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'Mad Men' helps inspire retro swimsuits

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By Debra D. Bass
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • This black Retro Halter top was designed by Lori Coulter ($78.95) and may be found at Soft Surroundings. The high-waisted bottoms ($225) are at Made-t...

    This black Retro Halter top was designed by Lori Coulter ($78.95) and may be found at Soft Surroundings. The high-waisted bottoms ($225) are at Made-to-Order Swimwear,

  • Vintage-inspired swimwear is all the rage for the summer.

    Photos by Emily Rasinski/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

    Vintage-inspired swimwear is all the rage for the summer.

  • A halter bikini top ($40), jeweled buckle stretch belt ($28), black boy short bottoms with side ties ($32) and sunglasses ($22), are all from Kohl's. ...

    A halter bikini top ($40), jeweled buckle stretch belt ($28), black boy short bottoms with side ties ($32) and sunglasses ($22), are all from Kohl's. The San Diego hat with an SPF of 50+ is a T.J. Maxx find.

Whether vague or overt, the abundance of retro swimwear options continues to saturate the market. Fueled by waves of nostalgia sparked by costumes in "The Artist" and "Mad Men," the romantic notions of times gone by remain popular.
A slow-brewing trend for years, it will be especially prominent on swimwear racks this year.
"The suits really flatter iconic body types and give women a truly feminine look that's sexy without showing a lot of skin," said Lori Coulter, whose swimwear line is available at Macy's.
Click here to see a photo gallery of swimsuits from the 20th Century.
"I like the retro suits because it leaves something to the imagination," Coulter said. But she stressed that the most popular styles have just a minimal amount of extra fabric. The difference is the placement and the balance.
It's the difference between dumpy 1980s high-waisted mom jeans and chic 1960s high-waisted pedal pushers, Coulter said.
And she is one of many taking note that retro suits still have modern sensibilities. Aside from innovations in fabric, color and the demise of the cone bra, new suits inspired by vintage items don't look stuck in time.
Yet anyone wanting to embrace their inner Hollywood starlet might be drawn to the 1920s-inspired collection. Shabby Apple,, has a line of items with cowl necks, structural floral detailing, cascading drapery and elegant art deco-style cut-outs.
For those feeling a little Beach Blanket Babylon, Spanx has a line of swimwear that flatters and cinches. The strapless Lovely Lace one piece ($198, has a sweetheart neckline, a soft-focus floral design and black lace trim around the top and leg openings. And the halter swim dress ($188 at with a ruched sweetheart neckline and flouncy skirted bottom looks reminiscent of an Annette Funicello must-have.
Coulter said that she never intended to base her spring line on strictly retro influences, but that's where she gravitated in designing her newest collection for Soft Surroundings.
"I was looking to make elegant pieces," Coulter said. "Retro is a favorite look of mine. It reminds you of the pin-up girl looks that have come full circle."
She said the wink-and-a-grin looks from the past are a flirty look for a modern woman. And it's just as coveted on the beaches of St. Martin as they are at a municipal pool.
This burgeoning market appeals to women for a variety of reasons including skin cancer concerns, religious beliefs and personal preference.
More and more designers and retailers are expanding to include nontraditional swimwear that looks more like activewear.
Lori Coulter has options at Macy's and of tunics, pants and tops all made of Lycra materials ideal for saltwater and chlorine environments. She said that the items with an SPF of 50 were initially created as coverups when people were out of the water, but she soon discovered that they were being purchased to wear into the water as well. has a new line of swimwear that doubles as gymwear. There are long and short sleeves, skirted bottoms and skirt bottoms with capri-length underpants. and both have swimwear that looks like Hawaiian luau dresses with or without leggings.
Soma Intimates has coverups such as the La Blanca striped skirt that can be worn as a mini-dress, midi-dress or maxi-skirt, and it's made of the same nylon and Spandex material as its swimwear.
And virtually every store includes some type of coverup top that can also double as swimwear. From the Gap, there's an Athleta tunic top that resembles a pull-over Nehru jacket ($69) at that can be worn cropped or extended to just over 32 inches.
Eddie Bauer has surfer items that include board shorts for women that extend to midcalf and a fitted short-sleeved top that is also a one-piece suit.
Meanwhile retailers such as offer loose-fitting, long-sleeved body suits ($90) so modest that they include a built-in hood to cover the wearer's hair.

Story tags » Fashion

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