Women dread this moment all winter. It takes days or even weeks to work up the courage to brave the swimsuit store’s dressing room.

There are ways around such torture. You can select a swimsuit without ever having to try it on in front of other people.

Here are a few ways to navigate swim fashions and forgo the dressing room.

Surf the Internet. Many department stores and swimsuit companies have Web sites featuring swimwear. J.Crew offers a swim finder online, which allows shoppers to choose tops and bottoms separately. Once you click on a particular piece, the computer screen will show what the suit looks like on a woman’s body. From this point, you can change colors and mix and match tops and bottoms. The swim finder allows you to select by style or body type. For example, the search tool will help you find a suit to minimize hips and thighs or make legs look longer.

Lands’ End has a similar tool that chooses a suit based on how you answer four questions.

The Victoria’s Secret Web site doesn’t offer the mixing and matching features but lets you shop by choosing tops, bottoms, styles or collections.

Catalogs offer another opportunity to browse a wide selection of styles. Most women’s clothing catalogs feature swimwear in their spring editions. Pick your favorite catalog and search for suits. L.L. Bean, Lands’ End, Talbot’s and Spiegel are now spotlighting swimwear.

Catalogs and Web sites allow you to return merchandise, but there are a few rules. Tags must still be attached, and most companies require that sanitary liners be in place when suits are returned. Companies will provide return forms with merchandise that allow you to explain why you are sending back a purchase. Mail returns, forms and any other paperwork back to the company as soon as possible. Most companies allow exchanges or credit.

Tips

Finding the right swimsuit takes time and patience. Here are some suit selection tips.

• Start with the size and style that best compliments your body, La Plage Swimwear manager Kris Clark recommends.

• Consider whether you want a one- or two-piece. Find a good fit, then start trying different colors, fabrics and accessories.

Kim Humbles, owner of Joan Crosby of Myrtle Beach, S.C., offers this advice:

• Allow yourself at least an hour in the fitting room and try on lots of suits. It might take as many as 20 to find the right one.

• Don’t always go by size. Most women need a larger size in a swimsuit than they do in a dress, and sizes vary from one manufacturer to the next.

• Stretch, bend, sit and jog in place with the suit. It’s not the right suit if it’s not comfortable.

• Search for a suit that highlights your assets and camouflages your worst features. Look for skirts to cover thighs, suits with bra and tummy support, or try bandeau styles (tops that are cut straight across the chest) to add a fuller look to your chest area.

• Shop early in the season so you have a large selection.

A complete beach look

Just picking out the right swimsuit isn’t enough. Accessories are also key for a day at the beach or by the pool.

“It’s not just a swimsuit with a T-shirt over it like it used to be,” said Kris Clark, manager of La Plage Swimwear.

A matching sarong or pareo is critical when visiting a resort or walking through a hotel lobby, said Kim Humbles, owner of Joan Crosby of Myrtle Beach, a ladies apparel store that specializes in missy swimwear.

Here is a list of essential items to finish your look, according to Clark and Humbles.

• Beach towel that matches your suit

• Beach bag to carry your supplies

• Coverups such as a matching pareo or sarong tied as a skirt

• Hat to keep sun off your face

Online

Check out some sites featuring swimsuits.

http://www.jcrew.com

http://www.landsend.com

http://www.llbean.com

http://www.oldnavy.com

http://www.talbots.com

http://www.target.com

http://www.victoriassecret.com


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