If you are thinking of buying a bikini, buy it now. Wait much longer and all the best styles in decent sizes will have sold out (sizes eight and 14 are always the first to go). The shops are over-flowing with them at the moment - every store from Marks & Spencer to Warehouse has done a selection that could rival any offering from a designer, and what is actually available now will satisfy everyone from Baywatch beach babes to more reclusive sun worshippers whose idea of sunbathing is a quick twenty minutes by the pool after breakfast.
The safe tanning debate has spawned not only comprehensive information about how we should care for our skin in the sun but also beachwear that can protect too. At Next and Knickerbox they provide simple bikini's with bright attractive prints that have matching mini-sarong skirts (also handy if you don't wish to display your bottom to roving eyes) and cropped t- shirts to protect sun-ravaged shoulders. The same fabrics are being used to make bikinis with underwiring and padding, as well as in the more skimpy string variety, so if yours is a figure that needs support you have the choice.
When a woman buys a bikini there are several factors to be aware of. First is knowing what is currently in fashion. This season, bandeau tops are making a comeback (easy to roll down if you like to go topless, no straps) as are bigger knickers (they are flattering to less curvy women, and can hide a multitude of sins). String bikinis are as popular as ever. Daring sun-worshippers can choose from camouflage, shiny hologram and leopard print fabrics. If you prefer classics choose Missoni inspired stripes or basic colours like citrus orange or turquoise which is very popular this summer, but steer clear of black - the sun absorbs it.
Fabric is also an important issue. Always check the label for the fabric content of your chosen bikini. The best ones have lots of elastane or Lycra, and for a softer bikini choose one that contains Supplex as well as Lycra. Finally, when will swimwear technologists design a fabric that tells you you've had enough sun? We're waiting.
Bikinis for under pounds 50
1 Tropical floral print underwired bikini, pounds 22, from Freemans catalogue (ref UU 7601). For enquiries call 0800 900200.
2 Stripey tie-front crop top and shorts bikini, pounds 20, from Freemans catalogue (ref UP 7864), as before.
3 Leopard print padded halter-neck bikini, pounds 35, by La Senza, branches nationwide. Call 0171-831 1000 for your local stockist.
4 Grey, purple, white and black zig-zag bikini, sold separately, top pounds 3.99, bottoms, pounds 4. 99, by Hennes, as before.
5 Halterneck cherry print bra, pounds 14.99, matching hotpants, pounds 14.99, and mini sarong skirt, pounds 14.99 all by Knickerbox. Call 0171-284-1744 for your local stockist.
6 Sequin leopard print string bikini, pounds 22, by Marks & Spencer, available from 90 stores nationwide from next week. Call 0171-935 4422 for stockists.
7 Lime green 'Daisy Check' bikini, pounds 29.99, by Speedo, available from Debenhams Stores nationwide, as before, and by mail order through Swim-shop. Call 01582 562111 for a catalogue, and enquiries.
8 Black and red 'Sonic' sports bikini, by Speedo, available through mail order from Swim-shop, as before.
9 Striped bikini top, pounds 19.99, bottoms pounds 29.99, by Hunters and Gatherers, available from Hype DF, 48-52 Kensington High Street, London, W8
10 Turquoise bandeau bikini with big knickers, pounds 45, by No Such Soul, available from Hype DF, as before. Photographer: Mykel Nicolau