With summer on the horizon, even the thought of packing a suitcase gives us that fuzzy feeling. But preparing for a beach vacation doesn't end with finding the right swimsuit (or two, or three). Seasoned vacationers know that bringing the right beach bags, sandals, and sunglasses for every occasion is just as important, but there's one highly overlooked facet of beach-packing: The beach outfit.
It can be tricky to transition from a wet and sandy bathing suit to normal clothing, so picking the right beach outfit is often a confusing, messy, and anxiety-inducing experience, leaving even the chicest beach-goers among us ready to resign ourselves to the loosest, easiest-to-grab items in our closets. However, it is, in fact, possible to look chic on the beach, according to fashion stylist Madeleine Kennedy. Below, she reviews a variety of outfit options that look great and feel comfortable in spite of all the sun and sand.
What to Look For
Of course, not every outfit is suitable for sun, salt, and sand. Kennedy reminds us that for the sake of your comfort (and for the sake of the garments themselves), it's best to focus on specific fabrics and colors that will keep you cool.
"Shoppers should look for pieces that are made with breathable fabrics such as linen or cotton," she advises, noting that they, along with silk, "allow for breathability and will keep you cool throughout the day." And when it comes to shoes, she says, "leather, canvas, or cotton fabrics are all great options that will keep your feet comfortable and cool."
In terms of comes to beach style, Kennedy encourages experimentation. "The summertime is a great time to explore patterns and bolder colors," she says. And wearing lighter, brighter colors also has logistical advantages. She writes, "Darker colors tend to absorb heat easily, so be sure to avoid them if you plan to be in the sun all day."
Simple Yet Classic
For many people, including myself, denim shorts are the ultimate easy beach go-to. And for an elevated denim look, Kennedy suggests pairing them with an airy linen top. She elaborates, "An outfit I love for the beach is definitely a pair of denim shorts paired with a light colored linen top, baseball cap, and leather slide sandals. It is a simple yet classic look that will never go out of style." Plus, the cap is a perfect sun hat for shielding your face from the harsh summer sun.
Short of a sports game itself, there’s no better opportunity to rep your favorite team (or your favorite city) than when you’re out in the sun. This classic strapback baseball cap from quintessential sports brand ‘47 features an embroidered sports logo on the front—in this case, the logo for the Boston Red Sox—along with a tiny icon on the lower left that somehow represents the city or region in question. The cap itself has a relaxed fit and an adjustable back strap, and is made entirely of breathable cotton twill.
This muscle tank is made to be loose-fitting and comfortable, yet its crewneck style and straight hem add an element of structure that will keep you from feeling disheveled as you’re trudging through the sand. This linen blend is also made to feel cool and airy, a quality that’s enhanced by the piece’s creamy white color. I love the knitted look of this top, which is balanced out with its sheer finish that allows others to glimpse a hint of your bathing suit underneath.
These classic denim shorts from Lee are ideal for just about any occasion—they’re short enough to keep you cool, but longer than the quintessentially itty bitty daisy dukes of summers past. The pantlegs on this piece are also wide to prevent uncomfortable chafing or tightness, and are ideal for pulling onto your still-damp, sandy legs after a swim in the ocean. Made from airy, soft, comfortable cotton, they’re also relatively thin, according to reviewers, and customers with wide hips and legs say they’re delighted to find that this pair never rides up.
Customer Review: "I have a big booty and have trouble finding jean shorts that don't go up my booty. These shorts don't and bigger leg openings for plumper thighs. I love them." -Lee
I never thought a beach shoe could be chic until I saw this pair from Cougar. It’s made from soft nappa leather—one of Kennedy’s preferred fabrics for a beach outfit—and is resistant to water and stain damage. The pair is made for optimal comfort, with a padded sole and strap meant to cushion your feet during long walks on the beach, boardwalk, or side of the pool. Plus, they’re anti-slip, so there’s no need to worry while you’re traversing wet, slippery terrain.
Customer Review: "The perfect sandal! I can dress them up or down and I ALWAYS get compliments. Super comfy, lightweight, and give just a touch of added height!" -Cougar
Easy and Elevated
For those who, like me, prefer eschewing pants as often as possibly during the summer months, Kennedy brings up yet another classic beach outfit—only this one doesn't involve pulling on bottoms. "Another take on a classic look would be an oversized white button up that works as a mini dress, paired with a straw hat, tote bag and strappy sandals," she says. "If you need to wear this look into the evening, add a thin belt and gold earrings to elevate the simple white shirt."
Cuyana is a sustainable, ethical, woman- and BIPOC-owned brand that also happens to make many of the most comfortable items in my closet. They specialize in basics with a unique twist, and their clothing and accessories never fail to earn me compliments wherever I wear them. This hat in particular was hand-woven in Ecuador, with a shape that looks structured enough to transition from the beach to a restaurant. It also comes in five different colorways, including this classic beige.
