Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg / Anne D’Innocenzio / Kristi Ellis

NEW YORK — Cowabunga! It’s time for spring break.
That’s when many college and high school students dump their books and get out of their hooded sweatshirts and jeans for a week-long recess somewhere in the sun. The important accessory: a mean string bikini with a triangle top, according to a spot check of retailers, who report a stellar season so far.
Retailers pointed out that these kids are diving into florals and colors like pink and orange. Hawaiian prints are especially popular.
“Most shoppers have gone for color — anything with a little glitz,” said Alicia Butler, buyer for McRae’s, a 30-store chain based in Memphis. “They’re interested in style first. They want a look that’s different from what they had last year. This year, they’re showing a little more skin.”
Spring break, which is usually in late March or April, helps stores jump-start their summer swimwear business and gives them an early read on fashion trends. With gains for spring break swimwear ranging from 10 to 50 percent, retailers said they were off to a good start.
But that doesn’t mean college shoppers aren’t price conscious. A number of stores report the bulk of their sales fall between $50 and $90.
Bikinis with triangle tops have replaced tankinis as the must-have items for this year’s getaways. Swimwear separates — two-piece suits that can be purchased individually in different sizes — have become more of a staple, stores said.
Carolyn Moss, fashion director at Macy’s East, said its spring break business is beating last year’s numbers.
“Triangle bikini bottoms are doing well — the briefer, the better,” she said. “Spring break is all about wet T-shirt contests. You want to get as much exposed as possible.”
She added that Macy’s East’s spring break business was especially strong around college towns, like Boston, Philadelphia and Washington.
Moss said tankinis and swimwear separates were still strong. Tropical and sunrise prints have been the most popular. Some of the best-selling brands are Hobie, Raisins, Rebel Beach, Rajman and Surfside.
Pat Schaefer, an owner of Atlanta Beach, which operates three stores in the Atlanta area, said her spring break business should be up by 50 percent over last year.
“A lot of it has to do with the economy. People just have more money,” said Schaefer, adding that her college and high school customers bought an average of three suits each.
The most popular styles have been CK Calvin’s string bikinis in powder blue and red combinations, Moschino’s bikinis with triangle tops, Bachatta’s bikinis in aqua blues and pinks and Le Tarte’s two-piece suits that mix plaids with prints.
“Our customers go to the Gulf Coast of Florida or the Caribbean. A lot of schools are having cruises,” she said.
At McRae’s, most college-age shoppers spend $50 to $58 for a suit. Surfside, Mystic Bay, Sassafrass, Ocean Pacific, Rebel Beach and Daffy are some of this year’s key labels, Butler said. Bikinis with triangle tops and tie-string bottoms in solid red or white, and printed styles with white backgrounds have been bestsellers. Swimwear separates are also selling well.
Spring break shoppers at Bikini Splash, a swimwear specialty store in College Park, Md., the University of Maryland’s hometown, have been spending between $60 and $90 for two-piece suits. Any styles with low-waisted bottoms are most popular, said Leslie Corrigan, owner. Calvin Klein, Robin Piccone, Girl Star, Mossimo, XOXO, BCBG and Roxy are the key labels.
“My customers are not as concerned with price as they are about buying a name brand. They’re more fashion conscious and need a little more glitz,” Corrigan said. “They need what’s happening now.”
Bikini Splash’s college-age shoppers like the looks of bankinis — strapless tops with tie-string bottoms.
The biggest change among spring break shoppers since last year is that suits in pinks, turquoises and florals, especially Hawaiian prints, are in demand. Last year, tastes were more conservative. Two-piece suits are sold as a set, but shoppers can select different size tops and bottoms. That has helped push spring break sales ahead of last year by 10 percent, Corrigan said.
“They’re bringing in the judge and the audience. They’re going to find that one suit if it takes an hour or four hours,” she said. “They give a good indication of what’s happening now. They have to tell me what’s in and what’s out.”
