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How To Not Look Like Dora the Explorer in a One-Piece

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Love, Frank has returned as a weekly style advice column. Addressing a different reader's fashion glitch each week, he tackles all the hard-hitting issues—like whether you can wear white to a wedding and where to find cute shoelaces.

Dear Frank,

I recently splurged on not one but two one-piece swimsuits. In the well-lit fitting room I felt like a '50s bombshell. Now I feel more like Dora the Explorer. Is there any way to really make a maillot feel adult and sexy? Or should I just hunt down the receipt and return them?

Love,
26 Going on 12


Elle's Joe Zee loves a one-piece, too. Image via Elle

Dear 26,

I, for one, think a one-piece is about as sexy and adult as it gets. It leaves a little, just a little, to the imagination. It's chic. It's classic. It says, "Hey, I'm not a desperate, wanton slut."

That being said, I might not be your audience; and chic and subtle might not be the look you're going for at the beach this summer.

However, the maillot seems to be having a bit of a moment right now. Last month, Elle's Creative Director Joe Zee paid tribuet to the one-piece's versatility (along with the era of Amazonian supermodels and fetishized '80s athleticism). The spread featured an inset iconic snap from a late '80s, along with a contemporary version of each featured suit styled for on- and off-beach.

The on-beach looks are pretty much a model in a bathing suit (or straight up ridiculous—no-one is wearing a blazer over a bathing suit on the sand). But the off-beach looks include linen shackets, sheer maxi skirts, and embellished peekaboo shifts. The combinations are chic and sexy and clean up in a way one just couldn't in a two-piece.

Vogue and Harper's Bazaar also featured maillots in June—and three's a trend, right? You're on the pulse, 26! Click through some of Vogue's picks; and don't miss this pretty amazing slideshow of swimsuits from the Vogue archives. They're mostly one-pieces, and they look great.

Now, how to make it adult and sexy? Well, I'd avoid anything too novelty or young or bombshell/'50s. Polka dots, bows and other twee embellishments, wacky conversational prints, anything overly retro—on the suit or accessorized with it—well, suddenly you're Minnie Mouse. Cat-eye sunglasses, up-dos, ribbons, elaborate make-up? You're not a pin-up girl; and World War II wasn't three years ago.

I suggest clean and classic—paired with an aviator or wayfarer, a canvas or straw tote, a straw fedora or floppy beach hat, a hoop earring. If those bathing suits are solids (and they should be; we've already established that they definitely aren't polka-dotted), add a tunic or a sarong in a kicky, on-trend print—something a little ethnic or a mosaic-y geometric. Or, frankly, what's cuter than a frayed, out-sized oxford shirt swiped from your man's closet and a slinky pair of cut-off jeans. It's the beach!

All said, it's totally your oyster, 26—go nuts. Wear what you want; wear what you would. Just avoid the cutesy and the retro and you should be able to pull it off. I have total faith in you.

Got a style question for Frank? Leave it in the comments or email one in here. Then buckle your two-toned leather Moschino belts, folks, because it's going to be ? Something.
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