Discover why big is best on the beach this summer

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Image: Grace Kelly, the J. Smith Archive

Taylor Swift has done it; so has Alana, the baby sister of girl band, Haim; Katy Perry and model Gigi Hadid. What are they up to? Emulating the pin-up style of Hollywood’s golden age of bathing beauties by slipping into a retro, two-piece swimsuit. It’s a look that’s far removed from the itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny bikini style of Rihanna, Beyoncé or a hundred-and-one reality stars posing for the paps in “Marbs” or Ibiza.


Image: Rex features. American model Gigi Hadid in the new retro two-piece

But it is a new form of sensual swimwear sexiness that works on the conceal rather than reveal effect. Taylor Swift’s step-back into vintage swimwear is not actually all that revolutionary.

Twilight star Kristen Stewart beat her in the retro race back in November 2011, causing a commotion when she appeared on the November cover of GQ, lounging poolside in a dark green two-piece, reminiscent of Tallulah Bankhead. (Although, strictly between you and me, it was actually a bra-top by Eres and “big knickers” by Louis Vuitton. But it still looked perfect pin-up material).

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Although the ‘glamour girl’ two-piece is mainly associated with the 40’s and 50’s, the style actually dates back to the 1930’s, according to Chris Boydell, of De Montfort University, curator of “Riviera Style”, a new exhibition which is now on at Zandra Rhodes’ Fashion & Textile Museum in south London, until the end of August.

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The exhibition features several vintage two-pieces, including a Dorothy Lamour, sarong-style in an exotic floral; a 40’s blue velour number, from the British firm of Martin White; and a patriotic red, white and blue floral combo, made by the Leicester firm of Symington in 1951.

Curator Chris believes the two-piece originally became popular because it was more flattering and provided ‘tummy coverage’. "Today, advances in fabric technology mean modern two-pieces give even more tummy control, which a lot of women find more flattering than a bikini.”

Fenwick Bond Street’s swimwear buyer, Laura Snelling, cites Prism and Jets as two of the best brands.

“Prism have a lot of high-waist bottoms and bikini tops in assorted colours and prints, and Jets has a 50’s style halter with either high-waist or classic bottoms, which is one of our best sellers.”

Taylor Swift is a fan of the retro two-piece pictured here with the Haim sisters and DJ and retro style queen Mia Moretti is also a champion of the look.

Ten ways to pick the perfect retro two-piece

So, if you’ve decided to combine vintage, bathing-beauty glamour with the science of stretch, here are some tips on how to pick the ideal 21st century two-piece.

  1. Bustier-shape and longer-line bra-tops, generally under-wired, offer maximum support, particularly suitable for larger busts.
  2. Look for plunge-front or halter tops for optimum cleavage.
  3. Bandeau-style tops work best on smaller busts.
  4. Ruched or drawstring-side waist-high bottoms mean you can adjust the amount of thigh/leg exposure.
  5. Bottoms with a fold-down waist effect, mean you can show a little more tum when sunbathing, and then fold back up when swimming or at the beach-bar.
  6. Try a sarong-effect bottom to flatter the tum.
  7. Pale colours and shiny metallics are less friendly to any lumps and bumps.
  8. Choose darker colours to flatter and minimize any figure faults.
  9. Frills and flounces add the illusion of curves to a straighter figure.
  10. Brands to look out for include PrismLisa Marie FernandezJetsSeafollyPour Moi, Roksanda Ilincic and Marie Meili

Five of the best pin-up bikinis

Genevieve bikini, £288, Lisa Marie Fernandez (Available at Fenwick Bond Street)

Bikini top £16, bottom, £14, Marie Meili (Available at Bentalls Kingston)

Bikini, from a selection, Pour Moi (Available at Bentalls Kingston)

Positano bikini top, £135, and Hollywood briefs, £85, Prism (Available at Fenwick Bond Street)

Bikini, from a selection, Jets (Available at Fenwick Bond Street)

By Hilary Alexander