I will never forget my very first bikini. I was in high school (yes, I had to wait that long) and it was from J. Crew. My family was off to Turks and Caicos for spring break and I needed something to lay out in something that didn't scream "swim team." I had pored over catalogues, finally deciding on an underwire top and side-tie bottoms in a blue daisy print. A bikini newbie, it took me several months to realize that there were more flattering top options than the one I had chosen. But I loved that print too much to part with the bottoms (it was my first after all) once I learned how to wear a bikini properly-and so began my signature mismatched swimsuit look.

Since the summer of my first bikini, I've never worn a matching swimsuit-that sounds almost sacrilegious, I know. But that initial swimsuit experience taught me that sometimes the cutest tops don't have the most flattering bottoms and vice versa. You know you've been there, flipping through the Victoria's Secret catalogue (a swimsuit mixer's dream since most tops and bottoms are sold separately) when you see a top you love only to find that the coordinating bottom is a "hipkini." Abort.

The simplest solution is to buy tops and bottoms individually so that you always get the style you'd prefer in the color or print of your choice. And because you can mix and match, you're essentially doubling your swimsuit wardrobe...never a bad thing. And I'd be lying if I didn't say it's a bit of a West Coast thing, too. Just like I still hold on to my California driver's license, I enjoy showing off a little So-Cal style out here on the East Coast.

For surfers only? Certainly not. Scroll through the slideshow above to shop our ideas on how to wear a swimsuit this summer. Our verdict: the cutest bikinis don't come as a matched set on the same hanger.

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