Charla: You have to realize that this is the most tortuous shopping of all. Nothing compares. Shave or wax your legs and bikini line before you go. You may be the only one looking, but you want to do everything possible to feel good. And, self-tan. Everybody looks better in a swimsuit with a little color.
O: Is there one fail-safe style that flatters everyone?
Charla: A V-neck one-piece with shirring or draping can look terrific on a lot of women. Miraclesuit makes several with a brooch at the cleavage point that's the perfect distraction from areas you might be self-conscious about—your eye goes right there.
O: What if you're bigger on top and uncomfortable drawing attention to that area?
Charla: Fit the bust first. Find a suit that solves your problem spot, and you can worry about everything else later. Also, if you're big-busted, you want a wide strap. Skinny, little nothing strings are going to cut into your skin and be painful.
O: Everyone has bought the wrong suit at some point—have you?
Charla: Oh my god! I'm a repeat offender in buying things on sale that I can't return. Every summer, I go to a giant yard sale. They have supercheap swimsuits from fabulous designers, but no dressing rooms. Once, I bought a zebra-print suit without realizing the stripes would make rings around my stomach. Last year, I bought a nice voluptuous V-neck, but it was way too deep. Every time I think, "But it's on sale!"
O: Are there certain styles you should never even take into the dressing room?
Charla: Stay away from any suit with a skirt attached, the classic old lady look. In reality, that extra fabric always makes you look bigger, and the additional seam is unflattering. If you want to wear that style, get a swim dress.
O: What's the difference?
Charla: A swim dress is more A-line; it's a traditional swimsuit that flares just above the hips and gives the appearance of a dress. I love it as an alternative for women who hate to show too much flesh.
O: What else can women do to avoid looking old at the beach?
Charla: The tankini is a disaster for anyone over 40. A lot of people say, "Oh the tank, that's so easy, right?" Well, most of them don't have bra support. You also run into a problem with "middle management"—the tops are always flapping up, baring midriff when you wanted to hide it. Just buy a one-piece shaper suit. You will be so much better off. Consider going to a specialty store. Bra stores that sell swimwear are an excellent place to start. You'll find salespeople trained in how to fit