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The new neoprene: Scuba fabric is a hit on land

Nicole Miller's latest neoprene rash guards look as

Nicole Miller's latest neoprene rash guards look as good in the surf -- worn here by Turks and Caicos kite-surfing instructor Anett Pasztor -- as they do lounging poolside; rash guards, $90, at Nicole Miller shops, Manhattan, and Credit: Nicole Miller

Nicole Miller is no stranger to neoprene.

"I've always experimented with techy fabrics," she says, "and we've used neoprene in clothing for quite a few seasons now."

These days, more designers are taking the spongy material of scuba-diving wet suits out of the water and onto the runway, creating sexy, form-fitting dresses, jackets and other apparel.

"The neoprene we use is lighter weight than what you'd use in a wet suit," says Miller. "It has a bandage quality -- it holds you in and makes you look slimmer."

No wonder consumers love it.

A form of synthetic rubber fused to fabrics like polyester or wool, neoprene has enjoyed blips of popularity in apparel in recent decades, but it never really took off until recently, when improvements in digital printing meant designers could splash it with saturated colors and wild prints. Such vivid looks are perfect for spring and summer, though neoprene's insulating capability may not be ideal in the dog days of August. But don't let that stop you -- it turns out many of these styles (those generally labeled "scuba" and even some called "neoprene") don't have a lick of actual neoprene in them, but are just "neoprene-inspired," made of stretchy fabrics like polyester and spandex. Opting for sleeveless or short-sleeve dresses and tops will beat the heat.

Or take a dip. Miller recently dove back into swimwear, designing neoprene rash guards and swim bottoms. And she was particularly thrilled when a friend showed her a photo of her gear in action, worn by a Caribbean kite-surfing instructor, hanging ten in the waves.

"I love to kiteboard myself, out in Napeague," says Miller, starting to laugh. "But I'm not exactly at her level, that's for sure."

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