Can leotards be used as a swimsuit? Sure. You can even go swimming in a tutu if you want. But just because you can doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. In the case of the tutu, no, it’s a terrible idea. But for the leotard, it’s actually not the worst idea ever.
After all, swimming is something that is fun to do during the summer, which coincides with gymnastics or ballet practice. If you want to go straight to the pool afterwards, you wouldn’t even have to change since leotards look quite a bit like swimsuits and some are even made with similar materials.
While you can wear a leotard to the pool, there many reasons why a swimsuit is still a better option. Leotards may absorb too much water, fail to cover your private parts, feel uncomfortable when wet, and may get irreparably damaged when exposed to chlorine or saltwater. However, in a pinch, you can use a leotard as a swimsuit as long as you thoroughly clean the leotard afterwards.
However, this is assuming you are only swimming recreationally. If you actually plan on swimming laps for training, then a proper swimsuit will benefit you so much more than a leotard. For a leisurely swim, it does not matter so much.
In this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of using a leotard as a swimsuit and why it’s possible, but not recommended to do so.
Why it’s not a good idea to swim in a leotard
As mentioned, if you are planning on swimming laps, you should wear a swimsuit. Leotards are not designed to be worn in the water, so there is no guarantee it will be comfortable or that the leotard won’t be damaged.
There are also many practical reasons why a leotard is not good for swimming. For one, it’s hard enough to get out of an actual swimsuit even with their open back design. Now imagine how difficult it’d be with a leotard that covers the back.
Additionally, leotards are not designed to be worn while wet, so they may absorb more water than a swimsuit. They can also become deformed and can restrict your movement while swimming.
Another consideration is that since the materials leotards are made of are not designed to be exposed to chlorine or saltwater, there is no telling what kind of damage the chemicals might do to a leotard. If the leotard were to end up bleached, stretched out, smelling of chlorine or whatever else, then that is a risk you are willing to take and these are the consequences.
Next, there is also the issue of padding. Swimsuits are more padded than leotards so that they do not reveal anything they aren’t supposed to when wet. Since leotards are thinner, there is no guarantee that it will keep private parts from being revealed. The thinner leotard might also get easily scraped by abrasive surfaces when exiting from the sides of the pool.
The degree that you experience any of these downsides or not depends specifically on the material that your leotard is made of. In the next sections, we will go over the most popular types of leotards and how they feel when swimming with them.
Types of leotards and what it’s like to swim in them
If you really want to wear a leotard to the pool, your best bet is to wear a nylon leotard. They are the most similar to a swimsuit because swimsuits are often made with nylon. That said, “nylon” is a generic name for an artificial material with no clear baseline standard.
This also means that some swimsuits can also be made of a different type of nylon than the kind used to make leotards, so it muddies the water. Just understand that two fabrics can be labeled as “nylon” and yet can be quite different, so a nylon leotard is not necessarily a good substitute for a swimsuit.
That said, nylon is durable and has a decent amount of abrasion resistance so it is less likely to get scratched by any rough surfaces. Nylon is also quite elastic, being able to stretch and then return to its original shape better than many other fabrics.
The low absorbency property of nylon makes it so that a leotard would not be weighed down as much and can dry quickly. Finally, nylon fabric washes out relatively easily so that chemicals are less likely to be absorbed and stuck permanently.
Some downsides to nylon are its poor UV protection, weak resistance to mold or mildew, and that it can get fuzzy (sign of wear and tear) quickly if you aren’t taking good care of it.
The term “spandex” has often been mistaken for a brand, but it is yet another synthetic fabric. Spandex is known for its significant elasticity, allowing it to stretch up to 5x its original size.
While not as popular as the other types of leotards, spandex leotards are still prevalent enough. You will rarely see leotards made up of 100% spandex, but rather spandex is often blended with other materials.
As mentioned, its elasticity is its biggest advantage, so you don’t have to worry about a spandex leotard getting stretched out when exposed to water. They are so stretchy that they will not get in the way and allow you to maintain the proper stroke form when swimming. Also, due to it being a synthetic material, spandex is not likely to shrink if you put it through a cold wash cycle.
Conversely, spandex is not very good at handling heat so that means no saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs, or washing it with hot water. In fact, this is a general complaint that makes spandex leotards difficult to clean whether you are swimming in them or not.
Furthermore, spandex also tends to trap moisture because it does not allow air circulation. This means you will stay wet for longer, and can even lead to yeast infections. Be very careful about wearing a wet spandex leotard for long, and change out of it as soon as you can.
Lycra is the brand name for a highly elastic synthetic fabric also known as elastane, and it is very similar to spandex. Thus, much of what we described regarding spandex also applies here, like how Lycra can stretch up to 5-8x its size.
Thus, in a similar vein, a Lycra leotard can handle being soaked in water and stretched beyond its normal size, because it can easily go back to its normal size once dry. Other types of leotards may be stretched out permanently and effectively ruined.
