With summer around the corner, it’s time for my most dreaded shopping task: swimsuit shopping. All my friends like to show off their bods in bikinis, but I’m not really into wearing them. How can I look fashionable, good, and, if possible, smokin’ in a more modest swimsuit? ♥ Mary

Hi, Mary! Don’t fret, my pet—there are plenty of non-bikini swimsuits available that are not granny status and are actually pretty cute! First of all, know that showing more skin doesn’t automatically make someone look sexy. It’s all about finding the right kind of outfit and working it. I’m sure you know that already. I’m really into vintage bathing suits. Modcloth carried a bunch of great ones, including this one-piece black ruched Esther Williams number. (If you haven’t heard of Esther, she was a movie siren who was famous for her swimming scenes.) Here’s a sample of some of Modcloth’s suits, in both retro and modern cuts:

If you’re looking for a cheaper suit, Target has some cute one-pieces, too; and Delia’s has some cool tankinis:

Clockwise from top left: striped swimsuit, $25, Target; blue-and-white one-piece, $25, Target; cinched tank top, $24.50, and matching boy short, $24.50, Delia’s; ruched tank top, $24.50, and matching bottom, $24.50, Delia’s.

See which one feels right on your bod (not too tight anywhere, no boob popping out, no merf/wedgie situation, etc.) and that you feel comfortable in. And a little tip for added SMOKIN’-ness: put a flower in your hair, or use this mermaid hair clip from Cutie Dynamite. Good luck on finding your dream bathing suit! (Don’t forget the sunscreen!) Xoxo, Marie

Can you give me some recommendations for high-quality, sweatshop-free clothing stores and brands? I love thrifting, but since I live in a hipster-populated area, most of the stores are cleaned out of the good stuff. My mom offered me some new clothes for my birthday, and I would like to use the opportunity to get some stuff that’s slightly more pricey than what I can afford on my own, and I would LOVE it if I weren’t exploiting workers and children in the process.

The dignity and pride that a bitchin’ outfit affords us have to also be granted to the workers who made said bitchin’ outfit. So big, shiny, sparkly, fairy-dusted high-fives to you for wanting to shop consciously and save up your pennies (or your mom’s pennies) to buy clothes that are made with love and personal care.

You’re absolutely right that buying clothes from local, independent designers will cost more—often a lot more—than buying from fast-fashion chain stores, but I personally feel that if you have the means to do so, it’s way worth it to buy one well-made item of clothing from an independent designer rather than five items from a chain that employs sweatshop and/or child labor to churn out poorly made clothes that will likely fall apart after a few seasons.

But enough preaching to the choir, and on to your question! Here’s a round-up of my favorite independent designers who make their clothes by hand or produce them in ethical, fair-trade working environments:

1. My favorite, favorite, favorite clothing label of all time is Mandate of Heaven. If you live in New York City, get thee to Fort Mandate, their retail store and studio in Brooklyn. Inside you’ll find purring cats, mint walls, vintage furniture, and knick-knacks that’ll charm the underpants right off you, and beautiful, one-of-a-kind playsuits draped over antique dressing screens, backless dresses hanging from the ceilings, party pajamas lining the walls, convertible faux-fur capes, organic bamboo long johns, and more. The Mint Collection is their line of one-of-a-kind, handmade designs made from vintage, recycled, and leftover fabrics, and the Opiate Collection features garments made from organic and fair-trade bamboo, hemp, and hand-dyed silk, made to order or in small runs produced locally by ethically compensated hands. Doing things ethically, sustainably, and lovingly ain’t cheap, so a lot of their clothes are investment pieces. Over the years, I’ve amassed a mini collection of MoH playsuits that are as much pure, frothy fantasy as they are practical (all of their onesies come with crotch snaps for easy peein’ and poopin’). I recently bought a pair of their mushroom-pocket shorts in organic dark denim and have been getting seriously hollered at by all the old ladies on my block.

