News & Politics

Swimwear That Fits

Big waist? Small bust? Two designing women in Virginia share advice on choosing a flattering bathing suit.

Karla Colletto Miller and Lisa Colletto Rovan know the angst some women feel about bathing suits. So the sisters have built a successful swimwear company in Vienna, Virginia, by focusing on fabric, fit, and designs that distract from what women see as problem areas.

“We enjoyed the challenge of working with stretch fabrics, and we noticed a void in the market for swimwear,” Karla says.

When they started Karla Colletto in the 1980s, they made three “one size fits all” suits in batches of 50 to 100 and sold them to a handful of Washington stores such as Woodward & Lothrop and Commander Salamander. Both women had full-time day jobs—Lisa was a garment-factory supervisor in Baltimore, and Karla, the firm’s designer, worked in a bridal shop. Their cutting table was in Karla’s basement in Warrenton.

Karla Colletto swimwear is now a hit in stores large and small, from Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus to Everything But Water and Sylene, a boutique in Chevy Chase. They sell nearly 40,000 suits a year—all produced in their Vienna factory.

The swimwear, which ranges from $180 to $230, is made from microfiber that feels soft and has Lycra to hold in bulges. A matching skirt or cover-up is available for every design.

We asked the sisters for advice on buying bathing suits.

Is it true you should buy a swimsuit a size larger than you wear in clothing?

Lisa: “You can’t look at sizes. Swimsuit sizes are different. Take a few sizes into the dressing room and see what fits.”

Should busty women look for suits with underwires?

Lisa: “Not necessarily. You need both coverage and support, and some suits offer that without underwire.”

Lots of women are self-conscious about their figures. Short of wearing a big T-shirt on the beach, what can they do?

Lisa: “If you’re bottom-heavy, skirted bottoms offer the best coverage, but there are other options. Styles with drawstrings on the sides add shirring, and they’re adjustable so you can control the amount of thigh you want to see. If you have a thick waist, look for suits with rouching in the middle or a diagonal pattern.

“Square, high, or V-necklines minimize a full chest. If you have a small bust, bandeau styles or horizontal patterns make the chest seem broader. Or choose bustlines with details or texture.”

What about necklines?

Karla: “A scoop or V-neck is flattering if you have broad shoulders, a short neck, or a large bust. Halter necklines are flattering on women with long necks or small busts. Round necklines tend to flatter broad shoulders or small busts. Square necklines broaden—they work well for someone with narrow shoulders or a short neck.”

Are prints more slimming than solids? What colors are slimming other than black?

Lisa: “An engineered print—one that’s strategically positioned to draw the eye away from, say, the hips or chest—can be very slimming. Any deep color can be slimming. We do well with olive, chocolate, indigo, cranberry, and wine.”

What are your most popular styles?

Lisa: “Our one-piece with a twisted design on the bodice and hidden underwires.”

Is there an “it” suit this year?

Karla: “The current trends include bright colors like shocking pink; ‘pin-up’ and glamorous styles; and lots of feminine details like flowers, ruffles, and rouching.”

Suits are so pricey. How can we make them last?

Karla: “Look for fabrics that are chlorine resistant. And never wear a suit you love in a hot tub—no fabric can withstand the combination of heat and chemicals.”