of swimsuits and miniature chocolate chip cookies

As some carrots friends may know, I am GOING TO THE BEACH this August with some friends, a trip that always merits excessive capitalization. I’ll be staying at my family’s beach house in Surfside Beach, South Carolina for an entire week in August. A few months ago, as I booked my flight back east, I stared dreamily out the window, imagining margaritas on the patio, leisure reading under a stripey umbrella, and general good times with some of my favorite people.

The only thing standing between me and a week of flip flops? Well, a lot of things, actually. Revising my book manuscript, grading composition exams, planning my fall syllabus. But I’m talking about swimsuit shopping, which joins purchasing shorts and jeans to form the Horrible Shopping Trifecta.

But I am a PLANNER. Anything can be defeated through organization and a relentlessly methodical approach, I decided. And as of this week, I have defeated swimsuit shopping 2011. I am certainly not a fashion guru, but I thought I would share with interested carrots readers my Tips for Defeating Swimsuit Shopping, pointers that I earned through many demoralizing and two triumphant afternoons of finding s suit that works for me.

  1. Put down the red plastic shopping basket.
    There are some things you should buy at Target. Kitty litter. Office supplies. Toothpaste. If you’re lucky enough to shop at a Target that sells groceries, I recommend their miniature chocolate chip cookies, bite-sized delicacies that may be the culprit when it comes to this season’s swimsuit shopping difficulties.And I do buy some clothes at Target. I love their simple, wrinkle-resistant dresses, like this one. And their running shorts are usually $15 or less. I just bought these, and I love them. Sure, the triple-dry carbon-graphite ultra-lightweight shorts at Academy or the Adidas store or lululemon might be more state-of-the-art. For the $30-$50 they ask per pair, I hope they’ve hired some big-shot female athlete to run around for a few hours so they could perfect the exact engineering of the waistband. But Target shorts are just fine for my mediocre athleticism.

    Friends, this year I finally concluded that Target is not the best place to buy a swimsuit. I’ve purchased Target suits for the past three years, and none have been exactly right. I find that, as I thread through racks and racks of ill-conceived triangle-top bikinis, I end up finding not a suit I love but a suit I don’t hate — a usually unremarkable tankini that at least promises to remain firmly in place in a stiff sea breeze. Really, the ratio of tiny suits to the number of women shopping at Target who should weartiny suits is hopelessly skewed. Most of us are scrounging around for the three styles that offer a modicum of modesty. Same goes for Ross, TJMaxx, and Marshall’s. And really, trying on a suit in the fluorescent-lit stalls of a big box store is disheartening, anyway.

    Of course, this means that you might be spending a little more money than you’d planned. A Target suit might be unremarkable and only a little ill-fitting, but it’s also wonderfully cheap. This year, however, I decided that I needed to own up to the fact that, when it comes to swimwear, you usually get what you pay for. I don’t recommend emptying out your savings account to score a designer suit, but I do recommend trying retailers that sell a product with more attention to construction, detail, and fit. Department stores have the added advantage of including many more styles than any single-designer store.

    And speaking of money, that brings me to tip number 2:

  2. Desperation breeds discounts.
    In the early dawn of swimsuit season — in Houston, that could probably mean late April — retailers hang their new styles in enticing, uniform rows, revealing the latest poolside patterns and styles. And they’re all full price.I have a few suits that will do for the apartment pool until I’m off to Surfside. So I decided to bide my time. I wasn’t planning on sweating it out until the sales; really, I’ve been browsing since May, and it’s taken me this long to find two suits I like. But the bonus of my indecisiveness and the swimsuit unreadiness born of miniature chocolate chip cookies is that, by late June, most department stores have discounted their suits up to 50 percent. My Macy’s suit in particular was cheaper than expected — 40 percent off the MSRP.

    By midsummer, many stores are ready to unload all that spandex. If you can wait, a quality suit will be as cheap as it’s Target cousin. Well, almost.

  3. Don’t trust your instincts.
    If Clinton Kelly and Stacy London have taught me anything during all these years of reality television, it’s that I need to step out of my comfort zone. Standing in front of a display of swimsuits, I reach for the familiar: swimwear that does not include any hardware (still a hard an fast rule, actually), that does not stand out in any sort of traffic cone color, and that in general resembles the shape of a suit I have purchased with relative success in the past.But often the most flattering suits include details that make them particularly unappealing on-hanger. Pleating or ruching is a godsend for me, but it can make a suit hang lopsidedly, and the retro styles that are sometimes surprisingly forgiving for miniature chocolate chip cookie lovers sometimes appear on the rack as offensive, skirted monstrosities.

    So try on swimsuits that look unfamiliar, questionable, or confusing (as swimwear often is). And try on a lot, preferably separates that can be purchased in two different sizes if necessary. You may be pleasantly surprised that suit number fifteen actually works for you.

    After all the drama, I ended up with the pleated halter top and the foldover short in brilliant navy from JCrew — neither of which look at all in reality like they do in the online catalog photos — and the La Blanca ruched halter tankini top and shirred hipster shorts in black, bought discounted at Macy’s.

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