Swimming gear is quite scarce compared to other sports like tennis or football. If you want to swim just for recreational purposes, you will not need much. Those who get involved in competitive swimming might have to make some additional purchases but considering you probably are a member of a club, you are likely to be given all the gear you need.
First and foremost, you need a swimsuit. Swim trunks and boardshorts are not suitable for swimming because they drag you down too much. You will not see any serious swimmers training in those. Speedos are great but many men feel uncomfortable in them. This leaves us with swim briefs, the most common type of swimwear for men. As far as women are concerned, a one-piece swimsuit is the most comfortable one considering that two-piece swimsuits cause problems when you move/jump into the water.
If you want to get really serious, there are full-body swimsuits for both men and women but those are useless for amateurs. In fact, they were banned from swimming competitions worldwide after an unprecedented number of records were broken when high-performance swimsuits were introduced in 2008. They reduce fatigue and give swimmers more speed, which is why they were banned since January 1st, 2010. The opinion of Phelps who won 8 gold medals at Beijing is that he’s glad the suits are banned but this should have happened before irreversible “damage was done to the history of swimming.”
Apart from a swimsuit, you will also need a swim cap for hygienic reasons. It also prevents long hair from getting in your face. What’s left is buying a pair of swimming goggles to protect your eyes from chlorinated water. This will allow you to swim in a more relaxed and streamlined fashion considering you can open your eyes underwater.
Nose clips are useful for front crawls and backstroke because it takes a while to get adjusted to breathing into the stroke. Swim fins are great for learning the crawl and butterfly strokes because they give you a more efficient kick allowing you to focus on arm movement. They can become quite bothersome if you wear them for long periods of time.
Now, here’s the gear you will find at most pools regardless of being a club member or not: pull buoys, water noodles, and kickboards. Pull buoys are made of foam and have the shape of an eight figure. They are meant to be kept between your legs to provide enough buoyance to the lower body so that the swimmer focuses on arm motions.
You are probably already familiar with water noodles: they are foam flexible cylinders used as flotation devices for the upper body. They are mostly used by those who learn how to swim. Kickboards are very effective and are meant to isolate leg work. They are boards made of a hard type of foam. You keep the board in front of yourself with your arms extended in order to eliminate arm movements. The disadvantage is that it can strain the shoulders after prolonged use. If you have shoulder pains, you could switch to a water noodle whenever you want to work just the legs. Also, cheaper boards have harsh edges that irritate your skin. If the pool you go to does not have proper kickboards, you should consider investing in one because leg work is an important part of most swimming workouts.
So, here are the essentials: swimsuit (speedos or briefs for men, one-piece suit for women), cap, and goggles. Optionally, you could buy nose clips and swim fins. Most pools have water noodles, kickboards and pull buoys.