Baby boomers' swimsuits shaping up to make better fits

May 30, 1993|By Robin Updike | Robin Updike,Seattle Times

A promotional brochure from A & H Sportswear, the New York manufacturer of Miraclesuit, cuts to the meat of the matter: "Look 10 pounds lighter in 10 seconds, the 10 seconds it takes to slip it on. It will shape and firm your body so you look slimmer and feel better -- no more jiggle when you walk."

Made of a Lycra spandex that has "triple the holding power" of the average swimsuit fabric, the company, which began selling Miraclesuits only since last year, says the suits are "designed to shape and firm your waist, hips, thighs and buttocks."

"There's a need for these suits among baby boomers," said Sharon Zambrelli, company spokeswoman. "Even if you work out, things shift over time no matter what. Maybe you've had a baby or two, you never quite look the same. These suits hold you in and up."

While numerous starlets would have had flat television and movie careers without jiggle, it seems that anatomical wobble is less desirable on women over 40. Or maybe 35. Though they once burned their bras and pledged to let it all hang out, boomer women now want to tuck in it, hold it up, and -- if all else fails -- cover it. Still, they flinch at the thought of the modest, matronly suits with skirts and gathered tops that their mothers wore in the '40s and '50s. Says Ms. Zambrelli: "None of us wants to look grandmotherly."

Swimsuit companies have responded by designing suits with stylistic tricks, such as color contrasts that create the illusion of an hourglass shape. Others are pushing technological innovations, such as girdle-like fabrics that companies say offer "control." Built-in bras, which were banished or minimized in the hang-loose swimsuits of the '60s and '70s, are back with some companies offering five or six styles ranging from lightweight stretch, cupless bras to bras with strategic underwiring and layers of supportive "shaping."

Anorexic waifs may be in on the runways of Paris and New York, but retailers who expect to sell swimsuits understand that the majority of real women are getting older, which generally means rounder: "I just have so many customers now who are looking for D cups," says Susan Taller, manager of Sylvia's Swim Shop in Bellevue. "Now, luckily, the manufacturers are making younger-looking suits that still do a lot of minimizing. And just about every brand offers some kind of tummy control."

Perhaps the most telling sign of the generational battle of the bulge is that swimsuits contain more fabric than they did 20 years ago. While a smart cutter can squeeze perhaps a half-dozen teensy weensy bikinis out of a yard of fabric, some manufacturers now advertise that their suits contain more fabric than the competition's.

Land's End, the Wisconsin mail-order company, dived into women's swimsuits with a big splash five years ago by introducing its "Kindest Cuts" styles. In promotional material the company says that "a tad extra fabric through the bust and seat provides sensible coverage that eliminates the need to tug and pull." Land's End refers to some of its suits as "tugless tanks."

It also has turned suit selection into a science, with charts and diagrams inside each catalog advising women how to measure themselves and find their correct size. In doing so, the company seems to have stumbled across an obvious truth that has given them a leg up on the competition: Most women rate trying on swimsuits in store dressing rooms about on par with root canals. Many, however, apparently don't mind giving their measurements over the phone to strangers.

"I used to be a sales operator and I found that most of our customers are very happy to tell us all sorts of intimate information over the phone," said Michele Casper, Land's End spokeswoman. "We do need their measurements, and once we figure that out they usually know exactly which suit they want."

To help the sales staff gear up for the summer rush of swimwear ordering, Land's End gives its entire sales staff, including the men, eight hours of training each spring in how to tactfully guide customers they can't see to

the correct size and style.

Still, the bare fact is that swimsuits offer little camouflage. Even manufacturers such as Robby Lens, a company that has long specialized in flattering suits for middle-aged women, can't work miracles. In promotional material, the company suggests, among other advice for figure flaws, that pear-shaped women try "a suit with a detailed or constructed top to distract attention from hips and thighs."

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