What to Wear on a European Beach

 I've just spent a couple of months in Sicily, enjoying architecture, museums, food, exotic culture and, um, more food. It was a busy, full of great experiences, and the weather is warming up. Being a Mediterranean island, a trip to the beach was at the top of my to-do list.But what do you wear to a European beach? There are plenty of ideas and theories out there. Many people may think that beaches in are generally topless or even clothing optional. This is not true. Beaches over here are somewhat similar to back at home, in terms of etiquette.Swimsuits may seem a little more skimpy here, especially for men. Many men wear little Speedo bottoms rather than swim trunks. This is not something I suggest, let's just say it's a personal taste thing. For men, a typical pair of swim trunks will do just fine. European men seem to be adopting that type of suit lately I've noticed, so you won't feel out of place.I recommend choosing a neutral pair of swim shorts with pockets that look like regular shorts, in a solid color like black or navy. You'll get more use out of them if they can pass as clothing. If you wear them often on your trip, a side bonus is that they wash and dry quickly.Women wear almost exclusively bikinis. Yeah, you heard me, I mean ALL women. It's actually pretty hard to find anything else.I do wear a bikini to the beach. And I'll be honest, I'm over 40 and have birthed two very large babies so I probably have no business wearing a bikini. But I do. To prove to you that you can do it, let me embarrass myself by adding a pic of me in my bikini. With a Bellini in hand and a sunny day to relax, I don't really care if someone sees my flabby arms and jiggly belly.I'm not saying you must choose a bikini over a one piece, but I'd like to give you some reasons why you should think about it.First of all EVERYONE is wearing one- thin, fat, old, young, fit or flabby. Nobody cares. People are at the beach to enjoy the beach, not the fashion. I have to admit, it's pretty liberating to get into the local spirit and realize that self-consciousness just isn't a thing on the beach here. Women are there to have fun, get a tan and they simply don't care what you think about what they have on. I once had a grandmother on a tour who purposely wore a bikini on our beach day to show her granddaughter how to be brave and confident. Rock star.Second, a bikini is lightweight. It takes up half of the space and weight that a full swimsuit does. Because it's light, it tends to be more comfortable for active movement like swimming or playing on the beach.Third, especially for us busty ladies, a well built bikini is more supportive than a typical swimsuit if you buy them from lingere manufacturers. My favorite bra brand, Freya, makes a line of bikinis that are so comfortable that I often wear my top as a bra when my regular ones are dirty. And this is my sneaky fourth reason, a bikini can substitute for underwear in a pinch. Same for a speedo...but I'm never going to endorse that idea.A lightweight cover-up can be a fun addition to your bag that won't take up space or weight. My bikini cover-up looks just like a normal tunic top but slightly more sheer. I wear it with leggings when I'm not at the beach. I bought mine on the clearance rack at Target, but you can find a similar one here.I don't usually suggest flip-flops as your normal footwear in Europe, but they are perfect at the beach. Many European beaches are gravel or even sharp rocks, so footwear is essential. Many readers like the Vionic Tide sandal although I find them a little heavy. I prefer my Teva Mush Wedges, which can also stay on my feet in the water where the beach is rocky, like the Cinque Terre. For men, Olukai Hawaiian sandals get rave reviews and can also be worn in the water.So what, you may wonder, is the deal with toplessness or nudity? Topless sunbathing happens. Sometimes. It's not as common as I remember it being 15 years ago. But women will take off their tops part way to even out their tans. Even I do that. Nude beach going still exists, but usually at beaches that are designated or seperate from crowded ones, and often they are sort of secretive. I'm sure the Internet can fill you in on locations. My only suggestion there- make sure you're not the first nude one on the beach. ;)