Photo: Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Ah, summertime! The season for sandcastles, sun-kissed skin and moonlit bonfires on the edge of a waning tide. But along with balmy temperatures and invigorating dips in the rippling ocean comes the annual anxiety-inducing search for the perfect swimsuit ensemble, where the twisted bandeau top vs. tankini conundrum can send you into a dizzying spiral of beachwear dilemma delirium. Because, let's face it, not all swimwear is created equal, and no simple two-piece is suitable for every occasion. For every itsy-bitsy boyfriend bikini there's the modest meeting-the-in-laws maillot, not to mention the workplace Fourth of July pool party one-piece. Dressing appropriately for sea, sand and surf this summer is going to require some plotting, planning and plenty of SPF.
You have to wear something that makes you feel good about yourself. You can't step out in something because it's super trendy. It doesn't really matter what the trend is, so long as you feel great. If a head-to-toe bodysuit is your thing, then by all means wear it!
- Carrie Jardine, co-owner of Cali Dreaming, a Los-Angeles-based swimwear line
So what to wear -- and when?
Jessie Cohan, New York-based stylist and fashion consultant, says one of the more dominant trends this summer calls for sexy, sophisticated, circa 1950s swimwear, where flirty yet full coverage comes in the form of floral print bustiers and retro high-waisted briefs of the sort Esther Williams wore during her bathing beauty heyday.
"It's the exact opposite of the slutty Miami Beach G-string and Brazilian butt-thong trends," said Cohan, who favors J.Crew's current selection of flattering, feminine, strap-optional suits (to keep tacky tan lines at bay).
What's best about the look is that it easily segues from beach day with your beau to petit fours at the swim club with his parents. Look for suits with a bit of pretty ruching or a vintage-style halter neck, Cohan says, and you've got a classic combination guaranteed to make you feel as glamorous as a golden-age Hollywood pinup.
Modesty is the preferred go-to guideline when making a splash at business-related soirees, say Carrie Jardine and Lisa Priolo, owners and co-founders of Cali Dreaming, a Los Angeles-based swimwear line that launched in spring 2010 -- Rhianna is a huge fan. You want to stay comfortable and cool -- and maybe impress that cute co-worker in the adjacent cubicle. But you also have your fogyish, old-fashioned boss to consider.
You want to look chic -- not cheap.
"You want to look good, but you're not trying to be your sexiest," said Jardine, whose top pick for company pool parties is the Cali Dreaming Sweatheart one-piece in either the tie-dye mesh print or waffle nude pink fabric, both of which double nicely as a bodysuit when paired with a sarong. To finish the look, Jardine suggests a long and loose-fitting caftan with a plunging neckline and wide, bell sleeves.
"A pair of big, beautiful gold-rimmed sunglasses -- Tom Ford makes some amazing ones -- and a couple of long necklaces, a big beautiful hat and a pair of nude leather flip-flops, and I'd call it a day," Jardine added.
Of course, what outfit you pull together depends on what sort of job environment we're talking about. What works for the law firm clambake in Montauk might stick out like a neoprene wetsuit at a Las Vegas resort employee appreciation day.
"If you work for, say, MTV, then by all my means go for it," quipped Kallah Maguire, professional wardrobe stylist, image consultant and founder of The Emerald Scarab, a personal shopping service. "Wear whatever you want, and maybe they'll put you on a show if you look great."
Showing too much, on the other hand, especially when meeting the parents, is a definite no-no. You want to make a lasting impression -- but the right kind.
"If the parents are on the conservative side, then throw the money into buying a one-piece because why take a chance?" Maguire said. "But if they're relaxed or total hippies and your guy has told you not to worry, then definitely wear your favorite suit. But if you've got something super-duper sexy, you still might want to tone it down a bit."
The time not to tone things down: afternoon beach date with the boyfriend.
"I would wear a very sexy, very small bikini that shows lots of skin, something that shows the upper [butt] cheek a little bit," advised Jardine. "I would wear a much shorter and sexier cover-up, something with a plunging V-neck or maybe with some fringe on it."
Ultimately, however, no matter what the occasion, it's not about what other people think, but how you feel. You have to wear your bathing suit -- not the other way around.
"You have to wear something that makes you feel good about yourself," Jardine said. "You can't step out in something because it's super trendy. It doesn't really matter what the trend is, so long as you feel great. If a head-to-toe bodysuit is your thing, then by all means wear it!"