Thursday, June 19, 2008

That photo of Kate Hudson in the red ruffled bikini bottom, with her butt hanging out? So not what we're trying to do this summer. Never mind those highly Pilaticized Hollywood tushes sporting microscopic bikinis, snapped in the almost-altogether and plastered across

String bikinis are not the flavor fashionistas are serving up for summer '08.

(Insert audible sigh of relief here.)

Instead, think Betty Grable and Bettie Page, Marilyn Monroe and Esther Williams. Think Miranda, looking chic -- and covered -- when hanging out by the pool in "Sex and the City."

Think about how a little well-placed ruching can do a lot to disguise a Buddha belly.

This season's suits are taking their cues from days gone by, with the artful use of ruffles and draping, halters and silhouettes that cinch in the waist and pump up the bosom without exposing every nook and cranny. The effect, demonstrated here in a couple of one-piece jersey suits from Norma Kamali: Grown-up. Sophisticated. Seductive yet demure. Don't let the price tag on these particular items scare you; the retro suit can be found at all price points.

Since fashion, ultimately, is a reflection of our cultural zeitgeist -- the miniskirt is a symbol of economic optimism, etc., etc. -- what are we to make of this swimwear sobriety?

"People are looking for some kind of armor," says Kelly Killoren Bensimon, author of "The Bikini Book." "It's reminiscent of a different time, the '50s, a time when we thought we were secure and protected."

Sort of like Robert Downey Jr. donning that massive amount of metal in "Iron Man," ready to do battle with the evildoers. Take that, Stagflation!

Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, thinks we might be getting bored with exposing ever more flesh, summer after summer. "It's partly a pendulum swing," she says.

Then again, plain old pragmatism may be the impetus here. Big-name fashion houses like Bottega Veneta and Stella McCartney have gotten into the bathing suit act. If you've got to fork over big bucks for one of their swimsuits, it better consist of a little more than a couple of triangles and some string.

"Bikinis can be difficult to wear," Steele says. "There's a lot of glamour that goes with retro bathing suits -- as well as more camouflage."

Hear, hear.

-- Teresa Wiltz

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