Age-Wise Style: The Secret to Selecting Swimwear

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InStyle's Fashion Director Cindy Weber Cleary has been a fashion editor for the past 20+ years. Needless to say, she's picked up some tricks along the way. Catch her column here each week for how-to tips and style secrets on her favorite, timeless styles.

Early in my career, I was the swimwear editor for a popular magazine. For our photo shoots, I looked for the most fashion-forward, daring styles and even worked with designers to have things made especially for our pages. At that time, I was in my 20s and favored a classic triangle bikini for myself.

Having spent countless hours watching women of all ages, shapes, and sizes try on bathing suits in search of the perfect one, I developed strong opinions and I realized that most women dread shopping for a swimsuit. I covered the market so thoroughly that I couldn't go to the beach or pool without unconsciously identifying the suits that all the women were wearing and coming up with what would have been better choices in my mind.

As I got older and had children, I continued to wear a bikini while I could, but chose more modest styles with a bit more coverage and support. Then there came a time in my mid 40s when I realized bikinis were a thing of my past but I could still wear a two-piece with a high-waisted brief or a one-piece with a deep halter neck or low-back.

Around this time, I started noticing that many of my peers were gravitating towards frumpy tankinis, skirted suits, or "figure-enhancers" with obvious control panels that sucked them in so much that flesh oozed out at the armhole and leg. Your choice of a swimsuit can age you as fast as "mom jeans."

You can't talk about dressing your age and swimwear without touching on body types. I have often observed that trying to hide perceived figure flaws with more fabric isn't the best strategy. If you have ample thighs, the worst thing you can do is put on a skirted suit or boy-short style to hide them. Guess what? We know they're there and no one is paying as much attention as you think they are. So embrace them like you do your laugh lines and go for a one-piece with a slightly higher cut, like the red Eres suit pictured below ($490;, which will give the illusion of longer, slimmer legs.


The same goes if you are plus-sized. Covering everything up just calls more attention and you'll look old-fashioned. Lands' End has some attractive 1-pieces, like the style pictured below ($159; and high-waisted 2-pieces in sizes up to 26W. They also have hard-to-find sizes such as Tall, Petite, and Petite Plus-size.


If you have a tummy, which is likely if you are over 50 (Sorry! It just happens!), look for suits with built-in control panels that don't show on the outside of the suit or styles with subtle draping across the midriff.

Last fit tip: By all means find a suit with the right bust support. Droopy breasts will definitely add years to your look. Many companies make bra-sized style—adjustable straps, under wire or shelf-bras, halters are details to look for.

And a too youthful suit can make you look ridiculous no matter how fit your body is. So here is my very biased advise about swimsuits for women of a certain age.


Say "yes" to: ColorsSophisticated neutrals and saturated brights. Prints and PatternsGeometrics, stripes, pindots, stylized florals, color-blocking, ombre, paisley. DetailsFull rear coverage, contrast trim, ruching, mesh "illusion" insets. Coverups – Crisp cotton or linen shirts and tunics, sarongs, flowy beach pants, long dresses.

Say "no" to: Colors – Neons, baby pastels, stark white, shiney metallic. Prints – Psychedelic patterns, Jungle florals and splashy animals, sweet florals such as rosebuds. Details – Thongs, revealing cut-outs, push-up bras, fringe, jewels and sparkles. Coverups – Anything shredded, matching coverups with your suit, board shorts, crochet.

Last word: Avoid tankinis at all costs. I don't know why, but they just make you look dowdy. If you raise your arms or bend over, your stomach will show so what's the point? It is much chicer to wear a one-piece. And it's worth investing money for a beautiful suit. It may be counter intuitive to spend a lot on something so small, but if it really delivers in making you feel and look your best, it's worth every penny!

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