Primark suit – we tried it on to see if it was fit for purpose
If there’s one controversy that seems to be age-defining, it’s that surrounding Primark’s decision to launch its own range of wetsuits. The £36 one-size-fits-all unisex wetsuits have drawn the ire of Cornwall’s surfing community who see them as totally unsuitable and a waste of money – even though it’s just under £40.
In return, the surfers have been lambasted – by non-surfers presumably – as arrogant snobs because they all wear very expensive fancy gear. So, in view of this controversy, which of course dwarfs everything else in comparison – the food crisis, the rising cost of living, skyrocketing oil prices, Partygate, the war in Ukraine and the tremendous economic fallout from Brexit, we decided to put one of these Primark suits to the test and put an end to all this social media nonsense once and for all.
First off, as a disclaimer, I’m an avid surfer. I go there at least twice a week, every week, all year round. For me, a wetsuit should be comfortable because I use it a lot, but above all, I should keep myself warm.
Read more: Primark is launching a range of surf and swimwear and bargain hunters are loving it
For information, the wetsuit I use for surfing is a 5.5/4.5 mm from O’Neill. This means around my vitals, back and legs it is 5.5mm thick and 4.5mm thick around my shoulders where there is the most movement and need therefore the most flexibility. The brand is irrelevant but it happens to be the Santa Cruz company founded by the late wetsuit pioneer Jack O’Neill that I went with as they were the only ones selling a wetsuit winter thicker than “normal” without having to order arctic survival gear.
I bought it two years ago and it always keeps me warm in the winter. Most people use 5/4mm wetsuits for the winter and maybe go down to 4/3mm in the summer months or even 3/2mm if they are feeling adventurous or surfing in the Basque Country . My wetsuit cost me nearly £300 at the time.
For many people, it is a fortune. And you are right. I had to save up for this. £300 is not cheap. And with the cost of everything rising, if I could find a wetsuit that cost a fraction of the price but still kept me warm and comfortable, I’d go right away. However – and this is the big problem – when we took a Primark wetsuit for a spin it didn’t do that – it didn’t do the job it intended.
Wetsuits should fit like a second skin. There should be no gaping holes at the collar, wrists, or ankles, otherwise the water will run off and certainly wake you up every time you wipe yourself off or dive under a wave. Even if it’s just for splashing around with the kids in the shallow white water, the next wave will feel like someone poured a bucket of ice water down your back. How long will you last before you or your kids get really cold?
For a fashion company, we were surprised to find that their line of jumpsuits didn’t take into account the different body shapes of men and women. So where men’s wetsuits are wider around the shoulders, women’s suits fit around their breasts and hips.
Not the Primark wetsuits. They look like they were designed by someone who has never seen the ocean in their life, let alone worn a wetsuit. So as a guy I had loose ripples of fabric around my hips and legs which meant that not only were they 3mm thin and way too cold for Cornwall most months of the year, it was also very uncomfortable.
As a result I was really cold and my lower regions were so crushed by the distorted suit that I didn’t last 15 minutes in the sea at Perranporth beach when I went there at 8am (Sunday May 15). It was so uncomfortable carrying a trash bag with three holes for the head and arms would have been better. I shivered back to the car and put on my real wetsuit and drove home for almost two hours.
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It’s cheap and that’s the problem. The price is attractive and you can’t fault Primark for that. The suits, which are only available in small, medium and large sizes, fit so badly that they are actually very easy to put on and take off. So that’s great!
But they’re so bad they’ll last a summer and be thrown away like the cheap old styrofoam bodyboards Cornwall fought so hard to get rid of thanks to the efforts of our plastic-free communities and environmental charities like Surfers Against Sewage and many others.
But what a false economy. Such a waste. Think of the energy, resources and time it took to produce and then ship these suits from China.
They are a reflection on our disposable fast-fashion economy. Whatever your hobby, you probably want your kit to last a long time. So you pay a little more for the quality. And the higher the quality, the easier it is to repair, so it lasts. Are you a bunch of snobs for this reason? No, you are reasonable.
Surfers are like you. They want their kit to last because it’s expensive and not all surfers are monetized.
So the best advice I can give to anyone considering buying a Primark wetsuit “just because it’s cheap and it’s just for the holidays” is: don’t. Instead, head to your nearby surf shop – and Cornwall has tons of them – where the staff know their stuff and there’s plenty of choice to find something that suits your needs and hire one. .
This way you won’t even have to take it home. You won’t feel any environmental guilt for throwing something away after five minutes, and perhaps more importantly, you won’t look like sausage meat stuffed into a flabby old condom.