How The 'Bikini Body' Came Into Fashion

A History of the Iconic Two Piece Suit

Every summer, across the globe, millions of women prepare their bodies for the display of the tiny little swimsuit known as the bikini. With beaches to hit, pools to swim in, and tans to achieve, the bikini has become summer’s sexualised fashion icon, allowing women to show off their bodies. However, the modern take on this two piece swimming attire actually dates back thousands of years.

The first depiction of women in bikinis dates back to the Diocletian Period (286-305 AD) where artwork was discovered and excavated in Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily. The artwork, a mosaic, depicts ten women in garments that resemble our notion of the modern bikini. The ten women, shown to be exercising and stretching, have been dubbed the “Bikini Girls”.Bikini Girls Mosaic(83353)Credit: Wikipedia

In a similar style to the modern-day bikini, in Ancient Greek times, two piece garments where worn by women for athletic participation and purposes. They are depicted on urns and in paintings dating back to 1400 BC.

Today’s notion and style of the bikini was invented in 1946 by French car engineer Louis Réard. At the time he was working at his mother's lingerie boutique, when the idea for a "smaller than the smallest swimsuit" came to him when he noticed that women were rolling up their clothes and swimsuits on the beach to get a better tan.

Louis Réard came up with the name ‘Bikini’ after Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, the site of an atomic bomb test. He thought that the excitement from the swimsuit would be as explosive as an atomic bomb. The bikini was a string bikini, with a G-String bottom and consisted of only 30 square inches. 

Because of the scandalous nature of the bikini, Louis Réard could not find a 'respectable' model to wear it, so he ended up hiring a nineteen year old nude dancer named Micheline Bernardini, who worked at the Casino de Paris.

The bikini was officially introduced on July 5th 1946 at a public pool in Paris, known as Piscine Molitor. In pictures taken on the day, Micheline is seen holding a small box in which the entire bikini could be packed into.First Bikini in 1946Credit: Wikipedia

Although controversal and shocking, the bikini started to gain attention in the fifties thanks to high-profile actresses and models modelling it. By the sixties, the sexual appeal of the bikini had made it to film, with the infamous scene in the 1962 James Bond film 'Dr. No'. In the scene, actress Ursula Andress emerges from the ocean wearing a white bikini. The scene went on to make Ursula's career, as well as being named the top bikini moment in film history by Channel 4. This scene prompted further films and television shows to incorporate the bikini into productions, most notably the 1963 surf movie 'Beach Party', causing the bikini to become a pop-culture success. Magazines also jumped on success of the bikini, with Playboy capitalizing on the sexual appeal by first featuring a bikini on its cover in 1962. Two years later, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue also featured the bikini. This all lead to a massive increase in global success of the bikini that continued through the 70s and 80s.

By the end of the century, the bikini had become the most popular beach swimwear across the globe, having been further popularised by celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Pamela Anderson, Rachel Welch, Rita Hayworth and Jayne Mansfield. Pin up posters of bikini clad models and celebrities became a common appearance in male bedrooms across the globe, and girls capitalised on the sexualized overtones of the bikini during summer.

By the early 2000s, the bikini business had become a multi-million dollar industry, with spin-off industries in both waxing and tanning. The bikini had also prompted different designs, all adopting the -kini suffix in tribute to the original. These spin-off designs include the tankini, monokini, seekini and mankini.

From its controversial early days, to its ultra-popular fashion statement now, the bikini has become a dominating global icon and success.