Swimsuit trauma. Surely every woman has experienced that horrible, sinking feeling when some cute little bikini or maillot suddenly became a magnifying glass for figure flaws. Even if she'd successfully struggled to lose that last 10 pounds, high-cut leg lines or too-skimpy two-pieces meant that when she looked in the dressing room mirror, she was confronted with lumps and bulges she never knew she had.
"It had gotten to the point where you almost had to have what they call a 'hardbody' to wear a suit," says June Wylie, publicity director for the popular swimwear manufacturer Catalina. "They were cut so high and cut so low, and if you didn't have all the equipment in the right place and in the right proportion, you felt, 'Why should I buy a suit? There's nothing out there for me.' "
Fortunately, times have changed. This month as resort and spring/summer suits make their debut in area stores women are in for a pleasant surprise. Instead of having to worry about looking good for their swimsuits, they'll be able to find swimsuits that make them look good, thanks to the increase in styles that have been specially designed to minimize nearly any figure imperfection.
"Every single woman has either a big bust or a small bust, or a tummy problem or a hip problem," says Patricia Byrnes Kane of Body I.D., which makes suits for various body types. "All of us havecombinations of problems or one particular one that stands out, but all of us have something. Even girls who have perfect bodies think that there's something that they'd like to give a little bit more emphasis to or a little less emphasis to." Each Body I.D. swimsuit has an oversized hang tag indicating the problem area it's designed to address. "We cover tummy control, hip help, small bust, full bust, long torso, short torso, petites," says Ms. Kane. A suit for a woman who wants to flatten her stomach, for example, features tummy-control panels and details such as vertical color blocking or sarong styling to draw the eye away from the midriff.
Several of this season's hottest styles look great on less-than-ideal bodies. Too-brief bikini bottoms have been replaced by ones that are cut much higher on the waist; lower leg lines minimize big hips. Many new swimsuits feature details such as metallic buttons or trim and mesh inserts, to give any woman a touch of glamour.
Instead of neon colors, this year the focus is on strong, hot brights such as purple, fuchsia, royal blue and turquoise. Floral designs range from dainty Victorian nosegays to '60s-style daisies, and bold ethnic-looking prints and paisleys are also in view.
One of the most important looks is swimwear that emphasizes the bust line, from bikinis with underwire tops to one-pieces with plunging V-necklines. "There seems to be every couple of years a slight shift from one erogenous zone to the other, and starting last season, we're back to the bust line," says Ms. Wylie.
"Bosoms are back in," agrees Nancy Sachs, fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue in Owings Mills Mall. "After a couple years in that Calvin Klein-style tank suit, now there's a real alternative."
Even less-well-endowed women can find a flattering style, thanks to the artful use of padding and push-up bras. "Some of the suits have hard cups that can take padding. Before, they used to have nothing there, no structuring at all, so you couldn't do much of anything," says Ms. Wylie. "Now, there's been a resurgence in wearing some kind of little shaping or padding."
To assist you in finding the perfect suit, stores are prepared to offer customers extra assistance. "We have certain suits that are cut just for slimming down, or suits that aren't cut high on the leg," says Chris Caprinolo, assistant manager of Water Water Everywhere in Owings Mills Mall. "We have something for everybody. [Customers] can just tell us what they need." The store, which just opened another branch in Towson Town Center, also has two dressing rooms with tinted mirrors, "so it looks like you have a tan," says Ms. Caprinolo.
If you'd rather avoid dressing rooms entirely, there's always mail order. Wisconsin-based Lands' End sells a wide variety of swimwear through its catalog. "The great thing about mail order is that when you order a swimsuit, you can try it on in the privacy of your own home to see if it's exactly the suit that you want," says spokeswoman Michelle Casper. "You're in a comfortable enough surrounding while you're deciding if that is the suit for you. And our suits are guaranteed, so if the customer feels that that particular style is not for her, she can return it."