Yes, you have built your standard wardrobe that will take you from work to the grocery store to happy hour and maybe a wedding, funeral or baby shower thrown in. Now what do you wear for those other moments?
I just came back from a girl's getaway to the shore. I realized by looking at the other women on the sand, in the bars, at the restaurants that many do not know how to pack for the beach or a vacation. I was aware of this on my last jaunt to Costa Rica where I stayed at a resort full of improperly dressed ladies.
The beach is hot. It is often humid. It is not the tidiest of places; sand and salt air wreak havoc on your hair, your skin, your pedicure and many fabrics. Unless you are a celebrity or having a holiday at a very posh resort, this is not the vacation for silks and chiffon. For most of us, a beach weekend is tromping to the sand with umbrella, blanket, chairs, toys for the kids, huge tote and possibly a diaper bag in tow. Dinner is often seafood in a place where tablecloths are replaced by brown paper. Evening events are often at a bar where the floor is made of concrete. Hotels or rental houses usually do not have laundry service.
I recommend easy clothes that allow the body to breathe yet look sassy.
– Skirts. You cannot go wrong with a skirt. Be it a denim mini, a gathered knee length piece of floral cotton, a calf-length sarong, skirts let you breathe, are gentle to sun and wind burned skin, look festive and pack up nicely. Again, this is not the place to bring out your shantung ballskirt or your chiffon overlay bias cut piece with beading. Even “dressy” affairs in this atmosphere are a bit more relaxed. Go for cotton, linen, lightweight denim or canvas, chino, rayon challis. This weekend I took a denim jean-style short skirt I picked up at Old Navy for a steal. This skirt became a beach coverup, a comfy thing to slide over my slightly burned thighs for brunch and looked sassy with a tank and funky necklace for an evening concert at a club. My friend had a gauzy drop waist gathered skirt that fell just below her knees. She wore it once with a ribbed tank and flops for a daytime brunch, and later with an off the shoulder top and chandelier earrings for a dressier event.
– Tanks. You may hate your arms, you may think your bust is too big or too small. You are uncomfortable in more fitted clothing. Well at the beach, it's not an issue. Planning for a beach trip I become overly conscious of how pale I am, how much I have gained, how large my belly is, how saggy my breasts are… and once I am there I realize how silly I was to worry. Women are there in all shapes, colors and sizes in various levels of undress. The ones you notice are not those whop have bad bodies, but those who have bad posture and bad fashion sense. That being said, you deserve to be comfortable. Tanks are a wonderful choice. Be it spaghetti strap with the built in bra, a ribbed “wifebeater” style, or something more refined, tanks will take you from sleep to the beach to the nightclub. They go with capris, skirts, jeans and even a towel wrapped around your waist.
And with that notice I did not mention
– Shorts. I think shorts are the most unflattering thing ever created for women over the age of 21. Yes, shorts look positively adorable on a child, or on Jessica Simpson in a music video. However, in real life, adult women never look flattering in shorts. Be you small, tall, with a fabulous figure… shorts are not made for social events. They are made for driving kids to play group, gardening in your yard, working out and playing sports. I know many of you are getting angry reading this. You live in warm climates, the summer gets hot, shorts are comfortable…. Well I want every woman reading this to do an experiment. The next place you are in warm weather I want you to people watch. More specifically, people watch women in shorts. I did this at the beach. Beautiful tanned, lithe bodies around me. Every woman in shorts looked… wrong. Be it one leg hiking up, the shorts causing a mild wedgie, the outfit looking too casual/slutty/grungy for the event, or just that shorts cause bulk in an area that women do not need more bulk. It makes the flattest tummy look a little paunchy. The slimmest thighs a bit heavier. The roundest firmest tush a bit saddlebagged. Short shorts may elongate the leg, but shrink the torso so you look a bit deformed. Longer shorts cut off the body. Tight shorts are restricting, loose shorts add girth. Please, send me a photograph of a woman looking great in shorts in a “normal” situation (no music videos, red carpet walks or Hooters restaurants) and prove me wrong. I would love to be proved wrong, but until then, I highly recommend you keep your shorts for exercise and manual labor, and catch a breeze from a skirt or a pair of capris.
Update: With Bermuda shorts back on the scene, I do feel that these can look quite lovely on ladies with slim, long legs and small hips and thighs. However the best Bermudas are those that are crisp and pressed. This is the antitheses of beach attire so they should be left at home for cookouts, trips to the mall and sightseeing.
And back to what you should bring to the beach….
– Jewelry. I don't mean diamonds and pearls and feather earrings. I mean something to jazz up an outfit. This last beach trip I brought a strand of chunky wood and tiger eye beads. Wore it with a little tee shirt, previously mentioned denim skirt and flops and looked smashing. I had compliments from both women and men. Without the necklace? I would have faded into the background. Bring that crazy necklace you usually wouldn't dare to wear. Those hoop earrings that are a bit too big for everyday use. That hip-slung belt you haven't worn since the last time they were in fashion. Somehow a bit of sun, a cold beer, a gaggle of friends and that lovely salt air will give you the strength and the courage to go a bit more daring. I say go for it! Show some personality to your outfit!
