Bathing suits that bare the body in different ways are the focus for summer. But bare backs, high-cut legs, low necklines or thin straps are not always comfortable for time spent out of the water.

These suits can all be softened with a flowing sarong tied at the hips. Wear the skirt instead of a T-shirt or shorts; it keeps a bathing suit a bathing suit and adds an unconventional, exotic touch -- and a bit of propriety.

Beyond practicality, this piece of fabric offers a chance to mix bright colors and patterns. Think of using two or more prints in colors that bounce off each other: purples and yellows or reds and greens work well. African kikoyes, beautifully bright multipurpose fabrics used by the Masai in Kenya, make great sarongs, as would any large cotton or silk scarf. Highlight those colors with a piece oabric for your hair -- it's a great way to make sense of the wild styles that emerge from the surf. CAPTION: Picture 1, Red silk floral print sarong with side pleats by Flora Kung, $96, at Claire Dratch; deep purple bikini with reversable aqua top, by Giorgio Sant' Angelo, $44, at Bloomingdale's. Picture 2, WHITE SUIT with high-cut legs and low back by Gaber, $38, at Bloomingdale's; coral sarong with painted floral print by Bobolocon, $55 at Champagne Ltd. RED TANK SUIT with thin straps by Anne Cole, $36, at Bloomingdale's; maroon sarong, $35, at the Craft Shop; kikoyes in many colors and prints at Nuevo Mundo and the Sun Gallery. Photographs by Ariel Skelly