Where it can potentially surpass spandex is in its heat resistance. Lycra is better at withstanding heat and its effects without losing its shape or deforming. With that said, we still would advise against exposing it to any extreme temperatures.
As for downsides, Lycra is also similar to spandex in that they are both synthetic fabrics and are not bio-degradable. Thus, if they are not properly disposed of, they can contribute to pollution and are not good for the environment.
Stretch velvet leotards
Stretch velvet is made of a blend of 90% polyester and 10% spandex. It’s not as stretchy as full Lycra or spandex leotards, but the little bit of spandex gives it a bit of a stretch. Stretch velvet leotards are adored by gymnasts for their soft plush feeling that makes up for not being as stretchy as spandex or Lycra.
The soft feeling that this fabric provides is arguably its main selling point, however it is not as easily felt when wet. However, you can still experience a velvety feel to it, so it still gets points for comfort.
Another advantage of stretch velvet fabrics is its insulating capabilities. Whether you’re swimming or not, this fabric can help retain your body heat and this makes it a great option for prolonged swimming, or swimming in colder waters.
Some of its negatives are that it does not last long when exposed to water, so you are seriously decreasing its lifespan when wearing it for gymnastics and swimming. Next, it’s also difficult to clean due to how sensitive it is; you must be very gentle with it. Damage to the fabric will ruin its soft texture, making it very uncomfortable to wear.
Mystique spandex leotards
Next up, mystique spandex is another synthetic fabric that is famous for its sleek and shiny appearance. When bright lights are shining on it and the wearer is in motion, it can produce a stunning effect that is a sight to behold. It is commonly worn by gymnasts, dancers, cheerleaders, and figure skaters.
Unfortunately, you’ll notice that we have not mentioned “swimmer”. That’s because it’s not designed to be worn underwater as the shiny foil finish can be ruined when exposed to chlorine, saltwater, and the chemicals found in sunscreen.
When used in the proper environment, i.e. on land, the mystique spandex leotards feel comfortable due to their excellent stretch, and they look amazing due to the aforementioned shiny effect it produces. In fact, it may even appear shiny when wet, making you sparkle like how a fish’s scales would reflect sunlight.
That said, the shine will quickly disappear as the coating is worn down by the chlorine, saltwater, and sunscreen. This fabric is also easily damaged, particularly the shiny layer. When subjected to a hot wash, the fabric can lose its shape and become deformed. Overall, this is a leotard that we can firmly say you should NOT go swimming in.
The last material we will cover is drytech fabric which is a blend of 92% polyester and 8% Lycra. Thanks to the inclusion of Lycra, drytech leotards are somewhat stretchy and have a high resistance to UV light and bacteria. The fabric is not absorbent, so it will not absorb too much water and weigh you down.
Thanks to their durability and resistance, drytech fabrics can withstand rough wear and tear. It can survive machine wash after machine wash while retaining its original size, color, and shape without becoming deformed. The antibacterial properties of the drytech fabric keep foul odors from sticking and keeps rashes and the like to a minimum.
Thus, for the purposes of swimming, it can help you dry faster because it is less likely to absorb much water in the first place. On top of that, drytech fabric is highly breathable. It allows sweat (and water) to flow out, but allows air to flow in. This reduces the chances of mold forming on your bathing suit.
Furthermore, drytech fabric is easy to clean. It has a stain-release property that makes it easy for stains to be washed off with less water and detergent. Don’t be afraid to wash your drytech leotard often, as it is known to have a long lifespan, though exposing it to chlorine or saltwater may lessen that a bit.
Some downsides to drytech fabric are that it is heavier than most of the other fabrics (hence why it’s so durable in the first place) and it gets even heavier when it absorbs water.
Since it contains synthetic materials, drytech fabrics are not biodegradable and may release harmful toxins when incinerated. If it is disposed of improperly, it will contribute to pollution and is therefore not an eco-friendly product.
As similar as leotards are to swimsuits, they are ultimately designed for a different purpose and does not confer many advantages, if any, to you while swimming. While there are many types of leotards to choose from, most of their advantages can only be experienced on dry land.
Once they are exposed to water, they can stretch, become heavy or possibly see through when wet, fail to cover one’s private parts, perhaps even become uncomfortable and have their lifespan reduced. As such, even though you technically can go swimming in a leotard, it’s not the greatest option.
If you had to pick one type of leotard to substitute as a swimsuit, the best kind is probably a nylon leotard as most swimsuits are also made of nylon. However, your mileage may vary, as nylon is a general term and two pieces of clothing made of “nylon” can be quite different in terms of what synthetic polymers it is made of.
At the end of the day, it’s better to just purchase a bathing suit and use that for its intended purpose instead of trying to substitute a leotard for one. In the long run, if you are exposing leotards to an environment that decreases its lifespan and you have to keep replacing them, it would be more cost-efficient to simply buy a high quality bathing suit one time and use it for years instead of ruining one leotard after another. Just some food for thought.