It's that time again, when a yard of material counts as clothing and the less you wear the more you're in style.

Although the beaches open officially on Memorial Day weekend, there's something about the Fourth of July that brings even the hold-outs out. This year well-toned, tanned bodies were highly visible, but alongside the fit and trim were the not-so-tanned, not-so-slim.

And a splendid time was had by all.

The fitness boom has resulted in better bodies on the beach, and the bathing suits to show them off. But in or out of shape, beachgoers this summer seem more relaxed and less aware of their bodies.

The bikini is back, and skimpier than ever. And with more flesh visible, bathers are choosing to cover up by wearing more jewelry.

"I've noticed more bikinis in the stores than ever before, and more people are buying them," said bikini-clad Sheryl Brown of Miami, who wore white beads and dark shades.

Tatty Jackson of Vienna, Va., wore two gold chains and a sun visor with her scant fuchsia bikini. "I've always worn a bikini," said the 40-year-old mother who runs five miles a day. "More people are jogging, and I see better bodies on the beach."

Maillots are almost as bare as bikinis, with high-cut legs and low-cut backs. Options include abstract and floral patterns to basic black or white or bright solids, and added features such as snaps, ruffles, ties, zippers, buttons, and bones sewn in to keep them from riding up or slipping down.

In the shallow water, Colleen Logue tossed a four-foot diameter beach ball with friends. The Wilmington, Del., native wore a maillot by La Blanca with very high-cut legs.

"I have short legs and the cut makes them look longer. The suit is very comfy -- the bones in the fabric keep me from hanging out of the suit," said the 30-year-old lab tech for Dupont. "And besides, I'm too old for a bikini."

Although there are many men in good shape, the trend is not toward bikinis -- the most popular style is Hawaiian surfing shorts. Rob Mullen of Wilmington wears them because "they are comfortable and long enough to hide my skinny legs.

"I've had this pair for a couple of years," said Mullen, 20, of his faded purple Jams. His friend Bill Dolonzo, also 20, of Newark, Del., wore brand-new Off Shores.

Michelle DiFevo, 18, Jennifer Seipel, 17, and Tara Murphy, 18, sat at the water's edge in black tank suits and black sunglasses.

"We wear black to hide the fat," explained Seipel, who has none.

DiFevo's black lace tank suit was cut low on the sides and back, and she wore a white head wrap to keep the hair off her face. Seipel wore a tank textured with vertical ribs. Three bright yellow snaps unfastened at the neckline added color, and she sported a coordinating Swatch watch. Murphy's strapless suit had a white stripe that traveled diagonally across the front, and she wore a chain around her ankle.

No doubt to distract onlookers from her "flab."