The itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny bikini is keeping its place in backs of closets and bottoms of drawers this summer season as the 1950s Hollywood glamor becomes the style investment. The full-coverage, high-waisted, "sturdier" bathing suit is a must have as this year’s top beach look. It democratizes beauty, looking chic and flirty on any body type or any woman.
The flattering fifties silhouette encompasses high-waisted bottoms, skirted-briefs or halter neck types, or as one-pieces, which are great to accentuate the length of legs. Body types that are heavy about the waist and thighs should go with simpler styles, rather than giddy frills or lace, while those who are shorter should co with high-leg cut styles.
This season, designs are mad for fifties inspired designs, such as classical polka-dots or gingham prints in reds, blacks or whites. Ruffles, frills and fringes in subtle touches are coquettish and add to the feminine hour-glass form the bathing suits emphasize.
But the style is wide-ranging: from simply cut and demure, to single block bold colors, or delicate prints. The Marilyn Monroe look is catching eyes and starting trends because gone are the days when women felt the need to look sexy in something skimpy. Women today are sexy; and they are savvy, too. They are jet-setting, company-owning, ambitious and fearless. Why attract with skin, when smarts are just as alluring? The figure of the fifties-style bathing suit is a stunning and powerful statement, while the prints, the details, the embellishments (and of course, a smile), add only charm.
The retro look may be a throw-back to your mother or grandmother’s beach bunny days, but this season’s twists and turns on the style have it completely updated for the modern-day Gidget. All she needs is a set of pearls around her neck and a bottle of sunscreen.
Students in fashion design schools around the Boston area are already ahead of everyone else in catching onto this trend. From MassArt, come three graduating seniors: Janet Khuu, Alex Palmisanoa, and Rain Delisle.
Janet Khuu describes the fifties-style bathing suits as "cute, fun, form-fitting." She constructed the bathing suit over a series of days, taking inspirations from Lolita. The red and lime-green apple-print dress is a lower-cut leg one-piece, with frills at the bottom, a large bow tied across the front. She was attracted to the close-fitting and full-coverage style because of her own personal philosophy of mixing and matching.
Currently at MassArt, the future for Khuu is unclear, "but I don want to sell my designs and someday own my own boutique," she said. Her muses include anime, Asian and British-punk fashions from designers like Anne Sui, h.Naoto, Vivienee Westwood, and Rei Kawakubo (who she would someday like to work with).
In her own designs, Khuu utilizes a lot of cottons, wools, and lace, again, mixing and matching and just having "fun with it."
Her answer to how she finds the fashion industry? "Busy, but not as bad as people make it to be."
Alex Palmisanoa tends to like the more retro-looking. Her favorite models include celebrities like Gwen Stefani or Marilyn Monroe types who have the classic blonde bombshell beauty. So the Hollywood glamour look which is hitting the beaches this summer was a perfect match for this designer’s style.
"The shapes and colors are really cute and just a lot of fun," Palmisanoa described the current trend. "It can be a flattering look for a lot of women, as a lot of us are on the curvy side. I also think that women like to bring a little fantasy into their lives."
The bathing suit is a red and black one-piece with leopard print accents (a print which is popular this season, especially over in Europe). "I thought the colors and the leopard pattern would be great for a more vixen-looking pin up," the designer said.
The bathing suit took two to three weeks of construction. Lining up the color-blocking became a challenge for Palmisanoa because "the smallest mistake could really interfere with its symmetry." The bust area also took the most construction as Palmisanoa tried to place where the bra cups would lie and how to shape the neckline correctly.
In her usual fashion designs, Palmisanoa is attracted to denim and wools because of their versatility, drawing much of her inspiration from fine art and historical costumes. She has interned in several Boston-area costume shops, including the Boston Ballet, CostumeWorks, Inc., Plimoth Plantation, as well as working as an assistant for the production of Voyeurs de Venus at the BCA, TJX, and Elie Tahari in New York.
"It’s titled When I was your ageâ€¦" designer Rain Delisle said, describing her 50s-inspired bathing suit, "Because I want it to feel like a memory from the past by a woman who still lives today, but is made for a modern woman."
The wine and gold lycra suit has a detachable skirt "which makes it feel a little more modern," and is worn with a hand-dyed, vintage lace cover-up.
The piece took a week of construction: from original design to fabric shopping to finished product. It was inspired by fifties nostalgia, but also of the retrospective of women then and where they are now. The pin-up style initially got Delisle interested in fashion when she was younger. "The pin-up woman is fearless and totally comfortable with herself. She expresses herself through fashion," the designer said, "and isn’t that the kind of woman any designer would want to dress?"
The style is coming back, because in Delisle’s opinion, it has a sense of playfulness and humor that has been lacking in the fashion industry lately. The retro-style bathing suit uses a variety of rusching, paneling, and longer lines with lower-cut legs to be universally flattering. It’s an easy adoptable look to fit as a key in any wardrobe.
In her own fashions, Delisle is attracted to voluminous shapes, curved lines, asymmetrical closures, pattern-mixing, and brass hardware. She’s attracted to fabrics like thin wale corduroy and playing with the directions of stripes, plaids and cotton velveteen. Denims and twills make for heavier-weight fabrics, but Delisle also likes to use leather if it is recycled from another garment.
She draws from muses like photographs of bands and women from the sixties and seventies. "Everyone had such a definite sense of personal style then," the designer noted, especially in menswear.
Reconstruction and recycling is also motivates the designer, who likes to take new twists on vintage-inspired ideas. "I like to take something old and irrelevant and change it to make it new and relevant again. I think that’s an important factor in design today."
Fashion and music are huge to Delisle, who loves designers like Postlapsaria, Stormcloud brings Rainbows and I’m Your Present (who do handmade and recycled/upcylced pieces), Walter Van Beirendonk, Christian Joy and musicians from the Gorillaz to Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head to the Velvet Underground.
She had interned with Christian Joy last summer in Brooklyn, making stage costumes for Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. "Seeing Karen performing on stage wearing what you worked on and saw in the process of being designed and handmade was the most indescribable and rewarding experience." The intern is what led her to be interested in independent fashion and one-of-the-kind, handmade clothing. She wants to combine her first two loves: music and fashion, together, dressing musicians and performers.
For Lasell College fashion designer, Sammi Yang, the fifties-cut bathing exudes elegance and class. As she mentioned, "delicate details are particularly what attracts when I’m designing." She typically uses chiffon and cotton fabric, fragile laces and beads, and classic, cute buttons.
Yang did not always think she would be a designer, although she always dreamed of doing something in the fashion industry. "I didn’t realize that I like designing and creating fashion until I set foot in Lasell."
Yang is originally from China and may go back when she graduates in four years. "Shanghai is said to be the most fashionable city in China. Most fashion brands are scoped out there."
To create the fifties-styled swimsuit, she created the pattern baised on the Maillot sloper. She spent only two days making the tailored black and white suit with gold button detail "because my schedule is really tight!"
She channeled inspiration from Vera Wang and the classic little black dress, as well as the fifties idea of detachable straps. "I think the fifties pin-up style is very sexy and classic style in my eyes." She envisioned, "the pin-up vintage girl in some caf© in a 1950’s movie," much in tune with icons like Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face or Jean-Luc Godard.
In Yang’s opinion, the bathing suit shape accentuates the body to show their curves in a more flattering light. More and more designers chose this style, Yang points out, because it fits the more natural and normal shapely body instead of an idealistically skinny one.
"Fashion is attitude and class," Yang said, "so I think the style will come back."