style police: Here comes the sun...

...and here come the fashion disasters. Don't be one of them, says James Sherwood
When Princess Diana gave the press a talking to in St Tropez last week, she saw fit to do so in an oh-so-subtle leopard and tiger-print swimsuit. Hardly a bid for anonymity. But then, even she falls victim to the age-old seasonal dilemma: how to dress for the beach and keep your dignity. This has always been a toughie, as Racquel Welch and her dinosaur- pelt bikini confirmed in One Million Years BC. Gucci girls in this month's Arena favour a Gucci snaffle and very little else. The rest of the world makes a mad dash to Marks & Spencer and buys anything in Lycra.

Ever since Coco Chanel made the mahogany tan fashionable in the Twenties, beachwear has tried to square the circle of maximum tanning potential and minimum embarrassment. The fashion press has deemed teeny bikinis the look for Summer 1997. But let's face it, most of us wouldn't qualify as extras on Baywatch.

Kathy Phillips, beauty and health director at Vogue, says, "Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to be stick thin to look good on the beach. Few women would even try to get away with three tiny triangles of crochet. I am a great believer in the sarong and the cartwheel sunhat for maximum protection from the sun. But there's no need to go into purdah. Big women tend to have great legs and the really Forties, Betty Grable-style one-piece can look incredibly sexy while holding you in in all the right places."

When it comes to beachwear, men are possibly even more vain than women. And anyone who has been on the Italian coast will know that beaches are more about sex than sun. The posing pouch is perhaps the most revolting garment ever invented. There can be little less alluring than a drooping pouch, gold medallion and hairy bottom. The long, Bondai Beach, swim-shorts are equally dangerous when wet. This summer, the undisputed best buy for men is the Speedo black trunk (pounds 14.99 from Lillywhites). Like a thick, black band from tummy button to upper thigh, these are the trunks that made Johnny Weissmuller a star. With Lycra, they fit everyone well.

If these are still too clingy for comfort, then Giorgio Armani has just the thing: fetching little indigo sarongs, worn with figure-hugging vests. Yes, we're talking skirts, but then, on holiday we all let our guard drop and a sarong allows men to let everything else drop, too. "Armani never intended his sarongs to be worn anywhere other than the beach," says Jo Levin, fashion director at GQ, adding, "the more masculine the man, the better he looks in a skirt."