In Top Form

The new focal point of swimwear has climbed from the high-cut leg and thong styles of previous seasons to the bust line.

For women who have a great top line, there are plenty of especially flattering suits. And for women who need a little extra help, there are suits with built-in enhancement.

There are two kinds of assistance: uplift and addition. Underwires help alleviate droop. And foam padding enhances size and shape. A few suits have both.

Such designs came out of necessity, says Donna Lackmeyer, designer of the Esther Williams line. "Traditional tank suits flatten out your bust and make your thighs look wider than they are. Who wants that?"

"Gravity, time and childbearing take their toll," she says, "so every suit in my line has some kind of support."

Anne Cole, the doyenne of California swimwear designers, added a padded shelf bra to her tank suits this season. She attributes the revival of constructivist suits, not to an aging and sagging population, but to Madonna, creator of the underwear-as-outerwear trend. As bustiers and underwires became acceptable, it was trendy to add those features to swimwear.

Robin Piccone, who made waves for Body Glove and now has a swimwear line bearing her name, made her debut collection in homage to "sex kittens from the '60s." All the suits have cleavage-enhancing tops.

No matter what the inspiration is for the new tops--1960s retro, lingerie or an antidote for gravity--the designers agree that women look better in suits with some construction on the top. "I think it should have always been there," Lackmeyer admits.

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