NEW YORK — Good swimwear is hard to find at any time of year, but the prospect of stripping down under fluorescent lighting with a winter pallor to hunt for a vacation bikini can be downright terrifying.
Still, if your old reliable bikini has developed a fuzz-ridden finish and a saggy seat, and you’re not sure you want to spend $200 on a tiny piece of fabric anyway (the smaller the bikini, the more it costs), you may have to brace yourself for a search.
Men have issues with bathing suits too — either they’re obscenely small, or goofy and too big.
Here is my strategy for where to go and who to turn to in your quest to be beach-ready for winter vacations.
Here’s a trick — the American Apparel black and white striped underwear and bandeau bra doubles as a great bikini. Being a forgetful packer, I've bought this set in several cities around the world, and it's the bikini I get the most compliments on. It's super chic, super flattering, and the price is a dream at $28 (the top is $15, the bottom $13).
Braced to spend a bit more? The good news is that this is the time of year that bathing suit designers' resort collections are in stores — and Resort is now an even bigger category than Summer. If you shop for bathing suits December through June, you will find the best selection, as well as sales, on last season's bathing suits.
Skip the department stores, and head to the boutiques — Pesca and Linda's. Each represents a different philosophy on bathing suit selections, but they each have the expertise and variety you won't find anywhere else in the city.
Iranian-born Shahlla Azizian opened Pesca swimwear boutique on East 60th Street in 1979, and now her daughter Teresa has opened Pesca Trend around the corner on Second Avenue. If you're after a bathing suit that's fun and one that not everyone will have, pay a visit to these neighboring stores. The suits here generally range from $100 to $300, but some can be had for less.
Chio Di Stafania D, an Italian label, won my heart, and so did Agua Bendita's Columbian neon tribal numbers. For one piece suits, which are making a comeback, I loved Zeki, a Turkish brand. And I couldn't decide between sexy Brazilian Salinas or Australian Zimmerman's bust-enhancing florals. They also have TKEES sandals for $48 as well as Melissa Obadash's perfect hats — both Panama-style and wide-brim. In the world's biggest beach cultures, the bathing suit is not considered athletic gear; it's there to decorate your body — the smaller the suit, the better you'll look.
Embrace Your Inner Pin-Up
If you want the perfect cup-sized fit, it’s at Linda’s on Third Avenue in Murray Hill. You may actually have to swim in your bathing suit, and it would be nice to have it stay put. Make an appointment for a fitting at Linda’s, which specializes in cup-size swimwear. Most of us, busty or small-chested, aren't wearing the right size. I was told that I am not a 34B as I’ve always thought, but a 30C — it felt like a promotion.
Linda Becker, also known as "Linda the Bra Lady," carries more than 275 sizes in her attractive and comfortable boutiques (she has one on the Upper East Side as well.) Most of the lingerie and bathing suit stock is in the back, and they pull pieces for you. I was prepared to sacrifice style for functionality, only to be awed by the super high-fashion styles by Lenny, another Brazilian bathing suit maker. I also loved the adorable retro pin-up looks by the Australian label Sea Folly. Embrace your bosom, and go to Linda's.
Just for Men
It's pure comedy to watch rich men bumble around the beach in their infantile Vilebrequin suits at $240 a pop, (the colorful-patterned Vilebrequin shorts are the accepted uniform of bankers and wannabe bankers), but loud print Hawaii-styled trunks are better left to the children.
So I was overjoyed when I found The Makaha Drowner swim shorts at Pilgrim Surf + Supply in Williamsburg. Their two-ply 100 percent cotton twill is cut from the same pattern that made M.Nii's surf trunk in the '50s (the pockets are sewed up so no sand gets in.) They are beautiful — cut mid-thigh, and lovingly detailed. For a longer legged but neat-looking boardshort, Saturday Surf has nice basics. And their Colin Boardshort is on sale for $39.
I love the nostalgic pin-up looks, but what about a little skin? It’s a bikini after all. I'm also eager for a designer to create something as game-changing as Rudi Gernreich's topless bikini was in 1964. Ipek Irgit, a Turkish beauty and globetrotter, gave me a peek at the prototypes for her soon-to-be released swimwear line, which combines neoprene fabrics with crochet in Brazilian brights. They are inventive and sexy, and should be ready for the summer.