpit color patches that connect to the arms) seemed off-center. No matter how I stood or shifted, it looked asymmetrical. Being well acquainted with my own peculiarities, I’m pretty sure this wasn’t me, but was the garment. The asymmetry was accentuated by the color patches, and would probably be much less noticeable (if at all) on a solid color garment, but these things bother me.
The worst part was the fit of the neck. It was very tight. VERY tight. I had a moment when I first put it on where I felt like I was asphyxiating, before I managed to relax. I’m somebody who can tolerate turtlenecks, though I don’t really like wrapping scarves close around my neck, but the tightness of the neck piece was excessive, and I think, unnecessary. I have no reason to think I have a particularly large neck diameter, either, and the width of the garment would reasonably accommodate somebody several inches wider than me, who probably would not have an even smaller neck. The forearms were a bit snuggish, while the upper part of the arms were loose (the upper arm/shoulder is an area which is often tight on me in typical shirts). However, nothing on the entire garment was as tight as the neck. I could clearly see the outline of my trachea and feel it being constricted. In addition to the tightness in circumference, if I did not slouch, a funny fold developed against the base of the neck from shoulder to shoulder in front of my collarbone, further pressing on my throat.
To test the hood, I had twisted my hair in a messy bun and secured it with a rubber band. Normally, I braid my hair and then wrap the braid in a bun and secure it with a wooden poker, but that doesn’t work well when swimming. I would braid it when actually going in the water though.
I flipped the hood up and put my hair bun into the “pouch” area at the back. I was prepared for this to look a bit weird, as I’ve worn swim hoods before, and I did look at the pictures on the site, but it looked even weirder than I was expecting. It might look better on somebody with short hair, although in that case there would be a deflated pouch there. There was actually plenty of room for even more hair in the hair pouch, it just ended up in an odd position.
Unlike the neck part, the hood part could have stood to be tighter. There is a “band” part of the construction which is pink (the back pouch part is grey on this suit) that runs all the way around the head: over the forehead like a headband and around the back of the head below the hair pouch. This part, however, with my hair tucked up out of the way, was not very tight. If I pulled it down to where I normally wear my scarf across my forehead, the sides were baggy at my cheeks. If I pushed it up to where it fit my face better (though it was still not snug), it did keep my hairline just covered, but not very securely. It shifted very easily (I’m sure it would have slid back immediately if I swam under water or dove) and my hair wisps and bang edges started to poke out right away. Considering how tight the neck was, I’m surprised this band wasn’t tighter to prevent slipping back over the hair or just moving around on top of the hair. I am used to tying a bandana on tightly as an underscarf to prevent my scarves from slipping around, so I could have handled some tightness across the forehead, moreso than around my throat. There was also no sort of inner tie or fabric section to keep the hair contained in the pouch (which would have been difficult to adjust with the hood connected to the tunic, admittedly) so combined with the loose head band/face-opening, my hair wispy bits were all in uncomfortable places and shifting around and sticking out within minutes. I think it would still be necessary to wear a swim cap of some kind with this type of hood, to keep hair both contained and covered. I did not try on my own swim cap with it, but one concern is: My current swim cap allows me to fold my braid up at the nape of my neck inside the cap and squashes it all down there pretty well, but it’s very tight to cram my hair underneath. I don’t think I’d be able to get my hair under my swim cap high enough up on my head for it to be under the pouch area of the hood, which is the only place the hood has a lot of extra room. If the bump from the hair in the swim cap wasn’t as high as the pouch area it would just be adding more neck constriction, so I think I could really only put my hair in the pouch if I didn’t have a swim cap on. It’s a conundrum. This may work better for people with different hair textures that don’t tend to wisp or move around once you put it up, or more hair volume to fill up the space and hold the hood in place (my hair is long but not particularly thick), or such short hair that you can put it in a swim cap without much “bump” in the back. Or maybe it has to do with head shape. My head isn’t small according to hats I try on (in fact, tending towards the largish side), but to fit this hood properly so it didn’t slip around or choke me I’d need a bigger head while simultaneously having a significantly smaller neck.
All in all, I decided that between the not-very-functional side clips that don’t actually keep the top covering my waist, and the choking hood/poor head and neck fit, I would not be keeping the suit. The fabric and most of the manufacture does look good in most places (aside from the thread issues and pullcord issue, maybe they could use some more internal garment checks on individual pieces). I am not going to take the opportunity to wear this suit in the water to see how functional it is, since I want to return it, but it does seem like it would shed water well. The pants felt very light and comfortable. The fit issues I assume would vary from one person to another. Maybe I unknowingly have a very well-developed neck :P. Different body proportions might have a better experience, though without also having attention to the side clip and hood security, it’s still not the “one outfit solution” I was hoping for in this suit.
It was with some trepidation that I began the return process, considering all the warnings! I did obtain an RMA number, though I had to check with customer service again via email to make sure it really was an RMA number, since it wasn’t identified as such in the email (and there were all those warnings about having to have one!). First, I had emailed for an RMA number as described in the paper directions. The following evening, as I hadn’t gotten a response yet, I was on their site and noticed there was also a return form on the site. Filling this out auto-generated an email back to me with the RMA number right away (though the email called it the Confirmation for Return Request #) so I would recommend the website form over a regular email for faster processing of returns or exchanges.
Feedback is always welcome in general, but it’s super-welcome on this post! Especially if you have a suit brand to recommend, since I’m still looking. Just like regular non-full-coverage suits there is no one perfect suit that “suits” everybody! They all fit differently, as hours in changing rooms will attest. If you’ve tried any of the brands I’ve mentioned, or any others that I haven’t (I know there are a ton of options out there these days), please share your thoughts! 🙂