Ever fallen victim to a false sense of cuteness? Sorely misinterpreted a trend? Passed on the must-have item that became a classic? Have enough black in your closet to be mistaken for a ninja? We’ve all been there, some of us more than others. You may be shaking your head as you read, but to say you don’t care the slightest bit about fashion and style (or lack of) would be an outright lie. (Riiiight. And you just happened to “throw on” that tank with those expertly-distressed jeans.) It’s true, there’s enough going on today that perfect-fitting jeans and this season’s it shoes take a back seat (for some of us) but no one, I mean no one, should ignore style all together.

Enter StyleMaven. C’est moi. “Style” meaning the “fashion of the moment,” in this case dress. “Maven” meaning “someone who is dazzlingly skilled in any field.” I’m going to keep you up-to-date on all the must-haves, warn you of the must-nots, and give you a heads up on what to buy, store and keep each season. And you need not think a new season means a completely new wardrobe–fashion isn’t that out of touch with reality. Like everything else, fashion is a cycle and it’s inevitable that some things (wide-leg trousers, kitten heels, cowl-necked sweaters) will cycle back into style. There are, of course, things that I personally think or hope will never be back in vogue, if they ever were, like swimwear with zippers, monochromatic navy (unless you’re actually in the Navy) and fluorescent anything.

Since we’re being honest, I’ll let you know where I stand on some things. I firmly believe that nothing beats a great pair of jeans (more on that in the future), that fabulous accessories can totally transform an outfit, that killer heels add more than just height. I abhor head-to-toe trends (put some original thought into it, please) and toile.

Now that introductions are out of the way, let’s get down to the business of dressing for summer and more specifically the beach. After all, Memorial Day is on our heels, and you wouldn’t want to be caught looking anything less than chic by the water.

Call it curiosity, call it journalistic duty, but somewhere in between frenzied crunches (never does pay to pack five months of holiday bingeing into four days) and a routine pedicure, I found myself in the spray tan booth at Exotic Tan (Newton Drive, Raleigh). A little extreme for swimsuit trials, I know, but it did seem to dull the somewhat painful activity of trying to find four triangles of nylon that is flattering both standing and sitting. Lucky for you, I took the guesswork out of that battle and now the hard work should be behind you. I approached this yearly chore by looking at activities normally done on the beach, by the pool, at the lake, or near any other large body of water where swimwear is required. Seeing as how my usually activities are and always have been sitting, reading, and dare I say–cocktailing–I knew exactly what style would suit. Right away I fell for a pink terry cloth BCBG bikini (Scout & Molly’s, $131, 848-8732). Another tried and true favorite are Shoshanna’s mix and match two-pieces (Uniquities, $141, 933-4007). Thank all that is fashionable that someone finally understood that not all bikini-wearers are created equal and that a blanket S, M or L doesn’t always work out.

For you more active types I did a little role-playing to determine the most flattering swimwear with the best staying power; as in will not move when you actually hit the water. After serious contortions in several dressing rooms (which by the way were generally bigger than most cubicles), I narrowed down some choices. My hands-down favorite (and keep in mind it could be because of the spray tan) was a sporty yet chic bikini by TNA (Uniquities, $120, 933-4007). If you’re in need of more coverage without going totally matronly, a one-piece halter is the way to go. (J.Crew seems to have a monopoly on that look, $64.) And while we’re talking coverage, what you wear over your suit is important as well. Please, try to ditch the oversized, worn-out tee for a more sophisticated tunic. And rather than join the masses en route to Old Navy (that catchy tune is currently on repeat in my head), pick up better-made and more unique tunics by Carolina K (Wardrobbe, $132, 828-8700). Or, if you really want to bring a little fashion to the beach, the tunics by Tibi and Trina Turk (Beanie + Cecil, 821-5455) will do just that. Yes, they are more expensive, but think how much wear you got out of that ugly old tee–surely the tunic will hang in there for at least half as long.

Here are some parting tips to take in the dressing room with you:

  • Suits with shorts are not flattering. End of discussion.
  • It’s OK to go up a size. The correctly sized swimsuit will not dent your skin, nor will it gape off of your body.
  • One-pieces are the new little bikini. As in they’re totally hot this season and not just for the “I wouldn’t be caught in the privacy of my own bedroom in a bikini” women. That said, bikinis are still very much in style.
  • White will always, ALWAYS, show through.
  • Black is timeless and looks great on everyone, but it’s OK (and even recommended) to add a shot of color. It is, after all, summer.
  • Caring properly for your suit will help prolong its working life. Be sure to rinse with cold water after swimming and never machine wash and dry swimwear.