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

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

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?

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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