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Bikini season arrives

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

Forget the pear-vs.-apple and curvy-vs.-curveless shape charts for a minute. There's another divide in the two-piece swimwear discussion: What if you actually have to get up and move around instead of lying on the chaise with a cool drink in hand?

The runway swimsuits and magazine-shoot bikinis, with their thin straps, triangle bottoms, decorative hardware and high ratio of white fabrics, make for great photos -- especially on the glamazon models.

But some other women, perhaps those who trudge across the sand carrying a beach chair or who use swimming as a form of fitness, like two-piece suits, too.

Designer Nanette Lepore, a bikini wearer and lap swimmer, says she personally tests all the swimsuit styles in her collection. "I'm aiming for across- the-board fit. That means higher bottoms and built-up tops. My friends ask, 'How did most bottoms get so skimpy, anyway?'"

But just because you don't want a string bikini doesn't limit you to dowdy, Lepore says. "I think cute, retro styling keeps them sexy."

No one is calling a Katy Perry-type or even a Dita Von Teese look-a-like, with pinup looks that evoke old Hollywood swimsuit glamour in a flirty, high-waist skirt bottom, of being frumpy or boring, says Amy Tara Koch, a Chicago-based style expert.

It's a win-win, she says, because it's a feminine look with little chance of a wardrobe malfunction.

"To me, Swimwear 101 is about the four Cs: compression, cover-ups, construction and quality -- OK, that's a Q but it makes the C sound," says Koch.

She adds, "You need to think about how it looks and performance. ... There definitely is a middle of the road."

Modern swimsuit manufacturers have innovative fabrics at their disposal that offer softness, control and color that lasts even after many cycles in the sun, sand and pool, according to Koch. She also notes that many of the lingerie brands that specialize in shapewear, such as Spanx, now make swimsuits.

Koch, Lepore and Kay-Lin Richardson, director of sales at Panache Swimwear, all emphasize fit over any other factor in choosing a swimsuit, especially a two-piece. It's important in a one-piece, too, but there's usually more leeway, they say.

(They all also say white is a risky color choice for anyone who gets wet -- no matter the fabric or lining.)

How many women do you know who are different sizes on the bottom and top? asks Richardson. Probably most of them.

Panache makes its bathing suits based on bra sizes. "The idea is a properly fitted top -- more of a custom fit," Richardson explains. "If you're chasing after kids, you don't have to feel self-conscious about a possible spill."

When you're trying a swimsuit on in the dressing room, be sure to move around, she suggests. And for any mother picking up kids or who carries a lot of gear, Koch, author of the maternity style guide "Bump It Up," recommends closures that tie, not hook. A one-strap halter is probably the most secure, she says.

AOn the bottom, Koch says that higher-cut leg openings will create the illusion of longer legs, but boy shorts cut off most people in an unflattering way.