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Monochrome beachwear

For maximum versatility on the beach or in town, the over-40s babe could think about a monochrome scheme this summer.

damart dresses

As aforementioned, once you hit 40, summer dressing can turn into a total nightmare. While most of us look pretty OK swathed in sweaters, manufacturers desert the average woman entirely come summer and produce a plethora of skimpy, low-cut, short bits of nothing that only look good on a 16-year-old.

There's also the tricky issue of colour. Most women's go-to colour is black and black clothing accounts for 76 per cent of all women's clothing sold in the UK, but in the harsh light of summer, it looks a bit dreary to say the least and not everyone wants to dress in screaming shades of pink, blue and yellow as an alternative. Meanwhile, the manufacturers churn out black shift dresses all summer as if we all worked in law firms.

The freshest colour for summer is undoubtedly white, but it takes a brave soul to dress in white from head to foot and it's hardly the most practical colour if you're climbing in and out of cars or public transport or pelting along the UK's crowded, dusty streets.

Monochrome schemes, however - mixing black and white - look as good in town as at the seaside, so if you stick to black and white for your beachwear this winter, when you get back you can continue to wear the clothes throughout the British summer, if it ever arrives. 

shrugThe combination of black and white always looks crisp, which is important when you're wilting like limp celery. You can go for the more formal combinations of block colour and trad patterns like stripes and spots, or alternatively choose florals - or even both: as long as the colour scheme remains monochrome, all the patterns will tie together. Once you've pulled together your basic wardrobe, you can add accessories in any colour you like to make things ever-more summery.

Flicking through the Damart catalogue recently, I noticed how quickly you can build a wardrobe from their offerings of black and white clothes this year, and the prices are very reasonable. Therefore all the pix shown are Damart, but you can probably get this look from any high street store. 

monochrome skirtsI was very taken with the two-pack of dresses above, and the matching two pack of skirts (left), each with one plain black and one monochrome floral. They are all in pull-on cotton jersey for maximum ease of use (and no ironing) and the floral pattern will hide a bit of salt and sand as easily as city dirt. Add in both the black and white versions of this little cotton jersey shrug (above) with its cute fluted sleeve and that gives you many interchangeable outfits. It's good to see a shrug that's suited for daytime use and not just evening.  

swimsuitdamart swimdressCleverly, Damart have also produced a matching swimdress, which means you can simply pull on the floral skirt over the swimdress to be covered for the walk back to the hotel. Or you could try this swimsuit instead, which is toning rather than an exact match. It offers slightly less coverage but a different neckline. 

This reversible skirt is also worth looking at - floral one side, diagonal striped on the other. damart reversible skirtreversible skirtI love reversible clothes when I'm packing and can't take much and although this skirt design doesn't exactly set the world alight, it looks very wearable with a simple tee or short blouse. 

This bias-cut floral dress (below) is very simple and flattering, with a skimming cut that feels comfy in the heat and the diagonal pattern making you look slimmer. Again, it can be dressed up with cardis and shrugs for a different look.  Damart maxi dressbias-cut dressAnd for evening or lounging around, this colour-blocked maxi dress is fabulous, if you have the height to carry it off.  

Add in a couple of pairs of jeans or trousers in white and black, and that's your summer wardrobe pretty much taken care of, and if you want a bit of colour, add in some accessories in red, blue, aqua, gold or whatever other colour takes your fancy.

Have fun on the beach.

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The swimdress - another beach alternative for women over 40

Further to my article on swimwear I found these babies the other day - swimdresses

Wearing a tankini, high-waist bottoms and a swimskirt is a great chop-and-change option for the beach, but if you can only pack one cossie and you like a bit of cover, you could think about a swimdress. As you can see, a swimdress is a more forgiving alternative to a swimsuit, and if you pick your design right, you can have rather looser coverage than wearing a swimskirt - useful if you've got tummy issues.

Somewhere in my heart I knew these things must still exist (I remember my mother wearing one back in the 60s), but it took me a while to find them.

blog imageblog imageblog imageWith a swimdress, you get what you pay for, as with any other costume. Those from Sears (sadly not available in Europe) are at the cheaper end of the market. Sears has numerous designs of swimdresses (I count 24, plus another 10 or so from sister company KMart), offering different features. Some have moulded cups while others have a shelf bra: you can choose ruffles, thick straps, thin straps, tie fronts, halternecks, backless and bandeau. Those that aren't empire-waisted have vertical princess seams and a sewn-in brief. Prices (for the KMart range) start at just under $25. The regular size is US 8, 10, 12 and there's also a plus-size range.

This batik suit (far left) is the type with a separate tank underneath an empire waist overlayer. There's a string tie in the front, the cups are moulded and there is bead trim on the straps. The tank suit underneath has a mesh panel across the midsection for better ventilation, which strikes me as a great idea, given that you're wearing two layers. Sadly, the size range is limited to US sizes 8, 10 and 12. But at $54.60 it's a bargain.

This floral number (middle left) is one of the plus-size models, available in 18W and 20W. It has vertical princess seams and a sewn-in brief rather than two layers and costs the same price - $54.60. My personal fave though is this halter-neck swimdress (left) with contrast bust section (great for women who are small on top but heavier on their lower half) and loose, floaty plain skirt. $47.60.

