Dreaming about a beach, palm trees and a paperback thriller? It's that time of year and it's possible. What with special travel packages, built-up flier miles, professional convention junkets, and even spring-break freebies at granny's Florida condo, beach time in winter is becoming a reality for many Americans.
For many women, however, that dream of a sunny spell is clouded by the nightmare of buying a bathing suit.
The Travel Industry Association of America figures a record number of us will be tripping this winter, says spokeswoman Shawn Flaherty, and she cites a figure of 134 million. In a decidedly unstatistical way, we figure many of those trips are all business, some are headed north, half are males and that narrows the figure. But that still leaves millions of women in need of a bathing suit now. Horrors.
Not to worry. The planets must be in alignment, because at no other time in recorded bathing suit history have fashion trends and reality converged.
The driving designer style this year is based on foundation garments, as in lift, nip, hold and hide. On designer runways that look was translated as corset-seamed suits and cocktail dresses. In swimwear it translates to clever engineering.
Foundations have become just as noteworthy as fashions with the Wonderbra, that push-you, mold-you bit of lace winning a Council of American Fashion Designers award for excellence.
It's all part of the retro influence, a lifting of ideas from the days when women were boosted and cinched.
"The excitement about figure enhancers in intimate apparel is carrying over into swimwear. In terms of the silhouette, there is much ado about the bosom, a carry-over from the excitement about cleavage enhancers," says Bill Foster, swimwear marketing strategist for Dupont."
In addition to structure, fibers today are also smarter and perform better than anything that was available in the past.
One of the essential ingredients in figure flattery is Lycra, a Dupont brand, or spandex as it is called generically.
"What makes Lycra the standard for the swimwear industry is that the stuff doesn't bag, it stretches and has a good memory and recovers its shape," says Mr. Foster. The old elastics lost their ability to bounce back, not a desirable quality for swimwear that goes wet and dry constantly.
Combined with other fibers, with nylon being the dominant swimwear fabric, today's suits are chemically engineered to work for the wearer.
The baby boomers account for the boom in the intimate apparel market, and they want the same performance out of their bathing suits. They have discovered that some bulges are inevitable. What they want now is illusion and help and there is a run on garments that offer spot shaping in the way of tummy control, backside lifting, waist cinching and thigh taming.
"There is a growth in the number of suits with a higher Lycra and control content, not across the board, but it's happening," says Mr. Foster. There are the Miraclesuit, the Slimsuit and newer lines that factor in figure enhancers that push and mold.
Shape Insurance by Jantzen, the Slender Suit from Land's End and models throughout the industry are holding the bathing suit shopper's hand while they hold in their tummys with power panels, lift the bosom with underwire, lift the derriere.
Curiously, while mature misses are looking to disguise figure enhancers in their bathing suits, the designer and junior scene is parading underwear details for all to see.
All part of that retro thinking again. The firm bodies who don't need them are excited about tummy panels, satin support and lingerie trim.
For summer delivery, Sunset Beach, the junior line from Cole of California and corporate kin of Warnaco, makers of Warners and Olga lingerie, is making suits that look like granny's built-up bras and panty girdles.
Sunset Beach designer Laurie Allyn was given the task of making use of leftover fabrics and trims from the lingerie manufacturer. What happened was swimwear made from girdle mesh, stretch lace and satin, hooks, eyes, boning and zig-zag stitching. All in bright and pastel tint.
Cross our hearts, it looks just like old underwear, and the youngsters will probably be giving it a lot of play, but there are options.
At Water, Water Everywhere, buyer and district manager Melissa Clark says there is a move to more coverage. "Now that most women are no longer concerned with getting that all-over perfect tan, more unusual cuts are showing up," she says. Some one-piece designs are built up almost to the collar bone. Another cover-up twist is the crop top over the tiniest bikini bottom. Go figure. It's last summer's shrunken T-top shrunk even more into swimwear.
The strongest sellers, according to Ms. Clark, are retro and structured.
"The pushed-up look is everywhere, and underwires are meant to show in bra tops and one-piece versions. Suit makers are building boom bras and supplying power pads," she says. Good news for women who are small at the top.
Then there are always the dream-body styles. Last year it was the "training thong," which was a bit of cord with a ruffle attached. This year it is the "illusion thong," a bit of cord with a see-through crochet skirt.
Bring on that spandex tank.