NEW YORK — With the new year in full swing, poolside sunbathers in idyllic locales are showing off the first signs of swimwear for 2003.

Based on interviews with six resorts and hotels frequented by fashion-minded women, swimmers and sun worshippers are favoring one-piece swimsuits, glitzy bikinis, cover-ups and costume jewelry. Instead of grabbing a tried-and-true basic, women are dressing up a bit even if they never dangle their ankles in the water.

"They seem to dress up to lounge," said Azadeh Nashat, event producer at the Viceroy, a Santa Monica boutique hotel better known for its poolside cabana parties than aqua aerobics. "I don’t think any of these women actually get in the pool."

The move toward more decorative swimwear is not such a stretch in light of the economic turbulence, according to Iris LeBron, DuPont’s fashion director of intimate apparel, activewear and swimwear.

"In this economy, people are not just sitting back and putting out ‘blah’ stuff," LeBron said. "They’re stepping up and being more creative because they know they have to catch the consumer’s eye. That’s why there’s more embellishment. There’s not a lot of severity in swimwear now. Overall, it’s sexier."

Women are wearing more revealing two-piece swimsuits at the Mount Nelson Hotel’s pool in Johannesburg, South Africa, than in years past.

Sales manager Janice Gombert, said: "The trend this year is scantily clad. If you have it or, in some cases, if you think you have it, it is a case of dare to be bare. The look is bright and festive and far more glamourous than in the past."

Bikinis dominate with fluorescent green and flashy numbers in shiny silvers or with gold trim being well represented. Many women are wearing their swimsuits with bright, contrasting wraparounds. Cover-ups are flimsy and flowing with itsy-bitsy crocheted, sparkly lace and georgette chiffon being among the poolside favorites, Gombert said. Caftans have also made a major comeback in soft, natural shades and lightweight fabrics, such as cheesecloth, she said.

Mount Nelson Hotel swimmers are equally decorative with their accessories, favoring beaded sandals in feminine pinks and purples, and straw hats in natural shades. Many women are sweeping their hair up in feather, beaded or floral hair clips. Costume jewelry pieces with crystal and semiprecious stones are popular, as well as hair ties with bright beads or shells. "The Mount Nelson pool fashion is very much focused on a feminine collective look, with an attention to detail and a good dash of sex appeal," Gombert said.In the Furnace Creek Inn in Death Valley, Calif., women are suiting up in more modest styles, especially figure-flattering Forties-inspired pieces with ample coverage, said Toni Jepson, the inn manager. Colors are also sophisticated, considering the prevalence of charcoal gray and chocolate brown. La Palapa’s $60, one-piece, black swimsuit with the property’s logo in gold stitching is the bestseller at the resort’s boutique.

"The suit is flashy, yet classy and the suit itself is flattering," Jepson said.

Swimwear, shorts and cover-ups in palm frond patterns are popular, too, which is ideal since Furnace Creek recently retiled its pool with a similar pattern. A palm frond pattern is also etched in the property’s front door. Even the pool’s water is unusual. Filled with natural spring water, the pool is always heated to 84-degrees, and drained and refilled several times a week. The drained water is used to irrigate the gardens and 18-hole golf course.

More women are wearing big rings and pins, especially crystal or colored stones on their swimsuits or pareos, during the day. Swim-inspired looks are also being seen at night. Draping pareos over one or both shoulders is a key eveningwear look at Furnace Creek, Jepson said.

Nashat at the Viceroy is also seeing more one-piece swimsuits this year, notably Fifties-inspired styles with thick straps and a boy-leg bottom. Solid swimsuits are more prevalent than prints, which tend to be worn by younger pool-goers.

Costume jewelry like bulky bracelets and other oversized pieces are being worn as accessories.

"People are decked out even if they sit in the shade," she said. "It’s more of a loungy vibe. I saw one woman with a really cool headpiece — very Fifties Hollywood style."

Sarongs are the rave at The Little Nell’s outdoor pool, which gives swimmers a bird’s-eye view of Aspen Mountain in Colorado. Most women are favoring knee-length to floor-length versions in "very bright colors" or patterned styles, said John Egelhoff, director of sales and marketing.

"What we’ve noticed is a lot of women are wearing sarongs with big straw hats," he said.Despite temperatures in the 20s, skiers plunge into the pool even when it’s snowing, after a day on the slopes. In the winter, The Little Nell blasts eight underwater jets, turning the pool into a 102-degree hot tub, Egelhoff said. As for what they’re soaking in, guests seem to be split between bikinis and tanks. January might not seem like prime time for large-brimmed floppy hats, but more women are concerned about the sun’s harmful rays, Egelhoff said.

Swimwear is not sold at the Little Nell’s boutique, but women don’t have to wander far to find some. Gucci, Chanel, Polo, Banana Republic, Aspen Sports and Pomoroy are among the nearby stores that offer swimwear.

At Miravel Resort Life in Balance in Tucson, Ariz., women like tankinis or camikinis — camisole tops attached to a bikini bottom — because they offer the coverage of a one-piece and the fashion of a bikini, said Amy Buller, buyer and retail manager for the property’s Raindance Pass store.

Unlike some of the sparer swimsuits available, tankinis can be worn for swimming or sunbathing. Raindance Pass is selling swimsuits from Anne Cole, Ralph Lauren, Jag, Athena, Oscar de la Renta and Lilly Pulitzer, retailing for $70 to $95. In small sizes, bright-colored bikinis ring up the most sales, striped or floral tankinis top the list for medium sizes, and dark, solid one-pieces are key for large sizes, Buller said.

Two of last summer’s key trends, bandeaux and halter tops were "OK," but Miravel’s fitness-minded guests didn’t take to them for practical reasons, Buller said.

Pareos, on the other hand, have been spotted by the pool. Guests are wearing short rectangle pieces that tie at the waist. Many women like pareos in large floral patterns and ones that coordinate with their swimwear. They are also wearing dressy sandals, moreso than thong sandals, Buller said.

Guests at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin are also inclined to get in the pool and swim for fitness. Maru swimwear is the brand of choice at the hotel store, a Merrion spokeswoman said.

"Many guests who use the indoor pool at the Merrion Tethra spa are quite serious athletes and tend to wear functional, practical swimwear," she said. "Colors this year tend to be darker with a high-leg cut. Women are wearing more one-pieces."

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