If you’re hoping to make a splash poolside this season, try a one-piece bathing suit.
It’s a dose of retro style that falls in line with the overall fashion of more modest looks. More is more, with an emphasis on chic cover-ups, flattering Lycra-enhanced fabrics and goddess-like silhouettes.
“I’m feeling that one-pieces are a lot sexier than the two-pieces,” says Suze Yalof Schwartz, fashion editor at large at Glamour. One of her favorite swimsuits is a Norma Kamali draped maillot that could almost be described as a skirt suit with a deep plunging neckline. She had it photographed for the magazine.
“It’s chic, sexy and modern,” Yalof Schwartz says. “It allows for a little imagination.”
Designer Carmen Marc Valvo says the more conservative approach to swimwear could be a reaction to the times: there’s a war, economic downturn and a general malaise—if not depression—in the air. But, he adds with a laugh, there’s nothing like a beautiful, glamorous woman in a swimsuit to take your mind off your woes.
“This is a stunning suit,” says Valvo, highlighting a strapless one-piece with a minidress effect that goes over a model’s hips. “It’s kind of Marilyn if you think about it in ‘Some Like It Hot’—the white ruched dress. Here we have it in coral.”
Shoshanna Lonstein Gruss agrees the taste for tiny bikinis has waned somewhat.
“We’re definitely doing more one-pieces now—a few years ago no one wanted them,” says the designer. “Ever since I had my baby, I’ve started wearing one-pieces and I had never really worn one before. But once you’re moving around much more, you want to keep your parts all tucked in. I think they’re supportive and sexy, and there are a lot of pretty options.”
Siren-style corsets play into the retro look, adding to the allure. Gruss also sees the parallel between the not-so-bare swimsuits and the high-neck blouses and high-waist pants in ready-to-wear.
“You’re not seeing the low, low, low pants. Even the girls who you’d say are walking around naked aren’t wearing them. I think it’s how fashion is moving: It’s more about the detail and the trim and less about the skin,” she says.
At Victoria’s Secret, the message isn’t as much about modesty as it is about the feminine vibe that comes from an old-school Hollywood pinup girl, says Daniela Manfredi, senior vice president of fashion and design at Victoria’s Secret Direct.
Boy shorts and underwire tops are trends right now, she says, as are hardware, neutral colors, twists and knots.
Victoria’s Secret is carrying more one-piece suits than in years past, although she notes the popularity of what she calls a “monokini”—a suit that’s technically a one-piece, but looks more like a revealing bikini with a bit of fabric connecting top and bottom.
“You need different kinds of suits in your wardrobe, one that’s good for playing with kids, one for the weekend away with your husband, and then there are the occasion suits,” Manfredi says. “Versatility is what’s on the top of the mind of the customer right now.”
Designer Melissa Odabash says one-piece bathing suits with cutaways can give many women what they’re looking for. If you want to hide your tummy, choose a bandeau with an open back—it looks like a bikini from the back but gives full coverage in the front. For those who need bust support but have toned abs, an option is a halter-style top with cutouts below the bust.
“A halter shows off shoulders, gives a little lift to the bust but doesn’t flatten you out in the way that tank straps do,” she says.
Ruching also can be a woman’s best friend thanks to the camouflage it can provide to any bumps and bulges, Odabash explains, and a little bit of a tan (get it from a bottle, though!) helps mask any skin imperfections.
If a bathing suit has Lycra in it, that’s even better, says Glamour’s Yalof Schwartz. “A lot of the swimsuits have such a high Lycra content that they slim you down, too—that makes the case for having more of it on a one-piece.”
Odabash, though, discourages any dowdy one-piece suits with oversized neon-colored floral prints. It’s more flattering to wear something chic, she says: perhaps a metallic or animal-print, or something simple in brown, black or white.
As a Brit, Odabash observes that the American audience tends to be more conservative and practical than those across the pond. Europeans put on a fashion show when they hit the beach—and rarely dip their toe into the water, she says, while Americans want an easy suit-and-cover-up combination that will hold up for an entire day.
“If you’re doing other things than just laying on the beach, you want a covered-up suit and thicker fabric cover-up, and it’s a flip-flop, not a high heel,” Odabash says.