With the first day of summer upon us, it's time to talk about a difficult topic. That's right, ladies: it's swimsuit season.

For many women, swimsuit shopping ranks alongside having a root canal or paying taxes on the list of "Things I'd Rather Never Do." But with today's styles, it doesn't have to be a fluorescent-lit horror show. In fact, a lot of the fashionable swimwear choices for this season are flattering to a variety of body types.

At Fashion Bug in Oneonta's Southside Mall, the tankini is back, and it's better than ever, according to manager Angela Salvia. The Oneonta store's plus-sized swimwear line offers a number of contemporary looks, with the tankini at the forefront. This two-piece offers more coverage for the torso than a bikini, pairing a tanktop-style top with a bikini bottom _ hence the name.

"It's great because you get the freedom of the two piece and get the idea of I'm wearing a two-piece bathing suit,' but you still have the covering that you like," Salvia said.

The tankini arrived modestly onto the swimwear scene about 10 years ago. Swimwear designer Ann Cole, of Cole of California, is credited with inventing the style in 1998 after being inspired by sportswear trends.

Though Cole intended the tankini for the young, fit and fashionable, she found an instant audience among older women who enjoyed the freedom of a two-piece without having to show too much midsection. As Salvia said, "If you've had a few kids, or for whatever reason, you have that extra coverage" with the tankini.

Be warned, however, that the tankini may inspire girlish glee. In a 1998 interview with the Los Angeles Business Journal, Cole described the reactions of the first customers who tried on her new design: "All these women in their 40s and their 30s and those who hadn't worn bikinis for a long time were squealing in the dressing room. Ooh, look at me. I'm in a two-piece suit.' They were taking in a rebirth of their youth."

McLaughlin's of Oneonta featured some of Cole of California's 21st-century takes on the tankini, including Hawaiian-printed halters and tank tops paired with faux-denim bikini bottoms. Both suits were on sale for $29.99.

If the sporty tankini isn't your style, don't despair: retailers have found a way to make the boring old one-piece anything but boring, and they're calling it a monokini. Rather than dwell on the baffling name, it's best to focus on the positive attributes of these 21st-century one-pieces, which feature sexy cutouts and plunging necklines. Not for the faint of heart, these styles offer sex appeal while still allowing the wearer to pick and choose just what parts of the body are concealed and which are revealed. Cutouts at the sides reveal a trim waistline, taking attention off the bust; a deep V-neck creates cleavage out of thin air and distracts from the midsection.

Not everyone is worried about looking sexy while chasing after the kids or swimming a few laps, but that doesn't mean you can't look cute. The super-sexy monokini has its demure counterpart this season in retro-inspired one-pieces that boast figure-flattering halter tops, low-cut legs and G-rated glamour fit for a '40s starlet.

"We have a lot of halters this year, which I hadn't really seen in the last few years," Salvia said. "I think that's flattering on just about any woman. It brings all that attention up there where you want it." Pair the polka-dotted tank with a pair of white sunglasses, Salvia said, and you've got a glamorous look that's still swim-ready.

Polka dots popped at McLaughlin's as well, including in a turquoise and tan bikini by Maia for $19.99, offering a modern interpretation of this classically cute look, with other styles by Body I.D. and Apollo highlighting trends such as metallics and detailing. A sleek tank by Body I.D. was crafted in deep metallic bronze, retailing for $24.99 on sale, and one-piece suits by It Figures featured metallic sequin trim, flirty ruffles and intricate seaming.

As far as color goes this year, Salvia said black is big. "Who doesn't want a black swimsuit?" she asked, holding up a sophisticated halter top by Contour with delicate silver embroidery on the bust. Mixed in with the basic black, though, are plenty of details and some pops of color.

"The blues and pinks are big this year _ I have a lot of aqua and turquoise," Salvia said, rifling through a rack of suits in just those colors, including a trapeze-style blue floral tankini with crossed straps and a skirt-style bottom, also by Contour. Pinks and corals were plentiful at McLaughlin's, too, on a colorful rack of bikinis that ranged from modest, 1960s-inspired styles to modern minis.

If any single theme can emerge from this season's swimwear styles, it is one of femininity and variety. Even the most basic tank suit seems to have an added embellishment, like the metallic O-rings on the straps of Body I.D. one-pieces at McLaughlin's, or the embroidery on Fashion Bug's basic black suits. As Salvia said, this helps eliminate the need for cover-ups and accessories to dress up a swimsuit for fun occasions such as pool parties or trips to the beach.

"I think people need to have two bathing suits this year," Salvia said. "They need to have their basic Speedo racer suit, because it's practical, but don't be afraid to go out and buy that tankini with the Empire waist and a little skirt. They're accessorizing the swimsuits enough that if you're going on a cruise, or going to the water park, you can just walk around in your swimsuit with a pair of flip-flops to match and feel like you're all set."

So ladies, don't be scared to step into that fitting room. With all the choices available today, the experience may not be as brutal as you think.

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