Americans are perpetually baffled by how much to bare at a spa, while the French and Finns, Germans and Japanese, know exactly what’s appropriate and when, thanks to their prescriptive spa cultures. But we’re New Yorkers—we always know what to wear, or not to wear, right?
You have to believe us when we say, your body anxieties are a moot point. Therapists have seen it all—from flabby bodies and people breaking down and crying on the table, to hairy legs, a wicked case of ass-ne, belches, hiccups, rumbling stomachs, the sudden and audible releases of gas, and serious sock lint stuck between the toes. None of these will fluster a therapist who’s been on the job for more than a minute. So unless you’re sharing a room or the place is a bargain bodywork hole-in-the-wall, plan to bare all. The spa is that rare G-rated venue with lots of nudity.
So, we’ve culled the clothes-off etiquette for the most popular spa treatments, because sometimes unmentionables need mentioning.
WHAT TO WEAR DURING…
You really don’t want anything between you and your body wrap or salt scrub, unless (truly horrid) disposable panties are proffered by the spa. That’s because clothes get in the way of the head-to-toe slathering of products—e.g., you can’t pull your g-string out of your butt when your arms are pinned in a wrap, and your tush needs the scrub or wrap ingredients more than any other body part. Plus your Malia Mills suit will be forever stained by mud or seaweed.
Swedish or Deep Tissue Massage
At a bargain place, keep your kit on. At a Four Seasons, drop trou. Therapists drape you in sheets or towels so you never feel exposed or cold. The good ones generally work low back, glutes, and the attachments around the hip joint, so not wearing skivvies makes it easier for them to reach these areas.
Little known fact: This is a great massage for the spa shy. Spas often play wardrobe department, lending you loose-fitting clothes to wear during this treatment, which is based on loads of yoga-style stretching—it would be impossible to keep you covered with sheet during some of these moves. If the spa doesn’t have a traditional Thai fisherman’s-style outfit for you (some do!), they’ll recommend at booking that you bring your own comfy apparel.
You strip down to your underwear, don the provided facial half robe that looks like a towel but velcros in place under your armpits, or just take it all off. Why? Your bra gets in the way of the décolleté massage, plus if you’re cosseted in white Egyptian towels and duvets, it’s way more comfortable. This rule does apply at Mimi’s or the like, where your privacy is compromised and you should cling to your garments like holy vestments.
Sauna, hot tub, communal bathing area
In a co-ed setting, wear your swimsuit—with the notable exception of northern California’s hot springs where men and women soak naked together as if it were still 1968. In a single gender environment, like the lavish women’s area at the Mandarin Oriental Spa, wear whatever makes you most comfortable. Not sure what that is? Start with a two-piece, which you can easily remove after a dip in the vitality pool and before a spell in the amethyst crystal steam room. —Melisse Gelula and Alexia Brue
Got any questions on what not to wear at a spa? Or a beef with disposable panties? Fire away, here!