FASHION Ditch your baggy surfer shorts or your leopard print cossie, and splash out on what the Olympic swimmers wear. Styling by Jo Adams. Photographs by Jeni Thompson
At the Atlanta Olympics, the British team wore the BOA-approved Adidas strip for every sporting activity except... swimming. Our team, 85 per cent of the American swimmers, and at least 45 other national teams were kitted out in Speedo. Speedo's newest Aquablade swimsuits, which go on general sale next week, claim to offer less water resistance than human skin, making them the undisputed world leader in high-performance swimwear.

Most women's "swimming" costumes are designed with underwiring to create or enhance the cleavage. Bands of Lycra and Elastene hold in wayward tummies and bottoms, halternecks or string straps can show off bronzed shoulders, and the cut of a suit can visually elongate the legs. Skimpy bikinis don't even enter the equation. (Have you ever jumped into a pool in a bikini to find the top half wrapped around your neck?)

Costumes for men cover up rather than sculpt and contour. A man in a posing pouch is a rarity in this country. Most guys would rather wear baggy patterned shorts, or a modest pair of discreetly logo-ed trunks.

Good-looking costumes do make for confident prowling on far-flung beaches but, when it comes to serious swimming, the rubber-capped, Speedo- clad amateurs will be sniggering at you behind their nose clips.

Men: keep it streamlined. Hom, Armani, M&S and Speedo all offer tight, well-proportioned shorts and trunks. Most are designed with bold graphics, and all contain lightweight performance fabrics. It is worth bearing in mind that the first person to swim the Channel in 1875, Captain Matthew Webb, wore a woollen one-piece which, when waterlogged, weighed 10lb. Wearing baggy shorts in the pool is the modern-day equivalent to Webbs 19th-century swimwear. A wet pair of today's performance trunks weighs only a few ounces.

For the women, there is much more on offer, and again streamlining is important. Professional female swimmers squeeze themselves into suits at least three sizes too small to flatten their curves and make them faster in the water. Straps are always crossed over at the back, or extreme halter- necks (almost like polo necks) are worn, to prevent any water in the suit creating more drag. Avoid vest straps (they slip), check Lycra content (too little of the fabric and the suit will bubble), and opt for cross- backs where possible. M&S, Next, Calvin Klein, Gottex and Adidas have well- designed suits for all swimmers. So, if you enjoyed watching the Olympic swimmers, why not ditch the leopard print, underwired high-leg cossie (or those baggy surfer pants) you bought for this year's holiday and get serious

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