Best designs are those that flatter


January 21, 1993|By Joe Surkiewicz | Joe Surkiewicz,Contributing Writer

We know, we know. You've done a thousand-and-one sit-ups and suffered through a rigorous slim-down and tone-up regimen. But if you're like most women, your body still seems discouragingly imperfect.

And wouldn't you know? It's that time of year again, when the results are about to be revealed for the whole world to see at the beach or pool.

For those of you going on vacation to sunnier climes this month and next, there's no putting it off. Those who aren't have a few months' grace period, although the season's largest selection of swimsuits is coming into the stores now so a visit might be worthwhile.

But before taking a deep breath and embarking on a new-swimsuit shopping foray, you might try memorizing this little rule:

No matter how pretty the bathing suit, if it doesn't fit -- don't buy it.

Yet finding a swimsuit that's fashionable and fits is especially tough for the baby-boom generation -- women who are just starting to notice the unflattering effects of childbirth, overeating and under-exercising. It's a generation of women who aren't used to feeling flabby -- but aren't ready to give up fashion, either.

Finally, swimsuit manufacturers are getting the message: They're putting a little muscle into suits to help camouflage figure flaws.

Combine that welcome development with a few rules about how various swimsuit styles and features can flatter your individual body type . . . and you're on your way to a quick cure for beach panic.

Sound too good to be true? It's not, because today's swimsuits, combined with the right fit, are designed to cover a multitude of sins.

Rule No. 1: Look for a suit that enhances your figure. An example: a too-ample abdomen. The solution?

"Lycra for tummy control -- it's made like control panty hose with support in the stomach," says J J Steiner, marketing and merchandizing director for the Rose Marie Reid, Esther Williams and Bill Blass swimwear collections. "And most women need the support of a built-in bra."

Rule No. 2: Camouflage figure imperfections and accentuate the better parts.

"As women age, gravity sets in," notes Los Angeles-based Mary Beth Sales, designer for Cole of California's "Sandcastle" line of swimwear. "But generally, women maintain a nice bust line. So pick a swimsuit that camouflages the tummy and hip, and focuses on the bust. Choose something with brighter colors and prints, even a border print at the bust that draws the eye."

Rule No. 3: Know your body measurements before you shop for a swimsuit. "Fit is the key to a good suit, but there is a lot of inconsistency in sizing between manufacturers," points out Dana Peppin, quality assurance manager for swimwear at Lands' End. "Have a good understanding of your body measurements, especially the torso -- nothing else matters as much. If the torso isn't right, the suit will be baggy or cut the shoulders or rise area."

Here's how it's done (you'll need some help): Take a soft tape measure and run it from your shoulder/neck intersection down the body, through the legs and back up. The result, in inches, is your torso measurement.

Warning: Don't assume that if you're tall, your torso is long. "There's no relation between a woman's height and her torso measurement," warns the expert for the Wisconsin-based mail-order firm.

Besides fit, careful attention to design features such as skirts, colors, prints, a belted waist and boy-cut legs can disguise many figure flaws.

"A skirted suit is helpful in some situations," says Ms. Peppin. "It breaks up the line of the suit. Diagonal designs are good, too, because it gives a fullness at the top which balances out the bottom. And black has a slimming effect."

Another solution is a tap-short suit. "It's a fuller two-piece that comes to the waist, has loose legs and a full lining," says Cole's Ms. Sales, who designs suits aimed at the 35-and-older market. "It makes thelegs look thinner and hips trimmer."

In another recent marketing development, choice of size for tops and bottoms offers hope to women who despair of finding a suit they're willing to wear outside a fitting room.

"Many women are different sizes on the top and bottom," Ms. Peppin points out. "Separates gives a chance to fit both parts overall, but the selection often is not the best. And not everyone feels comfortable wearing a two-piece suit."

Bust problems, the experts say, tend to run two ways: too large or too small. "Ruffles are good for flat-chested ladies -- they enhance the bust line," says the Dallas-based Ms. Steiner. "And the surplice suit, which wraps across the bust, is flattering for the larger-busted woman."

Cleavage deprivation can be helped by underwire construction -- the push-up action accentuates the bust. "It's an important feature that's very hot right now," Ms. Steiner notes.

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