Time to dive in and take the plunge ... into the deep waters of swimwear fashion. For some, it's a murky pool, but there are ways to tread through the shopping experience that most women dread no matter what their size. Here are some tips and trends to get you ready for the summer season ahead:
--First of all, you need to face the facts -- the body-shape facts. You don't have to wait until you get in front of a dressing-room mirror to figure this one out. If there is any sagging or drooping in your midsection, a string bikini is not for you. Opt for a one-piece instead.
--Get support. Speaking of sagging, you don't want to go there. Make sure you choose a suit that offers plenty of support, if you need it. There are plenty of swimsuits available that have slimming features and fabrics that will keep you cinched in and not expose any bare assets.
--Flatter your figure. Instead of dwelling on those figure flaws, look for suits with details that flatter your shape. There are great suits this summer that have asymmetrical straps that draw the attention up to the shoulders; ruching or gathers will also disguise problem areas. Skirted suits will provide coverage of heavy thighs. High-waisted bottoms --part of the retro Hollywood pin-up look this season -- are another way to flatter less-than-perfect stomachs.
--Size matters. Remember that just because you wear jeans in a size 8 doesn't mean that you will necessarily wear a size-8 swimsuit. Don't be afraid to take several sizes into the dressing room with you and choose the one that fits you best. Be prepared for a reality check: Swimsuits are usually a larger size than what you normally wear.
--Check out trends. If you've worn that black one-piece for the last 10 years, it's time to update! The hottest looks for this summer's swimwear are bold and bright. Color blocking is a big trend in ready-to-wear, so expect to see vivid colors hitting the beach, too.
--Look to the past. Retro-inspired swimwear is also making waves this summer. Think Hollywood starlets posing in their high-waisted swimwear, peplum skirts and halter-tops a la pin-up style.
--Celebrate red, white and blue. It's anchors away with nautical stripes and sailor style.
--Flaunt your flower power. Floral prints are another way to blossom in a new swimsuit this summer. All-over tropicals get graphic in bold colors that stand out at the beach. Animal prints are another way to make a wild statement at the shore this summer.
--Get active. Athletic-inspired suits are also diving into the trend pool just in time for the Olympics. These suits -- most in colorful brights - are perfect if you actually want to do some swimming!
--Mix and match. There are so many options available to mix and match and create a whole swim wardrobe with layers of tops and bottoms -- shorts, skirts, camis, cover-up tunics and sarongs. Yes, you can be ready to go from the beach to the cafe with a little planning and creativity. Life is a beach, dive in!
Sharon Mosley is a former fashion editor of the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock and executive director of the Fashion Editors and Reporters Association. To find out more about Sharon Mosley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.