How to Find the Most Slimming Plus-Size Swimsuit

Swimsuit season is here, but don't panic! Full-figured fashionista Ashley Falcon has you covered with no-fail tips for finding the chicest suit for summer.

Let's begin with the obvious: Swimsuits blow. I look forward to wearing them about as much as I look forward to major dental work. But I grew up in Miami, epicenter of the pool party and beach picnic, where avoiding a swimsuit would have meant social suicide. At some point I had to get over it already and acknowledge that, while I'll never look like Bar Refaeli in a Speedo, I could rock a swimsuit with total confidence, provided it's the absolute best fit and cut. No simple task, but totally doable for anyone struggling with beach season so long as you follow these guidelines:

· Don't compromise on fit. Telltale signs that it's just not right: constant wedgies, the straps make red grooves in your shoulders, your boobs hover around your elbows. Here's a trick to help you find the right cut on bottom: Try on your most flattering pair of (non-thong!) panties and look for the same cut in the store. As for the top, don't even think about buying a suit without built-in support. A well-contained bosom balances out wide hips and thick thighs and is crucial to cutting an hourglass figure.

· The best suits are well-engineered. These days, quality swimsuits exploit the most advanced textiles and manufacturing technologies. Spanx, for example, applied its renowned tummy-sucking properties to its line of swimwear. Every suit is constructed with the sole purpose of making you look as lean as possible, with strategic piping, rouching, and ruffling. Be mindful of figure-flattering touches: Side shirring and color blocking camouflage a thick middle; a sturdy halter minimizes a big bust.

· Stick with solids, opt for coverage. Busy prints are neither slimming nor age-appropriate. (Leave the hibiscus flowers and Chiquita bananas to grandma, m'kay?) Tight prints, like tiny checks or polka dots, are the exception — they create a slimming optical illusion. Other no-no's: Paris Hilton — esque cutouts, plunging necklines, and bikinis. There, I said it. The only acceptable two-piece is a tankini, which Old Navy does especially well (up to size XXL), with tops cut extra long to prevent them from riding up.

· Remember the cover-up. Don't undermine your new purchase by hiding it under a T-shirt and shorts. (Could anything be less chic?) The best cover-ups are easy enough to throw into your bag and glam enough to wear for lunch-hour window shopping. With that in mind, avoid sheer tunics, maxi dresses, or terry pullovers. Instead, stick with pareos (one size fits all!) and shirtdresses. I love Marina Rinaldi's black-and-white graphic sundress. Expensive, yes, but one of those pieces that makes you feel assured and put-together. If I can feel that way at the beach, I know I've picked a winner.

Until next time!