Corrigan’s sister, Colleen Corrigan, is also seeing a 10 percent increase in spring break sales at Bikini Shop, her two-store chain in Washington. String bikinis with triangle tops or push-up tops, and tankinis in the $50 to $90 retail range, have been bestsellers, she said. Knowing her shoppers are price-conscious, she also sells two-piece suits as sets, even though she lets customers mix and match sizes. Colleen Corrigan said she had reordered an $80 Robin Piccone string bikini in a zebra print three times.
Spring break shoppers have also been buying boy-leg shorts from Nautica, Daffy, Tango Rose and Sunset Beach, at $60 to $70 retail. Proex sheer sarongs at $22 have been popular.
At Val Surf, a four-store operation in Southern California, business is up across the board, according to Denise Richards, a buyer.
Girl Star’s reversible Hawaiian print swimsuits with tie bottoms and matching triangle tie tops and Roxy’s Hawaiian prints are among the bestsellers for spring break. Most women purchase suits for $55 to $65.
Now that interest in tankinis has decreased, triangle tops and basic bottoms are driving sales Pink, blue and orange top the color palette, Richards said.
Another strong seller is Jamaican Style’s athletic group in charcoal and aqua in a coated fabric group.
At Macy’s West, the three top swimwear labels are Esprit, Mossimo and Raisins, according to a spokeswoman for the retailer. The average swimsuit purchase is $60.
In items, Esprit’s crackle pineapple print and Mossimo’s bright-colored separates and board shorts are driving sales, she said.
Another California retailer, Diane’s, a Santa Monica, Calif., chain with 13 stores, is seeing a lot of interest in ruffles, according to Debby Yamagata, store manager. Orange and hot pink are the reigning colors throughout the chain.
“We are coming off a wonderful spring and sales in all of our stores are up,” Yamagata said.
On the designer end, where suits retail from $96 to $250, Moschino’s ruffle suits and Jean Paul Gaultier’s henna tattoo-printed suits are bestsellers, she said.
“Sarongs and skirts are selling like hot cakes,” she said. “We are also selling lots of separates, mix and match and brighter prints. They aren’t going for basic black,” she added.
Young women are buying swimwear separates from Sunsets, Pt. Conception, Mossimo, Blink and L-Space. Tops and bottoms retail for $32 to $42 each. The number-one seller is Sunsets, since “they fit the smallest junior to the biggest missy,” Yamagata said.
Pt. Conception’s dark pink and light pink suits, as well as its floral and solid mix suits, are selling well. The brand also offers coordinating board shorts and tankinis.
“Mossimo is doing more primary colors that are selling,” said Yamagata. “His suits have such a great fit.”
(Mossimo suits won’t be available to general retailers much longer, however. As reported in these columns, the company has signed an exclusive distribution deal with Target stores.)
Jack’s, which has a store in Huntington Beach and another in Newport Beach, both in California, has capitalized on the popularity of bright pinks and oranges. The retailer’s three top labels are Roxy, Radio Fiji and Esprit, said Danielle French, buyer.
“Last year was so dead at spring break,” she said. “This year, business is a lot better because of warmer weather.” She added that volume is up 40 percent at both stores compared with last year.
Most suits retail between $55 and $65.
Roxy, the stores’ top label, has reversible printed two-piece suits that are driving sales. “It gives you four suits in one,” she said.
“The triangle top is a sure thing for us,” said French, adding that the tankini was still doing well in her stores.
Esprit is another top-selling label at Jack’s.
“They have suits that are for the true girl, not for the small, skinny model,” she said.
Everything But Water, a 37-store chain in Orlando, Fla., reported a stellar spring break season.
“Our business is well up over last year,” said Jennifer Pettus, marketing manager.
Among the best-selling brands are Calvin Klein, Mossimo, Bisou-Bisou and Bachatta. The black string bikini, particularly from Calvin Klein, continues to be important. Other top trends are animal and paisley prints.