How to buy a swimsuit -- even online

How to buy a swimsuit -- even online
Models and designer Kirsten Sarkisian show some of the many options for swimwear at Belusso fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim 2015 in Miami. (Alexander Tamargo / Getty Images for Belusso)

It’s the middle of summer -- do you know where your bathing suit is -- the one you promised to buy before Memorial Day?

Or are you looking ahead to the styles shown for 2015 at the recently completed Miami Swim Week with a sense of dread? (See the accompanying photo gallery for a hint of what's to come.)

Almost every woman -- even the well-toned and the affluent -- feels a certain reluctance to shop for a garment that will show the world what she's got -- and what might be lacking. The department-store-dressing-room experience is off-putting to many of us who turn instead to the seemingly infinite number of websites that offer swimwear. But anonymity is no guarantee of a good look or flattering fit, so we queried a few experts for tips on how and what to buy online.

There are some general rules, of course. Women who aren’t well endowed are often advised to look for a top with embellishments (think ruffles). Got broad shoulders? Think about an asymmetrical neckline. Is your body athletic? Although many of us wouldn’t find this to be a problem, women with muscular  bodies are sometimes advised  to focus on “feminine details.” And for those of us with a few extra pounds, there’s ruching or stretchy fabric such as spandex . Even Spanx has entered the swimsuit fray.

Here's one other helpful hint: many websites have virtual stylists; a few even offer a real human being to chat on the phone about style and sizing.

"Being online should be fun," says Meg Cuna, style expert for ShopStyle and style director for Popsugar Fashion. "You aren't pressured in a dressing room by someone else. [You can] order several sizes online and try them on at home." Her specifics?

Women with hour-glass figures might look at a halter-style with a balconette bra. "Stay away from dainty tiny string bikinis. They are not doing anything for you," Cuna says.

"If you are veering more into pear shape, I would do some strategic highlighting," Cuna says. "Bring the focus up with a halter top or some sort of embellishment. Bring attention to cleavage. I would avoid drawing attention to your lower half with a bright color or bright print. A solid color with a printed top is a great option."

Women who are "apple-shaped" need to "think support, think structure… [they need to] create visual separation between the chest and the stomach."

As for brands, Cuna has high praise for J. Crew, Lisa Marie Fernandez, Mikoh, Zimmerman, Vix, Vitamin A, Eres, Araks, Miraclesuit and LaBlanca.

Sarah Dubbeldam, editor in chief of Darling Magazine, which uses "models of all shapes and sizes" and eschews retouching and photoshopping, focuses on body types as well. "Most of us are insecure about our bodies due to photoshopped images of woman," she says.  But swimsuit shopping requires "real acceptance of your body type. … It's about accentuating your strong points."

Dubbeldam urges those with hourglass figures to try to "balance your top half and bottom half." She adds, "The thing with curves is to have a halter top or have a swimsuit with the silhouette of a bra."

"The second body type is the triangle," Dubbeldam continues. "You need to look for suits that are sold as separates. It's important to have a solid color on the bottom and maybe a pattern on top. .. Smaller tops or bandeaus look great on people with smaller chests."

Women with "inverted triangle" shapes "are genuinely more busty, so having more support on top, a bra-type of swimsuit with underwire and lots of fabric to cover" is recommended. "Emphasize the bottom with a pattern and use a solid on top."

Those of us who are shaped like a "straight rectangle" should consider a one piece swimsuit. "You can even belt the waist to create more of a curve there."

"We've been so brainwashed by images in the media being so narrow when it comes to beauty," Dubbeldam says. But "we don't look like that.  We have to realize that [this image] is something that has been presented to us. "Women need to tell themselves, 'I'm beautiful because of the things I've been through.'"

So after all this advice what might a shopper expect when shopping online and buying, say, a Badgley Mischka shirred maillot in cocoa? Does the ruching slenderize the waistline? A bit. Do the broad straps create the illusion of broader shoulders? Absolutely. Might this shirred maillot  make our thighs look thinner? Only in our dreams.