Don't go for the Nigella burkini look!
If you want to stay safe and look good as the sun shines this weekend...
Presumably it was the quest for alabaster skin that prompted Nigella Lawson's swimwear statement on Bondi Beach earlier this week, tans being very 20th century.
It's not as if the TV chef has previously been coy about her body. Arguably, her sense of being bien dans sa peau is very much a part of her brand identity as all-round domestic godliness. So why the retreat behind the nylon curtain?
We've all been there. The hideous changing-room lighting, the stony disdain of the shop assistant, the distorting (they are distorting, aren't they? ) mirrors. But is a burkini the answer?
Frolicsome and playful this is not. Like all voluminous bathing costumes, the sad truth is this one is marginally less flattering than wrapping yourself in Moby Dick.
I know where Lawson and co are coming from, honestly I do. As someone who comes out in an agonisingly itchy full-body rash the moment the mercury touches 16C, I understand the imperative to keep the sun at bay while somehow enjoying it. But a three-piece, consisting of cap, trouser and long-sleeved hooded tunic? Mmm.
So what do you wear on the beach if you're self-conscious about your shape, or warding off sun-exacerbated eczema?
To deal with the shape issue first, what you don't do is make the mistake of opting for maximum coverage. That doesn't mean you can't go for a one-piece. But the key function should be support rather than concealment. For large-breasted women that will probably mean wide, sturdy straps and proper bra-style cups.
A gentle amount of control panelling across the tummy is another fine idea -- but with the emphasis on gentle. You're meant to be enjoying yourself, not sampling the latest in external gastric bands. Wearing a bikini top that lifts the breasts and pushes them forward will also create the illusion of a flatter stomach.
As for all those swimming costumes with boy-shorts attached? Forget them. They may have looked great on Keira Knightley in Atonement, but that's why she's a highly paid movie star.
If you're really hung up about your thighs, wear an eye-catching top: ruffles, bows or a striking pattern will all detract from your lower half, which inevitably isn't as unsightly as you probably think, especially if you're properly groomed.
Bikini-wise, we're spoilt for choice these days. The most flattering briefs are medium-high cut on the leg and provide ample coverage over the buttocks. Old-fashioned floral cotton bottoms are very pretty when they're dry but a disaster when wet and saggy. Choose something with Lycra instead.
When it comes to tops, there are a few fail-safe rules: halternecks that can be adjusted are great for small busts as the ties can be tightened to hoik up breasts and create a bit of cleavage. Bandeaus are almost universally unflattering.
Strapless is useless for any activity other than sleeping horizontally. Balconette bras look adorable on small breasts, but flashy and vulgar on anything larger than a D-cup. Plain, dark colours with bold details -- tortoiseshell or gold buckles, for example -- are sensational on curvier women.
If you're really having a bad body day, a pair of floppy linen trousers or shorts are a good idea to pull on for lunch or for when self-consciousness overwhelms you on the sun lounger. May the kaftan never die; by now, most women will have accumulated quite a collection. And most of us can always benefit from another. Soft, washed cottons are infinitely preferable to garish, over-embellished synthetics.
If you're serious about protecting your skin, you should always wear a hat in summer, even walking down a sunny city street.
And as for genuine allergies to the sun's heat: I went to three dermatologists before I self-prescribed some over-the-counter antihistamine hay fever tablets. In my case, it was Zirtek that did the trick. Burkinis? They don't do it for me.