Swimsuit season is officially here, and it’s time to tie up that itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny yellow polka dot bikini and hit the sand with all the confidence you’ve got. But while any collegiette™ can heat up the beach in just a swimsuit, once you’re off the beach you’ll need to cover up. And no matter how adorable your new retro floral bikini or sexy cutout one-piece may be, pulling on a five-year-old pair of Soffees and a ratty wifebeater post-beach will instantly kill your summer glow. To help you put your best foot forward every time you step on the beach, we’ve found the 20 best pieces to cover you up in the sun, from caftans to cutoffs. Now all you need is a little SPF and you’re ready to catch some rays—and some eyes—on the sand this summer!
The easiest, breeziest and most traditional swimsuit cover-ups, caftans are something between a shirt and a dress: they’re loose, flowy and made of super-light fabric, often lighter than summer-weight cotton and linen. They work perfectly on the beach, but they can just as easily transition to a Saturday shopping trip or even a summer party with the right shoes and accessories. What’s more, they come in all sorts of styles to fit your look: stripes or solid for classic girls, eyelet or lace for girlie girls, crochet or embroidery for boho collegiettes™, or cutout or backless for the edgier among us. Check out HC’s top picks!
The sweet embroidery and deep V-neck give this caftan a romantic feel—try it with coral wedges and a neutral clutch for a night out after your day in the sun. ($25)Old Navy
This open-knit tunic is subtly sexy without being too sheer to wear on the street—perfect for showing off your new bright bikini without exposing too much skin! ($44) Urban Outfitters
An oversized T-shirt dress makes a perfect cover-up for the beach, and with a belt and cute sandals, a perfect outfit for an impromptu post-beach dinner! ($45) American Apparel
The perfect summer caftan, this flowy number features a bold but wearable tribal print that can go easily from surf to turf with some simple gold accessories. ($49) Victoria’s Secret
Remember in middle school when we all had those strapless terry-cloth cover-ups from Juicy Couture? Well, here’s 2011’s version—a versatile, fashion-forward hooded caftan that matches with everything—and keeps you warm on a windy beach! ($79) Juicy Couture
A simple summer dress goes a long way. You can wear it to your internship with a tailored blazer, to the farmer’s market with rustic sandals and a cute fedora, and to an alfresco summer soirée with some sky-high wedges. So why not take it to the beach, too? A sundress is a quick, easy and versatile way to cover up a swimsuit without sacrificing one bit of your personal style. Either recycle an old one, or click through our picks!
This preppy, punchy striped tank dress looks amazing with a solid bikini, or belted with flat sandals for an effortlessly chic day look. ($14.99) Urban Outfitters
The perfect floral sundress, this light satin frock has a trendy drop-waist silhouette and ties at the back, to match your string bikini! ($25) American Eagle
A maxi dress adds a bit of drama to a tired beach look, and this eye-popping tie-dye print is a great mix of girly and boho styles. ($27.80) Forever 21
Your fellow beach-goers will be seeing red—or green, or black or white—when you step out in this dramatic solid maxi-dress. Throw on a cropped pullover and some wedges and you can bring it from day to night! ($40) American Apparel
Make your cover-up as sunny as the weather outside with this sweet, swingy dress. Try it with a red belt and black blazer for a dramatic nighttime look! ($58) Nasty Gal
Whether it’s an oversized boyfriend button-down or a slouchy striped tee, a top can be the perfect cover-up for a casual beach day. If it’s long enough, you can wear the shirt on its own with a pair of flat sandals, and if not, try it with a relaxed pair of shorts. Don’t forget to roll up the sleeves to complete the laidback look!
A simple henley tank looks amazing thrown over your bikini with a relaxed pair of boyfriend jeans or cargos, for a romantic stroll on the sand! ($14) H&M
Relaxed stripes move seamlessly from the street to the beach with a relaxed pair of shorts or a long skirt, especially in a neutral color palate like on this linen-blend, oatmeal-colored tee. ($16.90) Forever 21
Crochet looks awesome over a bikini, and you can easily take it to the streets after you’re finished laying out. Try it with a pair of denim cutoffs, or over a long skirt. ($38) NastyGal
Eyelet is a hot summer trend, so why not try it in a sexy cropped silhouette over your cutest floral bikini and some cutoffs? ($40) TopShop
A veritable classic, this oversized chiffon, button-up from American Apparel comes in every color of the rainbow and adds a touch of laidback sophistication to your bikini. Wear it alone for the beach, and then tuck it into a pair of cropped white jeans for a night out! ($58) American Apparel
If you wear a top to the beach, of course you’ll need some great bottoms to go with it—and nothing works better for a casual day in the sun than some laidback shorts. From cutoffs to cargos to printed pull-ons, shorts are the piece of the season, and they’ll make any swimsuit look civilization-ready in a flash. But beware—shorts with a bikini and no top off the sand is a big no-no, even for JWoww.
A far cry from the itty-bitty Abercrombie cutoffs of years past, these cuffed, faded boyfriend shorts define laidback sophistication. ($15.80) Forever 21
Tired of the same old denim shorts? Try something different with these slouchy but polished cargos. They’re flattering and an awesome color with a bright bikini—try pairing them with a bright button-down or striped t-shirt. ($24.90) Uniqlo
Drapey, chic and just the right length, these shorts combine two of the summer’s hottest trends: chambray and ikat print. ($34.99) DKNY
Okay, okay, it’s not technically a pair of shorts, but it’s so perfect for the beach we couldn’t resist. This crocheted romper comes in a super-flattering light grey (perfect for showing off your tan!) and its relaxed drawstring waist and beachy print make it perfect for throwing on over your swimsuit. ($54) Urban Outfitters
Undeniably beachy, these high-waisted shorts’ faded red stripes look totally retro-cool without being kitschy, and the cut will look awesome with a bikini and loose cropped tank. ($58) NastyGal