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(Claudia Grassl for The Globe and Mail)
(Claudia Grassl for The Globe and Mail)

Subtle and sophisticated: The best swimwear for summer Add to ...

After a few too many seasons of swimwear dominated by fussy fringe and other forms of frippery, utilitarian suits are making a surprisingly stylish comeback.

“A swimsuit should make a woman look whole, not like she’s in bits and bobs,” says New York-based designer Maria Cornejo, who launched a swimwear line under her Zero + Maria Cornejo ready-to-wear label in 2010 and whose subtle, well-cut maillots this season make a strong case against looking like a Vegas showgirl when poolside.

“The way [swimwear] performs and the way it fits are gaining prominence,” says Nivara Xaykao, the intimates and swimwear editor at Stylesight, a trend-forecasting company also based in New York. “Now, even fashion-driven suits are more sporty than anything, so you get performance along with a really chic look.”

Xaykao points to minimalism on the recent runways of Raf Simons at Dior, Jil Sander and Narciso Rodriguez as a source of inspiration for pared-down maillots, and a strong sign of fashion’s return to basics.

“I’ve always been attracted to the look of women wearing the simplest thing possible,” says Grace Carroll, the Toronto-based style blogger behind GracieCarroll.com. “Black sunglasses and a black bathing suit – that’s an understated sexiness. Alternatively, I don’t think it’s attractive to look like a porn star when you’re already half-naked.”

While the season’s best swimwear is certainly understated, it’s far from matronly. Of the subdued one-piece suits that have recently become popular among her clientele, Sagit Vyner, a personal shopper at Holt Renfrew in Toronto, says, “The way they’re cut low in the back, or in the front with a plunging neckline, [is] very modern, sexy and not at all conservative.” Even her shoppers are surprised by the effect: “They’ll say, ‘Oh – I thought I would look like my mother!’ ”

Sandra Zovko, a personal shopper at Topshop in Vancouver, is noticing a similar shift. “A lot of my clients are buying onepieces now or sophisticated, retro-inspired suits. [A suit with] high-waisted bottoms was one of our best trend pieces. It sold out in a matter of days,” she says.

In addition to being a popular choice for sunning or swimming, a restrained suit can also be used as a versatile layering piece. “You can wear a bandeau as a top,” Cornejo says, adding, “When it comes to swimwear, people are no longer looking for a one-trick pony.”

Whether worn on land or in the water, however, a simple suit requires confidence. According to Xaykao, shedding the fussy, distracting design elements of previous seasons’ swimwear ultimately brings the body into focus: “It becomes all about how the woman carries herself, more than anything else.”

How to pick a fetching (and high-functioning) suit

  • Reconsider the tankini. Recent updates have rendered this formerly stodgy two-piece style both sexy and versatile. A top that hits a few inches below the bust line feels the freshest (and can double as a crop top with a high-rise skirt on land).
  • Pick a part. Choose one body feature you’d like to highlight and find a style that’s cut accordingly. A suit with a high-cut thigh, for instance, will show off long legs, while a scooped back draws attention to strong shoulders.
  • Try a retro fit. A high-waisted bikini bottom offers excellent coverage, yet, as one client told Topshop’s Zovko, “It makes you feel like Sophia Loren on the Mediterranean.”
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