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What is a Paper Swimsuit?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A paper swimsuit is a swimsuit which has been specifically designed for competition, and while not actually made from paper, such suits are often paper thin. Racing suits have a number of design features which distinguish them from ordinary swimsuits, and for competition swimmers, it is crucial to make sure that such suits are fitted properly to ensure that the swimmer will perform at her or his best during competition. Needless to say, such suits are often lacking in the modesty department, because the focus is on performance, not looks.

A typical paper swimsuit is extremely thin, and typically single-layered, and it is very stretchy. Paper swimsuits are designed to be very tight, and they are worn snug on the body. The tightness and thin design provide minimal resistance in the water, allowing the swimmer to swim faster. For casual swimmers, a small reduction in resistance might not seem like a major improvement, but competition swimmers know that every fraction of a second counts, and they take their swimsuit selection very seriously.

For events like the Olympics, swimsuit manufacturers often unveil a special paper swimsuit designed just for Olympic athletes, with design features which are intended to make it into the best possible swimsuit for competition wear. In cases where national teams have sponsorship deals with swimsuit manufacturers, they have been known to violate their contracts in order to swim in the best racing suits, and sometimes controversy erupts, especially when teams eschew their national companies in favor of foreign firms with better racing suits.

For people unfamiliar with wearing a paper swimsuit, trying one on can be a bit uncomfortable. The suits are meant to be very snug, and they generally do not leave much to the imagination. The lack of a double layer or modesty paneling can also make wearing a paper swimsuit a bit awkward for people who are concerned with modesty; competition athletes are usually so focused on performance that they do not pay very much attention to their appearance when wearing their racing suits.

Athletic stores which specialize in swimwear typically carry a range of racing suits for people to examine and try on, often with verbose labels making all sorts of claims about the performance improvements which can be enjoyed by purchasing specific swim products. It is a good idea to try on several suits to get an idea of comfort and fit, and sometimes shop clerks can offer advice or assistance for people purchasing their first racing suits.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Sports n' Hobbies researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By kwarner — On Nov 25, 2013

I have three paper suits I have used as a competitor. I was able to achieve Jr. Olympic times in them back when I swam competitively. One of them I wore at 14 years old, and I was pretty small. The sizing is supposed to be smaller than your normal size because of how it is supposed to fit.

They are all in great shape, only been used probably three or four times each in competitions.

By amysamp — On Aug 03, 2011

@tolleranza - Just like the paper swimsuits do not seem they could possibly make that much of a difference, it does not seem that shaving your body hair could make that much of a difference, either right?

Wrong. A study at a North Carolina University found that shaving your body hair does make you faster. How much faster? I do not remember, but just as you said, when you are losing by such an incredibly short distance it seems quite worth the shave.

By tolleranza — On Aug 03, 2011

I have also heard that swimmers shave all of their hair off as well to try and make themselves just a hair faster (pun intended)!

I always find it amazing how close these races can be in the Olympics much like the track races.

Does anyone know if the rumor that these swimmers shave their arm hair and leg hair for competitions is true?

By Eviemae — On Aug 02, 2011

@ddljohn – Hi! I think it’s so sweet that you’re trying to find a suit for your little girl, and that you are supporting her so whole heartedly! Yay for you! Yay for her, too!

Regardless, I really am not sure precisely where to go and get a paper suit, but I do know one thing; you can find anything at all online.

If I were you, I would just take a few minutes to look it up. Even if you need it quickly, you can usually get overnight shipping for practically everything from most online stores.

Good luck, and I hope she blows the competition away!

By nanny3 — On Aug 02, 2011

Does a paper bathing suit really make that much difference in a swimmer’s speed?

I mean, I can totally understand why you wouldn’t want to go race in your jeans and boots, but really. A regular bathing suit doesn’t have all that much to it in the first place!

It seems a bit like overkill to me; but who am I to criticize? I’m not a swimmer at all – I prefer fishing on the bank somewhere.

By Agni3 — On Aug 01, 2011

Well, that just explains a few things doesn’t it! I have always been a huge fan of the Olympics. It doesn’t matter what the competition is; if it’s the Olympics, I’ll be watching it.

I have always wondered, however, how those poor swimmers got into those incredibly skin tight bathing suits. Now I know; they are extremely stretchy even if they are extremely tight.

I always felt sorry for them, too. I particularly felt bad for the men who must not have a self-conscious bone in their bodies to wear those things that mold practically everything that they cover.

And they cover oh-so-little in the first place. Yikes!

You would never find me in one of those things, I can tell you.

By ddljohn — On Aug 01, 2011

My daughter is part of the swim team at school. She heard about paper swimsuits and insists on getting one for her swim competition.

I don't think it's necessary but she is so excited about wearing one, I feel like getting it to make her happy.

I have looked around a little bit and visited all the sports wear stores around town but didn't find any. Where can I purchase a paper swimsuit? And do they make small sized ones for young competitors?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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