Sometimes, life is a contradiction. On the one hand, you love the freedom and abandon of summer or a beach vacation; on the other hand, there's the unfortunate matter of buying (and wearing) a bathing suit. Yes, it can be painful. But no, you don't need cosmetic surgery to look great. Whether you worry about your bust, your thighs or your belly, buying a suit that looks and feels fabulous is completely possible.
The keys, says Donnamarie Mazzola, director of marketing for Cyberswim.com, are style and fabric. When it comes to style, Mazzola says, look for a bathing suit that draws attention to the parts of your body you want to maximize and keeps the eye away from the parts you don't. The right fabric can work with the style to enhance the effect, whether your goal is tucking in your tummy or reducing your rear view.
- Trimming your waist. Surveys show that most women struggle with their waistline. To downplay your waist and slim your body, choose a suit with shirring or gathers at one side, draping that falls across the belly and hides any bulges, or side insets of a fabric like mesh, which work as visual cues that draw the eye to the center of your body and away from its outer edges. "A combination of the right, tight fabric and shirring will both pull in the waist and disguise any extra weight there," Mazzola says.
- Increasing your bust size. The second biggest concern when women buy a suit is the bustline, according to Mazzola. "Any suit that offers support, like a demi-cut bra with an underwire, will maximize a small bust," she notes. To further enhance your bustline, look for features and styles that draw attention to your breasts, like light padding and halter-style necklines. Bold geometric color patterns on a bikini top or horizontal stripes running across the top of a one-piece also draw focus to the area. To boost your cleavage, look for what's called a sweetheart neckline, which frames the face with a soft square shape that ends in a very defined V at the center of the chest.
- Minimizing your bust size. Various design details can keep the focal point above or below the bustline to make it appear narrower. For example, a suit that has a pattern with a horizontal stripe that hits well above or below the fullest part of the bust will steer attention toward the stripe and away from the breasts. Solid suits in light colors, fabric with small patterns and suits with ruffles or smocking also draw attention away from the chest. And high necks and square-cuts cover up much more of your cleavage. Most importantly, the suit you choose should give your breasts enough support to prevent sagging.
- Making your buttocks and hips look smaller. The color black is a well-known slimmer, and dark color blocks on the lower torso will help the hip and buttock areas recede. You'll get the most effective result if you choose a suit with a brighter color or a pattern on top. A lighter-top, darker-bottom combination will bring the eye to the top of your body while giving the illusion of a slimmer waist. Make sure whatever suit you buy has full seat coverage so there's ample lift and control. "The last thing you'd want is a skimpy bottom," says Mazzola, "especially if that's where your body is fullest." Also, if you want to minimize your hips, avoid any suit with a detail or hem that lands right at your hipline; it will only accentuate the curves there.
- Dealing with a short torso. A short trunk may make your legs look longer, but it can also mean that bathing suits have a tendency to bunch up or sag when they're wet. If that's the case, you may want to try petite sizes or two-piece styles. You can create the illusion of a longer torso by wearing a suit with thin vertical stripes down the sides.
- Handling a long torso. If you find yourself constantly tugging at and pulling down regular suits because they're too short, look for brands that make long-torso suits, which have extra length in the midsection. To make your trunk appear shorter, choose a suit with horizontal stripes across the stomach.
- Elongating your legs. Although a swimsuit cut high on the leg can lengthen your legs, you need to balance that with how much thigh you want to expose. If you're thigh-shy, look for styles with moderately high leg cuts. These will make your legs seem longer but not expose so much flesh. "Sometimes a skirted look or a sheath effect is also desirable," says Mazzola. "With a sheath, fabric can be built right into the design, and it looks like you're wearing a long top which stops right at the top of the thigh," she explains.
- Avoiding bulges. The problem with bathing suits for many women is that stretchy fabric, which tightens the figure in a good way, often forces skin out around the edges in a bad way. One of the latest innovations on the market is a fabric that helps prevent bulging. Called Miratex, the patented fabric contains three times the amount of Lycra than the average suit and is woven so that it stretches in four ways. Currently only available in Miraclesuits, which can be found at Cyberswim.com and Land's End, the fabric takes the girdlelike feeling out of bathing suits and offers extra control and comfort.
No matter what your body shape or size, Mazzola suggests checking out tankini styles first. These popular two-piece suits that cover the tummy look almost like one-pieces, yet because they come in a top and bottom, they're more comfortable. Not only are they stylish and easy to wear, but they are pretty much universally flattering '- especially when you can choose each piece separately.
"We're seeing a trend with separates," says Mazzola. "We're giving our customers who have different bust and waist sizes the chance to mix and match bottoms and tops so they get a more custom fit." Bikini bottoms are perfect for those who like a skimpier suit, while high-waisted options provide holding power around the abdomen for the tummy-conscious. Women who prefer more leg coverage may want to try on what's known as a "skirtini," bathing suit bottoms with an updated skirt attached, sometimes with a stylish (and flattering) sarong tie.
Shopping online can also reduce the stress involved. For one thing, a good selection is available year-round, as opposed to at department stores, which only carry bathing suits at certain times. In addition, you can try on suits at home, far from the bad memories of dressing rooms past. If you do choose to shop online, make sure you buy from a reputable swimwear company that accepts returns. And keep in mind that you may need to order several sizes of styles you love to find one that fits. Mazzola's advice: Start with larger sizes and work your way down. That way, you'll find a suit that not only looks good, but feels comfortable.