Londre is another of my favorite brands, in terms of both their swimsuits and their resortwear. The latter is filled with basics and one of a kind pieces alike, like this long, billowing take on the classic oversized button-down. And while you can, of course, repurpose one of the button downs already hanging in your closet as a beach cover-up, this style will protect your legs from the sun, keep you comfortable when temperatures drop at night, and make you stand out among the beach crowd. It also comes in black.
Customer Review: "This fits, feels and looks amazing! The fabric is so soft. It will look great open over a swimsuit or buttoned with sneakers!" -Londre
I absolutely love this woven leather bag, both for its style and for its practicality. It’s made for travel, equipped to fit sunscreen (a must-bring!), a change of clothes, books and devices, and more, and it comes in nine different colorways as well as the option of nappa or suede leather (though for the beach, I would stay away from suede). You can also choose to have the bag monogrammed so that everybody at the beach can know exactly who the stylish one is.
Minimalist, art-inspired brand The Row designed this pair for comfort, durability, and style. These sandals are made from soft Italian leather, complete with rubber soles that will prevent you from slipping while you walk from the pool or beach, or while you’re shuffling across the tile floor of a hotel. Inspired by fisherman style sandals but embellished with a geometric twist, the pair is also formal enough to wear to work in the summer or out to dinner while at a resort.
An Easy One-Piece
If you're like me, then you love a low-maintenance beach outfit that makes leaving the sun and sand as easy as possible. Kennedy says that a one-piece is perfect for this, explaining, "I love a great romper moment, as it can be dressed up or down. I also like to play with patterns and bolder colors when it comes to rompers since you are only working with one article of clothing."
But if you are, in fact, going bold with an eye-catching print or bright shade, she recommends, "I then tend to keep the shoes and accessories more neutral so not to draw the attention away from the romper."
SEE Eyewear is my personal go-to spot when I need new, fashionable prescription glasses, including prescription sunglasses. Their looks range from classic and simple to daring and attention-grabbing, and this option is a blend of the two, with its mix of Italian acetate and stainless steel accents. Its cat eye style also flatters a number of different head shapes and gives any outfit a retro, feminine look.
This is my personal favorite pair of earrings. I wear them nearly every day because of the simple, minimalist element of glam that they bring to my ensembles, whether I’m going to work, to brunch, to a party, or to enjoy some much-needed sunshine. Inspired by ancient Greek mythology, these unique hoops are each shaped like a lyre, the instrument that the Greek god Apollo is said to have played. These hoops are also made responsibly from recycled gold—the true full package.
Summer is the ideal time to break out flower child-inspired prints like this one, which lend your look a laid-back feel that’s sure to match the level of relaxation you feel after spending a day at the beach. The halterneck style also brings an element of modesty (read: a lack of cleavage) that may very be welcome after a day spent in a bikini. I also love the universally flattering shade of blue on this romper, which mimics the color of the ocean itself.
As Kennedy pointed out, subdued accessories, including shoes and eyewear, are the way to go when styling a busy romper like the Poupette St Barth option listed here. Chinese Laundry’s simple, elegant three inch heeled sandals are just the ticket for an outfit like this. The shoes come in four different colorways, including white, blue, and orange, but when pairing with a patterned or bright colored piece, I always go for classic black.
A Dress that Doubles as a Cover-Up
I try to be as low-maintenance as possible in the summer: The heat tends to make me feel languid, and, when I'm at the beach, any complicated outfit is bound to be undone by the wind and the sand, anyway. For this reason, my all-time favorite beach outfit is a dress that doubles as a cover-up. It's quick, easy, looks like it involved more effort than it actually did, and it doesn't involve having to wiggle into a pair of pants.
This 100 percent cotton halterneck dress is perfect for throwing on over a bikini as you’re leaving the beach—especially since it ties on the back of the neck and therefore lines up perfectly with most bathing suit styles. Soft and knitted, the dress also resists chafing and offers some relief after spending a hot day in a bathing suit, which may leave you with irritated skin. I own this dress myself, and am always complimented on its bright color and flattering fit.
If you’re in the market for something a little looser and more modest, consider this option from luxury swimwear brand Melissa Odabash. Made from 100 percent cotton, it’s an especially breathable option that can also be adjusted at the neck to reveal or hide as much skin as you’d like. Reviewers say that the colors (it comes in seven flattering colorways) are beautiful and even more striking in person, but warn that it runs rather large. So, if you’re between sizes or unsure, size down.
Customer Review: "This is more beautiful in person! Flowy fit but perfect as coverup! Nice fabric and eyelet detail worth the price." -Nordstrom
Uruguay-based clothing brand Tach produces all of its designs locally, ethically, and sustainably using high-quality materials like cotton and wool, which are knitted or crocheted by hand. Their ethos is to make long-lasting pieces with sexy silhouettes, inspired by textile traditions. This dress is knitted with hand-crocheted detailing along its hem, giving the piece a whimsical feel that’s offset by its structured colorblock pattern. With a classic silhouette and comfortable fit, it will never fail to garner compliments, nor will it ever go out of style.