2. Brooklyn-based designer Ashley Cheeks named her clothing and accessories line, It’s Okay My Dear, after a lullaby her mom wrote for her when she was a child. The clothes are just as sweet as that story—lots of pale silk dresses with cut-outs, checkered dresses, and crop tops adorned with bows. Ashley sources all of her materially locally in New York, sometimes using one-of-a-kind vintage materials, makes everything by hand in her home studio. Also, It’s Okay My Dear’s spring 2011 lookbook featured Rachel Trachtenburg from Supercute!—the band that did the first-ever Rookie theme song! I’ve been greedily eyeing the Picnic Dress in navy gingham—it has silk ribbon straps and pockets for when you feel like being a wallflower outdoors.

3. L.A. designer Jenny Reyes’s line, Geronimo, features resort wear that seems extra appropriate for the California desert, and vintage silhouettes from the ’50s and ’60s. Jenny’s crop tops and halter dresses make me wanna have week-long pool parties with my girlfriends. Ninety percent of Geronimo’s clothing is made from vintage material found in thrift stores and old fabric stores in downtown L.A., and everything is handmade to order with love. I can personally attest to this, since I am the proud owner of the Julia dress and the Catherine Holly two-piecer. Every time I step out in Geronimo, I feel like a retro babe about to conquer the world, one exposed shoulder at a time.

4. Ellen Van Dusen’s label, Dusen Dusen, reminds me of the 1980s in the best and baddest way, with its shark-print canvas backpacks and high-waisted shorts. Ellen’s prints are ill, especially her bug prints for spring 2012. All of Dusen Dusen’s production is done in New York’s Garment District, and Ellen works closely with all of her factories. She gets most of her fabric from Missouri, then gets it printed by hand in San Francisco. I have a hand-painted cape from a limited-edition Dusen Dusen collaboration two years ago with Daily Candy’s editor Erin Wylie, and whenever I wear it out, I get stopped in the street and sweetly manhandled by random strangers who wanna fondle my cape.

5. A few other independent designers worth checking out: Alexandra Grecco makes soft, wispy, ballet-inspired clothes. Blooming Leopold’s Etsy shop sells lots of simple handmade cotton and velvet dresses that are prefect for a romp outside, alongside a nicely curated selection of vintage finds. The Loved One makes sheer, lacy, pinup-style intimates. We Never Sleep deals in hand-dyed silk bras and accessories. And Erica Weiner makes her exquisite vintage-inspired jewelry by hand.

These humble suggestions are just a starting point. If you find a designer you like, you can always email them and ask for recommendations. Chances are, if they make their designs locally and ethically, they’ll also know, love, and be able to recommend other designers who do the same. Ellen from Dusen Dusen told me about ALL Knitwear and Erin Considine’s jewelry line. Ashley from It’s Okay My Dear tipped me off to Leah Goren’s pretty prints and Cold Picnic’s jewelry and accessories. Ask around. Research online. Look at Pinterest and Polyvore if you know what they are and how to use them (I don’t).

Another good way to find about independent local designers is to research craft fairs in your neighborhood. When I lived in Iowa City, I used to go to this biannual event called What a Load of Craft, and learned about a lot of designers just by browsing the booths—including this one adorable lady who recycled and repurposed vintage cat sweaters. If you live in Austin, NYC, L.A., San Francisco, Chicago, or London, find out when the Renegade Craft Fair is rolling through your town. It’s basically a smorgasbord of local, independent artists and designers selling their handmade wares.

The price we pay for a happy, clean conscience is significantly higher than buying from a chain retail store, but if you can afford it, do it. It’s worth it. —Jenny

I barely have boobs! I know that there’s not much to be done about it, but I’m desperate! It makes me feel ugly and disproportionate. I feel less like a girl because of it. HELP, I don’t want plastic surgery! —Amelia

