NEW YORK -- For some women, it's just this way and probably always will be: The size of their swimwear tops and bottoms don't match. So, why not have some fun with it?
There's no better place than the beach or the pool to show off the whimsical and creative sides of a woman's personality, says Josh Saterman, Macy's fashion director. The customer can let down her hair when she's there and break a few rules.
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Stripes with polka dots or a hot-pink string top and orange boy shorts: Why not?
"We are definitely seeing our customer steer away from matchy-matchy," says Nancy Taylor, Athleta's director of design.
Swim separates, including bikini and tankini tops, and brief, bikini and short-style bottoms, were introduced into wide distribution several years ago. They were intended to solve a practical problem when consumers needed a bigger top or bigger bottom, but women have since started using them to make a style statement.
Mixing pieces, sometimes in different silhouettes or from different brands, builds a swim wardrobe that suits different occasions -- a strapless bandeau for a party and an athletic racer-back for a day with the kids, perhaps? -- while a woman can remain comfortable and confident in the bottom she feels best fits her figure. (Loyalty runs deeper for bottoms, experts say.)
Celebrities were photographed in mismatched tops and bottoms, and young women soon followed, says designer Shoshanna Lonstein Gruss, who launched her brand with swimwear. It was only a matter of time until more fans of two-piece bathing suits caught on to it, she says. Fans of the one-piece can accomplish a similar look by adding a pair of swim shorts or a skirt.
"Mix-and-match is definitely a trend this season," agrees Jennifer Foyle, design director for Aerie.
That has made designers more conscious of using complementary colors and prints.
Taylor of Athleta plans for all sorts of combinations as she plots the collection. Right now, shoppers seem to favor printed tops with solid bottoms as they're still adjusting their eye, she says. It's a way for customers to dip a toe into separates.
Dark bottoms, especially black and dark blue, do tend to be more flattering, advises Foyle.
She adds: "It's almost like dressing for ready to wear. Women are using her swimsuit top as her summer statement piece. She wants it to be fun, but she wants it to look good."
Taylor doesn't want to put any rules to it -- rule-breaking is the best part, she says -- but still, she'd encourage color families, pairing cool beach blues and greens. Neons also work together, and so do warm tropical hues.
It's the same idea with prints: Nautical stripes and cheerful polka dots marry well, as do ethnic and animal prints, and ikats. But a dot and an ikat would look more like they were just two pieces pulled haphazardly from the drawer.
Small-scale geometric patterns also work with florals or paisleys, but since florals and paisleys are both typically bold, Taylor would keep those separate. Keep in mind the vibe and the overall look even if you're not sweating full-on coordination, she suggests.
There's also the opportunity to use different solid separates to tap into the colorblocking trend that remains popular this season.
This summer, Gruss says she'll be mixing gold pieces with corals and turquoise blue.
A bonus? You get more mileage out of your swim "outfits," Gruss adds. "Three suits become six."