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Lay claim to a place in the sun

June 05, 2003|David A. Keeps | Special to The Times

We expect the world of beach towels. They have to be soft and absorbent enough to lie on for hours, yet sturdy enough to stand up to salt, chlorine, sand and grass. And they must do what no ordinary bath sheet can: serve as magic carpets that might transport us, however briefly, from a resin chair or a redwood deck to a cabana in Rio or a resort on the Riviera.

Part utilitarian object and part fashion statement, beach towels are portable facades to stake out oceanfront and poolside real estate, announcing who we are and what we think of ourselves.

Lately, they have begun to assume the kind of cachet once accorded fine linens. Following the lead of Hermes, at one time the only luxury brand offering beach towels, the bedding brand Pratesi has added a collection of plush terry cloths.

Fashion houses from Dior to Faconnable have also put their distinctive prints and logos into sumptuous sunbathing.

Perfect for the outdoors, these designer items and the more common beach towel in colorful stripes and seascapes may seem too grand or giddy for the master bath, where coordinating pastels and solids rule.

What a shame. Imagine the possibilities of liberating the beach towel from summer-only use.

Even the most budget-conscious towels offer a wider range of color and pattern than those at a white sale -- with a good deal more comfort and value. For as they are growing in status, they are growing in stature as well: Although few are long enough for a Laker, many are now double-wides for two. Some, like those sold at Target, are even family-sized circles.

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