When fashion designers brightened their palette for spring, the swimwear industry followed suit. Thanks to the popularity of pastels, the dark, drab swimsuits of recent summers have been replaced by lighter looks such as powder blue boardshorts and baby pink bikinis. Some women's suits look like they've been cut from the same cloth as men's shirts. The yellow polka-dot bikini has been replaced by the itsy-bitsy plaid bikini. Silver and other metallics that turned up on everything from handbags to slip skirts are rubbing off on shimmery maillots and even guys' boardshorts. See-through nylons, mesh and waffle-weave thermals also crossed over from street wear to swimwear. Inspired by the popularity of baby T-shirts for women, swimwear designers have unveiled bikinis that look like underwear. They're made of thermal fabrics and feature underwear detailing such as white elastic bands and tiny bows. Irvine designer Mossimo Giannulli drew from his experience in men's sportswear to create a women's swimwear collection with a strong street/menswear influence. Flowers and ruffles are noticeably absent from his Mossimo Swim line.
"It's not a cutesy, floral, girly thing," Giannulli says. "It's more aggressive. The silhouettes are leaner."
His spring/summer collection features bikinis with prints borrowed from menswear, including argyles and tiny foulards. Textures are important; a honeycomb mesh is used for a baby tee, paired with a Brazilian-cut bikini bottom, and a nubby chenille is used for his "Scuba Suit," a hooded maillot.
Roxy, the women's swimwear line from Quiksilver, also took a no-frills approach to its new collection. "We make suits for the girl that uses the water," says Randy Hild, vice president of Quiksilver in Costa Mesa.
There are two-piece suits with bottoms that look suspiciously like men's jockey shorts. While the emphasis is on function, there are suits that look like overalls, complete with brass hooks and a front bib pocket, and sheer mesh T-shirts and slip dresses worn over tiny bikinis that are pure fashion.
Making the biggest splash, say retailers, are Roxy's new boardshorts for women, which have a retro look. One style comes in corduroy in two-tone brown or blue ($34), available at Beach Access in the Brea Mall and South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa.
Guys, meanwhile, are wearing vintage-looking boardshorts instead of the shorter volley trunks or the huge, baggy shorts of the grunge movement, says Dave Moreland, buyer for Beach Access.
The boardshorts have a drawstring or snap front instead of an elastic waist and come in classic colors such as blue, red, white or black. Some have contrasting retro stripes or vintage floral print accents.
"It's the '60s surfer look," Moreland says.
There's a retro Hawaiian print boardshort by Rusty in black and white or navy and white ($40) and a powder blue boardshort by Billabong with white and blue horizontal stripes ($38), both at Beach Access. Metallic nylons are used all over or as an accent; Quiksilver has a pair of silver boardshorts with a satiny black waistband and back pocket ($38).
Counter Culture, a Huntington Beach-based sportswear company, brought back boardshorts with rainbow stripes across the front--a look that hadn't been seen since the '70s.
"It's killing," says Mike Schillmoeller, owner of Counter Culture. "Retro is still strong--it's not over yet."
Many swimwear companies have searched their archives and reproduced old Hawaiian prints on the boardshorts, says David Moon, owner of 15th Street Surf Shop in Newport Beach.
Colors of men's suits have lightened up after a period of black or drab colors inspired by the grunge movement, but they're not as bright as women's swimwear.
"This is the best year yet. Brights are back, and what's really big are the sherbet colors--baby pink, mint green and blue," says Julie McMackin, owner of Molly Brown's in Newport Beach. "People are so sick of earth tones."
She carries a two-piece by Roxy made of baby pink thermal with white elastic detailing and tiny white bows ($56).
"Some suits look like thermal underwear," McMackin says.
Wovens, mesh insets on one-pieces and see-through sarongs and tees all bare the body in new ways.
Women can have as much (or as little) coverage as they want. There's everything from tiny triangle tops to bra tops with serious wire and padding--like Wonder Bras for the beach. Bottoms range from the nearly invisible thong to full, '40s-style silhouettes.
Roxy's "Ginger Set" has a halter-style top with a boy-leg bottom--a cross between shorts and a bathing suit bottom--available in denim or black at Molly Brown's ($66). Then there's Mossimo's one-piece that's entirely see-through ($38). For modesty's sake, it's being worn over bikinis.
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