Men, count your blessings. Fitting a suit is generally easier for you than for women.
If you can pull on a pair of shorts, you can find a bathing suit that fits. This year the trend is toward a Bermuda shorts look. You can still find a Speedo-type bikini, but bigger, baggy and comfortable is the top trend. Or should we call it retro trend? It harkens back to the jam look of the late 1960s.
There are only a couple of variables you should be concerned about. If you have a little midriff bulge, try bold vertical stripes or a vertical floral pattern to give a more horizontal look. Make sure the waistband fits properly and doesn't pinch.
If you are in terrific shape and want a more form-fitting suit, the Speedo-type bikini suits are still available, but they are not the height of fashion this year. You could buy a pair of madras baggy shorts to wear over them when you want to leave the beach, stroll or celebrate at the backyard gathering.
Women have a harder time.
"There is just more to cover," says image consultant Jan Larkey, author of "Flatter Your Figure" (Prentice Hall, $8.95).
Ms. Larkey teamed with the Lands' End catalog to present a line of 90 women's suits called "Kindest Cut."
"We've had the Kindest Cut program for nine years, but this is the first year we have trained our operators to help with sizing over the phone," says Michele Casper, spokeswoman for Lands' End.
Ms. Larkey instructed the operators about camouflaging techniques, pairing suit styles with figure flaws. "Every woman has between three and seven problem areas," she says. "Women focus more on the mid and lower torso and thunder thighs. The bust is not as much of a problem, unless they are flat-chested or are very large."
Lands' End uses a fit model (a model who is a perfect size) for the basic suits. The same model will try on different styles so the merchandisers get a feel for how the suit fits. Then they choose 20 Lands' End employees and have them test the new suits. They have to swim in them and wear them an hour a day for a week and then report back.
"Testing on real people is an advantage," Larkey says.
So how to tell if a suit is right for you?
First, you need four measurements: bust, waist, hips and torso. (There's no right answer here, so be honest.) To measure the torso, get a tape measure. Begin at the shoulder, loop it through your legs and end at the same shoulder. That number will tell you whether you are a regular, a long or a short torso, as compared to a chart.
Try the blink test. Put on the suit you have chosen. Stand in front of a mirror. Close your eyes. Open your eyes. Ask yourself what part of the suit you noticed first. If that's the part of your figure you want to accentuate, you are on the right track. If your eye goes first to your figure flaws, choose another style.