Practical swimwear solutions for real women (and not a thong in sight)
Summer. Swimwear. Two words that bring a smile and a frown to my face. Despite being better informed that most, I still find it torturous having to buy a swimsuit, especially a bikini. Things have improved enormously over the years and any company not offering its customers the choice of being able to buy a size 12 top and a size 14 bottom now risks going bankrupt - few people are that symmetrical. This week's shoot took several months to sort out. Persuading normal people to talk about their swimwear problems and model in what we hope are the "solutions" was not easy. I was particularly keen that we should feature a post-mastectomy woman; it is surely hard enough dealing with breast cancer without also being excluded from just about every "regular" swimwear fashion feature.

Two people deserve particular mention: Maureen Smyth of Splash Out who makes swimwear to measure for ridiculously reasonable prices and Margaret Ann who sources swimwear from around the world for all shapes and sizes. (Both also deal with post-mastectomy women and have a lot of experience in this field.) On the high street River Island has some gorgeous styles in big florals, leopard print and gingham. Bhs has various different style mix-and-match tops and bottoms (cropped top with triangle pants, halter neck with shorts etc) so you can flatter all parts of your figure. Hennes has done some good "utility" nylon skirts to go with its bikinis - very trendy. And Dorothy Perkins has got Liza Bruce designing a range for it which is well worth a look. People baulk at high-price swimwear because it can seem so much for such a small amount of fabric - but never does what little you're wearing matter so much . If you'd like a copy of our Swimwear Directory, which lists who does what for how much, send me a large (A4) SAE marked "Swimwear" - for address see Annie's column. For those of you who are internet friendly, you can access this directory at

Photographs by BECKY SMALL

Styled by ZOE BROWN

Photographer assisted by Jo Pitson and Rebecca Hassett

Shot at Alphaville Studios 0171 490 8889

Hair and make up by Sharon Willmore, using A la carte


Stephanie Kowalski, 24, singer

Problem: Pear shape and wants two piece.

Solution: Brown/green bikini top (sizes 30a-36c), pounds 6.99, matching skirt (s-l) pounds 9.99, H&M Hennes, 261-271 Regent Street, London W1 (tel: 0171 255 2031).

"One pieces don't work for me: they make me look too flat-chested which accentuates my pear shape. So I wanted a two piece that would be comfortable and hide my hips, which I think are too large. But it had to be fashionable too - and it's very, very difficult to find something that's fashionable and flattering. To add to my requirements I wanted a skirt for the bottom half. Whenever I buy a bikini I always buy a skirt to go with it: they're so good at hiding the lumps and bumps! I liked this Hennes one. Hennes sizing suits me and it has a lot of styles that you can mix and match. It met all my criteria."


Debs Bourner, 33, manager of a volunteer bureau

Problem: Long body.

Solution: Blue/turquoise swimsuit (sizes 10-20), pounds 26, Bhs, 252-258 Oxford Street, London W1 and 57 Market Street, Manchester (tel: 0171 262 3288).

"I'm nearly six foot and my big problem is length. Swimsuits are just never long enough. Even if they say they're `longer length', once you start actually moving in them, they ride up annoyingly which can be really uncomfortable. I buy swimwear only to swim in but because of this problem, I end up having to buy bikinis. So I was very surprised by the length of this Bhs one. It's very, very comfortable and it would be perfect for swimming in. Other than that, I'm afraid I have no problems with my swimwear - the classic `triangle' bikini probably suits me best of all."


Patricia Donaghy, 33, IT training consultant

Problem: Large bust, sporty lifestyle.

Solution: Black swimsuit (sizes 8-16), pounds 19.99, Speedo, First Sport, (tel: 0191 518 2002).

"Because I've got a fuller figure I really find it difficult to get a bikini top to fit if the bottom does. It's nearly always the cup - I'm a 36E - that will be too small. My problem's compounded because I swim a lot, so really bikinis are not the answer for me. This Speedo one piece is brilliant. It would really stay in place when I'm doing tumble turns [those things professional swimmers do at the end of each length]. A bikini would never cope with that. Bikini manufacturers assume that if you're big you're not active! Even when you get a mix-and-match bikini so you can get it to fit, the straps are nearly always too long and non-adjustable."


Gail Gray, 57, interior designer

Problem: Post-mastectomy.

Solution: Black/gold swimsuit (sizes 36b-40e) from pounds 45, Fantasie (tel: 01536 760282). Swimsuit has had a pocket fitted by Margaret Ann at a cost of pounds 12.50 (tel: 01985 840520).

"I had a mastectomy in October and I've just been given the all clear. I wear a swimsuit for swimming and sunbathing and initially I was really annoyed that I couldn't wear my usual costume. You need to take a deep breath to go into a department store to be fitted so I loved going to Margaret Ann and being able to have a personal, one-on-one appointment. It's fantastic to be able to buy specialist mastectomy swimsuits, although this isn't one. It's a regular swimsuit that Margaret Ann had a pocket fitted into for my prothesis, but it fulfilled the criteria which is that it has to be quite high cut around the neck and arms to hide scarring."


Janet Reynolds, 47, design assistant

Problem: Pear shape and wants one piece.

Solution: Blue piped swimsuit (made to order), pounds 45, Splash Out, 100 Brighton Road, Worthing, West Sussex (tel: 01903 230861).

"In regular shops you get two types of leg line: very high cut or very low cut and both accentuate larger thighs. Also, as I've got older I've developed a "fatty" back so I like my swimsuits to have a high back. Finding all this in a swimsuit whose design I also like is impossible. Getting one made for me was brilliant. I was able to say, I like this but can I have that a bit lower or higher or in that colour? Maureen [Smyth who owns Splash Out] put in black panels which elongate my legs and piping which gives definition. All this and I was able to get a halter neck too which is my favourite neckline!"


Louise Hurren, 37, PR consultant.

Problem: Large bust and doesn't like high-cut legs.

Solution: Orange bikini (sizes 8-16), pounds 22.99, Ellesse, Debenhams, 334-348 Oxford Street, London W1. Hargraves Sport, 8 Westbury Mall, Fareham Shopping Centre, Fareham, Hants (tel: 0161 445 5955).

"I don't wear high-cut swimsuits, I prefer shorts-style ones. But a lot of swimwear that comes with longer legs doesn't give adequate support for my 34D bust. The cups are just never big enough. I either want underwiring and support or, as with this one, a top that holds me tight. I tend not to lounge in my swimwear so it's important to be able to run around in it. I would never have picked this out for myself. I normally go for more muted colours but I really like it. The top half fits nice and snug. There's plenty of fabric so I don't feel like I'm falling out of it and the bottom's cut like a pair of shorts - perfect."