Best of all at Sears, the firm is linked with My Virtual Model, so you can log on via the Sears site and dress your actual figure in one of these suits to see what it looks like.

blog imageblog imageblog imageIf you've got deeper pockets, check out Orvis, which also has a range of swimdresses, with nicer styling and more features than the Sears dresses, averaging about $90 a pop. This floral one (right) has a faux sarong skirt, which is a very feminine option, a built-in softcup bra and adjustable straps. Many of their models have a built-in tummy control panel, including this soft green and brown batik option (middle right). My favourite, though, is this v-neck version, where the thick straps balance the flirty skirt (far right).

blog imageblog imagePriced in between the two are suits from Spiegel, which offers about 15 designs of swimdress for the mid-70s of dollars, but are currently on sale for about $55. They include moulded cups and power-mesh tummy- and butt-smoothers and some interesting designs, such as this contrast-border black one (far left). Crucially, for British readers, Spiegel will ship to the UK. For more US offerings, check out NexTag.

We Yurrupeans seem to get a bit short-changed generally when it comes to swimdresses, and they are much more expensive. The UK version of Orvis offers the same swimdresses as the US company but for TWICE THE PRICE. The best is this one from Miraclesuit (left), which offers all the usual Miraclesuit goodies, is 32 per cent lycra, so will suck you in, in all the right places, and promises to take 10 pounds off you, but at the moment it's out of stock.

But why, I ask you, should we pay twice the price for the same bloody thing anyway? Log onto Spiegel, or get yourself an American friend instead.

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Swimsuits for the over-40s babe

If you've got a great figure that you're proud to show off, read no further, but if you've got anything to hide, read on...

Swimsuits are one of those things that many women over 40 loathe buying. Trying the things on, under unflattering lighting or in crowded changing rooms can be sheer purgatory, and if you don't try it on, then get the thing home and find it's not right, that's even more annoying.

As you get older, and probably a bit saggier, a swimsuit needs to do more for you than the old micro-bikini, but the good news is there are some great designs on the market that take real women's shapes into account.

When looking for a suit, there are several things to bear in mind.

1 The higher the lycra content, the better - the more the suit will hold you in. Ten years ago, most suits had about 8-10 per cent lycra, but now the high-end suits have 23-45 per cent. You do, of course, have to pay more for this, but if your swimsuit is something people are going to see you in, you may as well make the most of yourself. Check the label for the lycra content.

blog imageblog image2 Get one with a proper bra - either shelf or underwire - and with moulded cups if you like them. It does wonders for your shape. This MiracleBra tankini (right) from Victoria's Secret has underwires and even removable padding.

3 Colour can be your friend. Although black is the most slimming option, it can look a little harsh, and a bright colour is often more flattering, especially if you're pale.

4 Pattern breaks up your outline more than a solid - the bigger the better. Look out too for slimming central panels.

5 Separates will give you more options than a one-piece, and allow you to chop and change your look. It's especially useful if your rear end is bigger than your bust (something that plagues most of us), as you can buy the two halves in different sizes. If you like bikinis, the sky's the limit, but if you prefer a one-piece look, tankinis are a great option. It's an old-fashioned idea that the two halves have to match, so just chop and change according to your whim.

6 Don't forget the swimskirt. Swimskirts are great for covering up that fat bit of thigh a lot of us are sensitive about, but they tend to rest on your hips, so if you're sensitive about a flabby tummy too, you need either a swimsuit or tank underneath. Swimskirts come in all kinds of designs, from split to tennis-type to asymmetric. They also allow you to ring the changes - a couple of tankinis and two different bottom halves gives you four different outfits for a beach holiday - but add a swimskirt and that's eight different outfits.

blog image7 A good beach cover-up is worth its weight. Although you may be comfortable lying on the sand in next to nothing, for getting to and from the beach or the pool, or sitting in the icecream parlour, a cover-up preserves your dignity a bit. It's best to get a specialist one, designed to cope with salt and sun and chlorine, rather than make do with an old cotton sarong that retains the damp and fades in the sun. Modern microfibres dry in minutes and are incredibly useful - or try poly chiffon. This yellow halter version is from Victoria's Secret.

There are some great companies online offering swimsuits. Figleaves stocks the a wide range of swimsuits by great bra makers, including Freya, Fantaisie, Ballet and Triumph. All offer degrees of control from light to firm, different necklines and various types of breast support from moulded cups to underwires. Triumph's Doreen swimsuit offers the same support as the superb Doreen bra.

Another great company, perhaps surprisingly, is Victoria's Secret. Victoria's Secret may sell extremely sexy underwear, but they understand the female shape.

blog imageThe Magicsuit range for Victoria's Secret is a range of solids in dark shades like black, chocolate, burgundy and blue. Magicsuits comes in medium or firm control that promise to take ten pounds off you and offer overskirts that can be worn in the water. Calvin Klein (see right) also offers a couple of overskirts that match its tops in solids like black, brown and magenta.

Victoria's Secret's Miraclebra range, however, is fabulous - offering excellent breast support in half a dozen different styles, including halter. As well as bra tops you can buy tankinis, including in longer length, and different styles of bottoms, from Brazilian to full boxer shorts. Crucially, the range includes a high-waist bottom that comes up to your bellybutton and holds you in properly, which goes brilliantly with a contrasting tank. The Miraclebra range also includes overskirts that you can wear in the water, which effectively lengthens your suit into a skirted suit. With five different prints, matched to five different solids, the range gives you a fantastic range of offerings for a two-week beach holiday.

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