Accessories designer Kate Spade hasn't made the full leap into a ready-to-wear collection yet, but she partnered with the edgy apparel team As Four to create nine core items that are intended to be adaptable to time and place. And the As Fourkatespade garments make ideal cover-ups: A knife-pleated, green-apple chiffon piece, for instance, could be a wrap skirt, a bandeau or a capelet, and one side of a reversible shrunken shirt is made of water-absorbent terry cloth.
"I love dressing for the beach and I always do. It's just as easy to throw a bright beachy shift dress on as it is an old T-shirt, especially if you are not feeling so great in a bathing suit," Spade says.
The right cover-up can give you extra confidence and "a little skip to your step," because you won't be worried about what body part is exposed or if you've struck a flattering pose, she says.
Even children are targets for the total look, says Jasmin Coyle, merchandise manager for The Disney Store.
"It's event dressing, sort of like Halloween. A vacation or even a day at the beach is important in the lives of kids," Coyle says.
It's also big business, adds Disney Store president Mario Ciampi. It's a category that's exploded, with sales now five times what they were two years ago.
Most kids' styles in stores feature bright colors, complementary patterns (such as florals and stripes in the same colors), flashy trim and practical shapes that stay on in the water but are easy to get off.
The same can't be said for adult beachwear, though.
"You can't go swimming in half these suits; a lot are for the body language," Zee says.
Hot trends include graphic cuts with banding and striping, intricately-designed one-pieces, and high-waisted bikinis. "There's a whole nod to retro, old Hollywood and Hitchcock heroines going on in fashion and it's trickled to swimwear. It's innocent but beautiful. ... It's not just a triangle string bikini that's sexy anymore."
To complete the outfit, try a loose jacket - maybe in linen - or baggy jeans, or the more traditional tunic or sarong. It OK if they have beading or embroidery and even appear a bit fancy. "Women are even wearing jewelry to the beach," Zee notes.
Men tend to choose their beach wardrobe more by their own personality than trend.
"Men are either a Speedo guy or a board-short guy. ... But they might be trying brighter colors or floral prints. They've become more adventurous than the navy blue suit," Zee says. "Abercrombie (& Fitch) capitalized on the frat boy surfer look with brights, neons, florals, and it's being accepted by these guys."