This is one of my favorite summer dresses of all time—I’m always looking for an excuse to wear it. It’s made from recycled plastic bottles, resulting in a smooth, moisture wicking fabric that feels like a super-soft bathing suit. Thus, it’s perfect for long walks on the beach, because if it gets wet, it doesn’t look stained and dries in a flash. Plus, it’s unbelievably flattering and elegant, and the fabric is thick enough that you can’t see one’s nipples through it. It comes in six colorways, but my personal favorite is this ocean-inspired pattern of cool colors.
A Linen Look
Linen has always been a summer favorite, but it's made a particularly strong comeback this year in the midst of a contemporary obsession with quiet luxury. I'm a personal fan of linen all through the summer, and Kennedy is, too. "I love the option of wearing pants to the beach, especially if you are planning an evening out afterwards," she says. "I opt for a linen pant for breathability, paired with a one piece bathing suit that can act as a bodysuit during the evening by throwing on a lightweight jacket or button up over. Find a sandal that has a small platform, that way the shoe can be dressy enough for the evening."
Everybody needs a black one piece in their swimsuit arsenal. It’s classic, stylish, and flattering—and this option makes it even more so, with its sculpting fabric, plunging neckline, and high-cut leg. It also features adjustable shoulder straps, so it can work even for those with big busts, and all of its hardware is an opulent, classic yellow gold. Wear it on its own at the beach, and then as a bodysuit when you throw shorts, linen pants, or a shirtdress over it after.
These linen pants are an absolute summer staple, with an adjustable drawstring waist and spacious front pockets that make them both stylish and functional. Plus, this linen blend promises to repel stains and odors and to dry quickly, making them ideal for the messiness of the beach. They’re machine washable, too—something that I, along with my wallet, always appreciate. While the pants come in other stylish colorways like beige, blue and white stripes, and olive, I’m always a sucker for classic white.
Customer Review: "They’re great—durable, comfortable, and you don’t need to wash them anywhere near as often as conventional active wear." -Ably Apparel
There are few shoe styles that scream summer more than the wedge. This pair is especially resort appropriate, with its woven heel and strappy, gladiator-like design. It comes in four colorways, including black, white, metallic gold, and this burnt sienna shade of orange, all of which are versatile enough to be worn with countless ensembles, day or night.
When I asked Kennedy how fashion aficionados can incorporate this year’s summer trends into their beach outfits, she said, “Silk scarves are a great accessory for the beach this year.” She explains, “They are very versatile and can be worn as a mini skirt, top, hair accessory or simply an added pop of color to your bag.” This Dolce & Gabbana scarf is the perfect example of that, with its rosy floral print and polka dot pattern. It brightens up an outfit otherwise composed of neutrals and can be tied up in your hair or on the strap of your favorite beach bag.
A Matching Set
Who doesn't love a matching set? Not only does it take the thinking out of choosing an outfit (I cringe at the amount of time I've spent obsessing over an outfit, wonder if one item matches with another), but it's also several outfits in one: You can, of course, wear the set together, or you can wear the pieces as separates.
One of my all-time favorite summer styles is the crocheted look. It's intricate, never goes out of style, and adds some much-needed texture to any outfit. This set from ethical, Latinx-owned brand Annaiss Yucra is hand-crocheted over the course of about nine days, and includes a top, cropped jacket, and skirt. This set’s gentle lilac color and floral detailing looks sweet and romantic, and is sure to be a hit at any beach party.
While you’re shopping for that Annaiss Yucra set, why not complete the look with this matching hat? Kennedy says that the crocheted bucket hat is one of the hottest trends of the season. Not only will it keep the sun from your face and prevent you from burning (though you should still wear sunscreen, hat or no hat), but it also looks fabulous and shields any beach-induced frizz from view. Made from 100 percent Peruvian cotton, it, too, is crocheted by hand.
I love Saylor's matching sets. They're unique, comfortable, and high quality enough to last for summers on end. This set, which includes a cropped tank and on-trend high waisted shorts, boasts a sunny yellow color that’s perfect for hot summer days. And to offset its whimsical look and loose cotton fit, it features a structured straight neckline and an adjustable tie belt. I love it for lunch on the boardwalk during a particularly steamy day, and it’s a breeze to dress up or down.
When wearing a matching set, I like to opt for a simple pair of neutral colored shoes that doesn't take away from the rest of my outfit. These slide sandals are easy to slip on and off, and are perfect for pairing with any clothing style or color. Plus, because they're flat, you won't have any trouble walking in them while traipsing through the sand. They’re also available in vibrant green and tan mocha.
Meet the Expert
Madeleine Kennedy is a celebrity stylist from Texas. A UCLA graduate, she has styled the likes of Julia Roberts, Timothée Chalamet, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Ana de Armas, and more. She is currently based in Los Angeles.
Gabrielle Ulubay is an E-Commerce Writer at Marie Claire and writes about all things beauty, sexual wellness, and fashion. She's also written about sex, gender, and politics for publications like The New York Times, Bustle, and HuffPost Personal since 2018. She has worked extensively in the e-commerce and sales spaces since 2020, including two years at Drizly, where she developed an expertise in finding the best, highest quality goods and experiences money can buy. As a film school graduate, she loves all things media and can be found making art when she's not busy writing.
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