Age old guide to beachwear

Sea, sun, sand and style - here's our no-sweat guide to beachwear

Want to look good (almost) naked this summer? Unfortunately, Gok Wan can't go on holiday with all of us - he'd like to, but he's got all those TV programmes to make - so we have to use our own judgement when it comes to the tricky topic of choosing a bikini. Mere mention of the dreaded b-word will probably have sent some of you fleeing in horror, but it doesn't have to be such a trial by Lycra. There is a flattering bikini out there for everyone, you just have to know what to look for.

It's easy to get swimwear wrong, going for something with too little support, too little fabric for your figure, grabbing the wrong size in a panic or opting for colours that don't work with your skin tone (made even worse by the sheer acreage of skin you have to flaunt). The key to getting it right is to get some advice.

Most stores put their swimwear collection alongside their lingerie for a reason - you need to be measured and fitted properly for both to ensure you flatter and flaunt rather than bulge and gape. If you are in your teens or twenties, you probably have some figure hang-ups, but remember that youth is on your side. These are your bikini years, so make the most of them by going for bright colours in cuts as skimpy as you dare.

Women in their thirties often start to have minor gripes about their figures, particularly if they have had a baby or two along the way. It is at this stage that pear shapes often make the mistake of opting for the cover-up capabilities of a boy-leg pant, but don't let this blind you to the leglengthening loveliness of a high-cut bikini bottom (it really does add inches - in a good way).

Post-pregnancy tums can also cause problems. But don't panic if your tummy muscles have already gone on holiday - that's what tankinis were invented for. They add cover and support where necessary, and can be scrunched up when you're comfortably prone on your sunbed and ready to top up your tummy tan.

When you reach your forties it's time to reach for a little more support. Underwired or shaped cups give a lift, while flattering details and fabulous fabrics draw the eye away from any niggling figure problems. There is no rule to say you can't wear a bikini in your forties, but if they make you feel too exposed try a one-piece with a clever cutaway design instead.

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Elegance is the key to looking good in swimwear once you've hit 50. Bold colours can still be very flattering, especially as your holiday progresses and your tan develops, but you have to start being a bit cleverer with the cut. A lot can be achieved with a Lycra-rich fabric that can pull in less than taut tummy muscles in a trice. And hidden structuring in areas that need particular support (yes, your wibbly bits) can work wonders, allowing you to give those younger poolside princesses a real run for their money.

But, whatever your age, try not to get too hung-up on what you look like. Holidays are supposed to be fun, you know. So what if you don't look like Ursula Andres? Even Ursula Andres doesn't look like Ursula Andres anymore. Just grab yourself an ice-cold drink and a hot holiday read. It's chill out time, so be cool.

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