Ack, Amelia! I feel your pain. I have been flat, Flat, FLAT all my life, and I remember reading stories about girls that were also FLAT and then woke up one day with BOOBS like a miracle and I would go to bed praying that it would happen to me too. It never did. My distress over my lack of chesticles did not come from not being able to “get” guys (although that certainly didn’t make matters any better) but because I felt like less of a woman because of it. Eventually, though, I realized that this was a total crap way to feel. We talk about body acceptance all the time in terms of “curvy” girls or women who do not fit into society’s notion of what a perfect body should be, but that extends to everything! Real women don’t just have curves; some of us have no boobs and some of us are short and some of us have big butts and some of us have no butts and some maybe were biologically born male but WHO CARES? Your feelings of worth should really not be attached to any body part (I know, I know, easier said than done, but it’s the truth). I don’t know how old you are, so I don’t know if maybe the boobs will come for you one day (and not because you got pregnant, which is what everyone tells me all the time—thanks, but I don’t want boobs that bad!). I always looked up to Gwen Stefani, and she had no boobs and wore bright bras all the time with little tank tops, so I followed suit. To me Gwen was the epitome of the girliest girl who kicked butt, which was exactly what I wanted to be. No one ever thought Gwen looked like a boy because of her lack of boobs—not even when she cut her hair all short! Because in the end, it doesn’t really matter, you know? Of course, if you really, REALLY just want to have the look of BOOBS you can get padded bras or those little chicken-cutlet things that you put in your bra (hey, your body, YOUR CHOICE!). Personally I can’t ever deal with those things because they feel alien to my body, and I’ve come to love the freedom that my lack of boobs has brought to my life, fashion- and otherwise. In any case: forget this nonsense that boobs are what define your femininity, because they don’t! You are who you are and you are BEAUTIFUL that way. Not in an after-school special way either, but f’realsies. —Laia

I’m an Orthodox Jew, which means that my skirts all must fall below the knee and can’t show my knees when I sit, my shirtsleeves must cover my elbows, and my shirts’ necklines must cover my clavicles. Also, my parents are pretty strict about how much I spend on clothes. Do you have any relatively cheap ideas for revamping a wardrobe consisting of solid and patterned L.L. Bean shirts and five skirts (one denim, two black, one khaki, one gray)? In case it helps, I’m a fan of vintage-inspired clothing.

Hey girl! You definitely can spruce up your outfits while making sure you adhere to the basic rules of tzniut. Peter Pan-collared shirts, like this one from Forever 21, worn under your tops and sweaters are a good way to capture that vintage vibe you like. They would look great with this retro-looking polka-dot skirt. Funkyfrum.com also has Peter Pan-collared tops in various colors at a very low price. I also love this houndstooth skirt they sell. You can also get a few detachable collars like these from Modcloth, or try your hand at making your own with our tutorial. Mix and match different combinations inspired by these looks from Forever 21, and you’ll become a master at layering in no time:

Accessorize with different scarves like these from Forever 21, knitted berets, and some nice flats to wear with your tights, like this cool vintage-looking pair from Modcloth. You can also check out blogs like Fashion Isha, Frum Fashion Maven, and Frumanista for more inspiration. I hope that helps! —Marie

Before you (rightly) take us to task in the comments for our hypocrisy—recommending ethically sourced and produced clothing in one answer, while pointing (and linking) to stuff from Forever 21 and Target in others—we just wanna say that we’re totally aware of our hypocrisy! And, unfortunately, we couldn’t find a way around it. One reader was asking for clothes that are made with workers and the environment in mind; another specifically needed CHEAP clothes. In an ideal world, those two things—clothing made ethically and clothing sold cheaply—would overlap far more than they actually do. We’re also keenly aware that most of you readers are teenagers, and don’t have the kind of disposable incomes that would allow you to choose only the sorts of things Jenny recommends above. And so we find ourselves recommending both kinds of things, at different times, in response to different questions. We also recommend thrifting as much as possible, as it’s a relatively cheap and environmentally/ethically responsible way to shop. All this said, if any of you readers knows of designers who are creating ethically sourced/made clothes that don’t cost a lot of money, please enlighten us in the comments. Finally, if you have a question for a future Damn Girl, please send it to Marie at [email protected].