It is no doubt that the bikini is a popular piece of clothing all over the world today. From the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit editions to to the Victoria’s Secret catalogues, those two-pieces of fabric have certainly become iconic.
And, as summer is fast approaching, most of us are making sure to get ourselves in shape to slip into the midriff-bearing, two-piece swimwear we love to hate. But, have you ever wondered when this summer staple first appeared in the fashion industry? It turns out the bikini wasn’t always as popular as it is today.
Historians believe that two-piece clothing first debuted in ancient Italy as “athletic” clothing for women, but the bikini was first made popular by French designer, Louis Réard.
According to a Time Magazine article, Réard designed a garment he called “smaller than the world’s smallest baithing suit” on July 5, 1946. Just four days earlier, the U.S. military had conducted nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll and Réard hoped that his invention would be as explosive as that, and therefore the name “the bikini” was born.
The bikini received its first official induction into swimwear fashion on July 11, 1946 when 19-year-old French model, Micheline Bernardini braved the poolside runway in Paris.
After the first public bikini display, many countries banned this form of swimwear and the Vatican even declared it as sinful.
Americans also still believed that the bikini was far too scandalous for a virtuous, American woman, but nonetheless the midriff-bearing swimwear made it’s debut into American fashion just one year later and the rest is history.
The original bikinis the 1940s and 1950s brought us are considered fairly conservative for today’s standards. Bikini bottoms still covered the navel and tops completely covered the bust.
The 1960s and 1970s brought with it a sexual revolution to the United States and fashion designers jumped on this trend by making bikinis even more revealing. The 70s debuted the string bikini, which exposed the navel for the first time and also fit on the hips, making the bottoms low-rise. The newly designed bikini tops left little to the imagination by providing only bra-like coverage.
The 1980s brought the Brazillian style bikini, the thong bikini into American fashion. And, as you can assume it no longer left anything to the imagination.
The bikini continued to grow in popularity and become mainstream. This was made apparent when the 1997 Miss America Pageant allowed contestants to wear a two-piece swim suit instead of the mandatory one-piece. This marked a huge turning point in the pageant and I am sure, in the ratings. Now days, you will rarely see a one-piece swim suit on a contestant during the Miss America swim suit portion.
As fashion continues to innovate and reinvent itself, you will see a little bit of history repeating itself from time to time in the swimwear department. The vintage, swimwear silhouettes that forever changed the fashion industry will never really go out of style and the sexy, string bikini will always look good on a beach.