– Flip Flops. Be they the $8 ones from Old Navy, high performance leather ones from Merrell or something in-between, these are a must-have. Not just for trekking over hot sand, flip flops (or thongs, or flops) are the standard footwear. A stacked pair or a beaded pair is totally appropriate for a dinner out. They dry quickly, don't hold the smell of stale beer and saltwater, and are pretty comfortable for long periods of time on your feet. I do take a pair of nicer heeled sandals on each trip, but usually they don't leave the suitcase. My favorites are a pair of stacked flops from J.Crew in black. The platform gives them a bit of panache and separates them from the Eckerd Drug peers. They go with everything, are very comfortable between the toes, and hose off at the end of the day.
– A Flattering Bathing Suit (or two!). I don't care that the fashion is hip-slung bikini bottoms or boy leg shorts or halter tops… the important thing is to have a suit that is flattering and won't fall off with the next wave. The most flattering suits are usually solid colors. Yes magazines will tell you that strategically placed stripes can fool the eye and prints can make a bust look larger. Honestly, a person can see your body, whether it's hidden behind hibiscus, a bar code or a swath of black lycra. It is tempting to choose black if you are insecure about your figure. I encourage you to do the opposite. Again, color will not hide anything, it will just act as a mirage from very far away. If you wear a great color, people notice that more than the body around it. Also color looks better on both pale and tanned skin.
There are some very wonderful companies and stores out there to make the bathing suit shopping process less painful. Water Water Everywhere is a year-round swimsuit store in many malls across America that sells separate bottoms and tops for a more expert fit. They also have a multitude of one piece styles. I was able to find a strapless one piece suit for my pre-wedding beach holiday that held up my large breasts, sucked in my tummy a bit and did nice things to my rear. J.Crew sells individual pieces and also carried D cup styles. Lands End has an amazing array of styles, colors and fabrics. My suit from them has held up for three seasons of chlorine, saltwater and even the clothes dryer and still looks brand new. Newport News carries suits in a Long Torso cut – no more ride-ups! Though the department stores may have a huge selection, you rarely get the attention, the flattering lighting or the sizes and cuts you desire. I highly recommend doing your suit shopping in specialty stores or by mail order. It's much nicer to try on a suit in the comfort of your own home with a mirror you trust.
Get what you like, not necessarily what you feel you have to wear because of your shape or what fashion magazines show. A tip: skirts on suits do not cover up your legs. A short flippy skirt can look quite sassy and retro, but the longer skirts do similar things to what shorts do for a woman – they make you look bigger than you are. You may think you need to wear a skirted suit due to age or size, but I disagree. These types of suits make you look older and heavier than you need to, or really do look.
Look for a lined suit (Less likely to show things you don't want to when wet. Also holds in a bit like control top hose), a suit that supports the breasts (Underwire is often available in suits. Look for soft cups, strong straps, back straps to assist with this.), a suit in a fun and flattering color (I am partial to red, various blues and aquas and leaf green), and a suit that works with your body type, doesn't fight it (one should not look naked, like a sausage, saggy or lumpy in your suit).
– A Beach Coverup. You have spent time on finding the perfect suit, do not cover it up with an old college tee shirt of your husband's. Or, gosh forbid, a dreaded pair of shorts where your wet rear drips through and darkens the back. Beach coverups can make you look elegant, slim, stylish, tall, fun or sexy. Luckily cover ups are quite hip right now and there is a great selection out there. Sarongs are great with a bikini. Caftans and their shorter counterparts look amazing over any style of suit and can often go from beach to bistro with ease. These come in sheer organza, cotton or my favorite – a wrinkled gauzy linen-like fabric. Just a hint of transparency, these coverups can be smashed into a beach bag, have a wet towel placed on top of them and can still come out looking great. I have a berry colored one that was actually a dress I purchased a few years ago and thought was too short.
A beach coverup doesn't have to have a label in it saying “made for coverup use only.” As I did with a too-short dress, you may have items in your closet that already fir the bill. My friend likes to wear a crisp white oxford of her husband's. She wears large black sunglasses, that and flops and looks like a movie star. My sister has a terry cloth a-line mini skirt. Probably meant for street wear, the color compliments the trim of her favorite bathing suit and looks quite sassy.
– Sunglasses. Gosh this should be a given, but yes, even fashionistas can forget the essentials. I went to the shore sans shades. My sister, the ever prepared fashionista brought two pairs so my contacts did not have to dry out on the beach.
Sunglasses are worn 80% of the time when you are in a sunny locale. Do not get by with those free plastic wanna-be Ray Bans that pharmaceutical companies used to give out – the ones with the neon earpieces with logos screenprinted on to them. Also, one should not wear broken, scratched, obviously dated or unflattering sunglasses. These will be worn more than your bathing suit. This doesn't mean they need to be expensive, they just need to be worthy of sitting on your face for long periods of time.
