Two white thighs tumble out of a pair of control-top hose under the neon lights of the fitting room. Without the help of Lycra you are a full two sizes larger. The world is going to hell in handbasket and now, so has your derriere. The summer-bikini diet is not working. On top of it all, spring break is luring you to exotic climes on package deals that promise cut-rate sunshine.
But what do you wear when your dreams are in Acapulco and your body is still taking a snow day? How do you compete with the college brats cavorting in their cut-offs, crocheted bikini tops and twig-shaped society girls with Palm Beach winter tans? One flimsy little pareo is not going to save you from beach shame, and neither will a gallon of sunless-tanning lotion. What you need in order to step into the spotlight of a blinding sun are accessories to dazzle and distract as well as shapes that conceal and flatter. Most women expect themselves to look fantabulous after five days of Hawaiian Tropic and lapping waves, but why wait? The illusion of instant breeziness can be concocted long before you clear customs and fling your cell phone into the sea.
Beach-bum beauty: Invest in a day-spa orgy before you go away. Slough off the drudgery of a long winter and start the relaxation process rolling. If you splurge on an exfoliating facial, a pedicure, a manicure and a big glossy sun-kissed head of highlights, even the cheapest knock-off sunglasses and drawstring linen pants will look luxe. Take aftercare products on your trip such as footbalm for heels and a lightly-moisturizing treatment for the tips of your hair (Redken’s Undone is great) and use this downtime to keep pampering.
Pack holiday make-up that is much lighter than your usual office look—and a touch sexier. A bronzing powder, sheer nude or flesh-pink lipstick, blue or deep emerald mascara (black is so bland) and a tinted sunscreen are all you really need. If you are a bronzing virgin or look strangely gilded in the orange tones of most self-tan cosmetics, find a porcelain pale rosy blusher and apply it with a really big blush brush to your shoulders, nose, cheeks and décolleté. Faking the flush of a day in the sun is so much better than a real roasting. Last but not least, switch perfumes. A splash of the sweet, citrus-scented Calypso Homme by Christiane Calle will make you feel like you are in St. John even if you only make it as far as Tennessee.
Flatter your faults
For the coolest cover-up, just look at Drew Barrymore in the closing shots Charlie’s Angels. There she is, cavorting in a sheer cotton caftan that falls off one shoulder and floats ambiguously around her form. When she jumps into the surf the shift becomes a sensual mermaid sheath clinging and concealing at the same time and all but eclipsing Cameron Diaz’s perfect rear end. Instead of cowering from the cellulite police under a beach umbrella, think ahead and spend real time choosing clever beach outfits.
In Italy, the fashionistas take Victorian nightgowns and hand dye them for the summer. You could do the same with a vintage men’s tuxedo shirt. Dip it in pale lilac and team it with a big straw hat and a few silver bracelets. Or wear a sheer floral silk slip and a tiny
white camisole. Layered lingerie takes the trauma out of slinking down to the water’s edge. Who says you have to wear baggy cotton shorts and message T-shirts to power walk the sand? I’d much rather do it in a tie-dyed djellaba cut to knee length, or a black one piece maillot and a bias-cut tango skirt. Sports clothes lack spice!
Hawaiian shirts in Hawaii, yachting shoes on yachts, white ruffles in the Caribbean and hot-pink cheesecloth in Mexico scream tourist—or even worse, retirement village group travel. Think about it: A boat-necked striped T-shirt doesn’t help you sail a boat, and blinding white trousers and billowing starchy white shirts are more evocative of the Love Boat than Kate Hepburn on the African Queen. Ditch contrived looks and clothes that look like they came straight from the department store. Look for cream and ivory instead of white whites. Look for relaxed fabrics like crushed silk, linen/cotton blends and Tencel instead of cotton Lycra and seersucker. Break your sandals in for a good three weeks before wearing them. Put your straw hat in the spin cycle. Wear a Javanese sarong, and a linen waistcoat instead of a shell top and Bermuda shorts. In fact, avoid any item of spring/resort clothing that reminds you of a golf course, a bridge party or happy hour in Boca Raton.
Cheat your hips
Retro trends for spring give winter chub quite a lot of grace. Exploit the return of the ’70s A-line halter dress (my favorite is by Marimekko at Anthropologie), the brightly patterned gathered skirt and the pastel cashmere cardigan (a great upper-arm concealer). Distract from wayward hips and thick midriffs by teaming a crisp white linen blazer over a skinny striped T-shirt and a silk combat skirt. Yes! I said combat skirt, not pants. At last some genius has come up with a flattering alternative to the trouser of the millennium. Because, as we all know, combat pants, no matter how elegantly made, only look flattering on Avril Levigne.
Elevate your assets
Ignore the return to ballet flats and dead-flat pointed pumps—they make winter legs look like tree stumps. Spring dresses and capri pants need lift, and pale legs need to extend their line. The most comfortable heel is not the sling-back kitten heel of last spring, but rather a wedge, a solid stacked heel or a platform espadrille. Worn with a floaty handkerchief skirt, some pinstriped pants or even jeans and a vintage-style blouse, a little heel helps you strut instead of waddle. Beware of showing too much heel and toe too early in the season! Save the urge to wear wafer-thin sandals, naked strappy heels and the vixenish mule till high summer. Spring is the season of the lady-like shoe.
Five final golden rules:
1. Be bold, to a point: Brave a bold print, but only on a skirt and only to the knee. Or make an impact with a bold handkerchief silk scarf worn as a choker.
2. Temper pastels with neutrals for added chic: Combine pale pink with caramel, aqua blue with wheat-colored straw, lemon yellow with chocolate-brown leather.
3. Update old favorites: Find a nice floppy hat that looks like you’ve owned it for years and pin a silk flower to the very edge of the brim.
4. Don’t join the club: Avoid suits, starched shirts, bright nautical stripes (except on handbags) huge polka dots and gingham. Country club styles look best on girls under seven and over 70.
5. Unveil your inner dancer: Wear a crumpled silk ballerina skirt to just above the ankle and a cashmere ballerina wrap with platform sandals and a few bracelets. Gypsies know how to slink from season to season.