A few tips for successful sunglass purchasing:
1. If you can see your temples on either side of your sunglasses (meaning your face) when looking head-first into a mirror, the sunglasses are too small. Nothing can make you look more out of touch with trends and nothing can make your face look wider and fatter than too-small sunglasses. Too large is safer than too small. You know you have seen those women in the tiny black cat-eye sunglasses and they look as though they have borrowed them from their prepubescent daughter.
2. If you are unsure, go with black or tortoise shell. Usually fair skinned folks look better with amber or tortoise plastic shades and darker complexions with black plastic. Do not always adhere to this. I have a very fair skinned friend with strawberry blonde hair that has a huge pair of black sunglasses that look smashing on her. However, if you are shopping alone and clueless, this is a safe rule to follow.
3. Ask the opinions of others. I know what pants looks good on me, I know what haircut will flatter my face, but I am clueless when it comes to sunglasses. I ask a friend, a salesperson, but find the best suggestions from perfect strangers. Strangers seem to be more honest about accessories than clothing when their opinion is asked. I suppose they don't have to judge your figure or your personality when it comes to sunglasses. The most favored sunglasses of my past were picked out by complete strangers who happened to walk by as I was trying to peer into those incredibly tiny mirrors on the tops of sunglass racks.
4. Don't be a slave to fashion. Everyone is wearing rhinestone encrusted frames? Doesn't mean you need to. Fashion is not as cut and dry as it was several decades ago. You can wear all types of things, styles and trends and not look terribly dated or tacky. If anything, trends change so rapidly in this day and age by purchasing a very trendy pair, you will only be able to wear them for 2 weeks before they are considered passe. Think about those frameless sunglasses with the rhinestone heart in the corner. Those were all the rage 4 years ago. Now? Fashion victim.
5. Look places you wouldn't usually consider. The grocery store, the kiosk at the mall's food court. Clothing stores that sell clothes you may not usually fit or be caught dead in. My friend has a pair of sunglasses I drool over. Great shape, great color, stylish without being trendy. Fit her perfectly. She got them at a kiosk at the mall, 2 pairs for $10.00. Look so much cooler than the Gucci shades I bought in a drunken stupor the last time I visited Italy.
There are also things you should not take with you on a beach holiday:
1. Evening or going-out purses. A black satin clutch is perfect for a date, a cocktail party, the theater. It is not perfect for the beach. Throw your necessities in a small tote or canvas bag. I prefer to shove my ID, money, lipgloss and gum in my pockets. My dear friend relies on a small backpack. My sister uses a mini L.L.Bean Boat and Toe bag. Like any other event, consider the situation when you dress.
2. Spike heels. Okay, they may look fab with your outfit, but most often you will be on grass, sand, boardwalk or damp concrete. In college there was a bar called the Rendevous Inn. For short we called it the ‘Vous. Well this place was dirty and always had an inch of stale beer on the floor. We girls all owed a pair of shoes we called ‘Vous Shoes for when we visited this watering hole. These were shoes that could handle being hosed down if need be. These are the best kind of shoes for the beach. Flip flops, wedges, sandals. Nothing with beading, sequins, delicate fabrics, spike heels or complicated lacings. You never know when you will want to take a romantic walk on the beach, when a kid may dump a sand pail of water on your foot, or when a drunken frat boy may spill a Corona on your perfect pedicure.
3. Hosiery. Okay, socks for your sneakers are fine. Knee highs, stockings, trouser socks, tights… all are no nos. The only people who wear hosiery at the beach are the waitresses at Hooters.
4. Anything that looks bad when you sweat or get rained on. I own this gorgeous silk top from Ann Taylor Loft. Got it for a steal off their clearance rack. Fits great, flatters my figure, the color is so great with my skin and hair color. Looks good with jeans, with black pants, with a skirt. Even with these amazing facts, I did not pack it for my trip. Why? I wouldn't want to sweat in that silk top. I would not look cute with damp ringlets and that top. That top does not belong at a “taco toss” outdoor happy hour with a chance of rain. That top is meant to sip cocktails in a nice club or bar. Or maybe be worn on a date with the hubby.
So along with fabulous silk tops, I will include complicated tops, anything made of lame, or delicate crocheted lace, leather or suede, expensive jewelry (other than those standards you always wear and possibly sleep in), intricate makeup (heavy shadow, dark lipstick, heavy foundation, false eyelashes…), debutante quality dresses (yes this sounds weird but at my last beach trip I saw an adorable woman in a strapless dress with a satin sash at the waist and a full skirt held up by a crinoline), complicated shellacked hair (humidity, wind, sweat and salt air will ruin that look, don't even try!), or anything else that will require maintenance throughout the day. Enjoy yourself! This is a vacation, right? Let your mind and your wardrobe take a rest!