The very first swimsuits were bikinis...
The bikini’s history began during early civilization. Contrary to popular belief, it was actually an ancient invention. Mosaics and murals from Ancient Roman civilization showed two-piece garments being worn by women as early as 1,400 B.C (see picture above).
Rather than being worn for swimming, the ancient 'bikini' was worn for athletic purposes and it was somewhat of an ancient sports bra. Swimming itself was done in the nude. Can somebody say 'scandal'?
1910s: The Original 'Two-Piece'
I don't know about you, but put me in a suit like the above and I'll have nothing to smile about! It's frumpy, baggy and not at all suited for proper swimming. However, these bulky 'costumes' were required by law for all women to wear while at the beach as you could be fined for showing too much leg. They consisted of a gown and trousers (yes, trousers), fabricated with heavy material that wouldn't become see-through when wet.
1920's: The 'Underwater Ballerina' Suit
Closer to the modern day suit, this slimmer style was made fashionable in the 1920s by Anette Kellerman (above picture). The famous Australian swimmer a.k.a. 'Underwater Ballerina' was one of the first women to wear a one-piece bathing costume instead of the pantaloons pictured above.
While seemingly conservative to modern folk like you and me, this snug tank 'onesie' was deemed indecent by many members of the public. Nonetheless, the trend caught on. After all, Kellerman was the first woman to swim across the English channel and later, she make a movie. I'd say she knew what she was wearing!
1940s: How the Bikini Came Into Official Existence
In 1946, the bikini officially made its debut. It was invented and launched simultaneously by two French fashion designers: Jacques Heim and Louis Read:
- Heim marketed the swimsuit as the 'Atome', akin to the atom or smallest particle of matter.
- Reard named and marketed his swimsuit the 'bikini', proclaiming it to be the tiniest bathing suit in the world.
Reard's bikini was also in honor of WWII, during which atomic bombs were detonated near Bikini Reef. His scanty pieces of cloth were supposed to "blow people away" not unlike the bomb's earth-shattering reactions. Morbid as it sounds, the 'bikini' name struck and Reard went down in history as the inventor of the popular two-piece swimsuit.
On July 5, 1946, the bikini made its debut in France. Because no professional model would wear Reard's creation, he had to hire a nude dancer - Micheline Bernardini. After Bernardini paraded onto the runway in the two-piece at a poolside fashion show in Paris, the bikini became a hit and she received over 50,000 fan letters. Americans, however, were skeptical over this so-called skimpy attire and the bikini made its debut into American fashion only a year later.
1960s: The Monokini
Introducing the monokini, invented by Rudi Grenreich in 1963 (pictured- left). Gernreich's intention was to 'liberate' the female breasts in an age that forced breasts into unnatural shaped cups. However, the other part to Gernreich’s monokini principle was simplicity. With the body as the focal point, less is more and his idea was that a garment should have minimal construction and detailing. Thus, the shoulder straps served only to hold the bottom in place.
The monokini has since evolved to the styles we are more familiar with today (pictured- right above). Arguably the modern monokini is regarded as the sexiest swimsuit a woman could wear. It can very in cut, some have g-string style backs and others provide full coverage of the rear.
1970-80s: The String bikini and Thong Bikini
The popularity of the bikini led to new heights on Reard's original design. Fashion designers revamped the bikini to be even more revealing with the arrival of string bikinis (pictured- left). This was following a shocking sexual revolution in the United States. These string bikinis exposed the navel for the first time as the bottoms were fitted just on the hips. Not to mention the barely-there bra coverage, leaving little to the imagination.
In the 1970s, Brazil gave the world the thong bikini (pictured- right). Originally called 'tangas', they hit the Brazilian beaches in 1977. Claimed to originate from the traditional clothing of Amazonian tribal groups in Brazil, this popular style was introduced into American fashion in the 1980s.
Fashion designers claimed the origin of the thong bikini to be from the traditional clothing of Amazonian tribal groups in Brazil. The thong bikini offered the scantiest coverage yet imagined in the rear of the suit.
1980s - 2000s: The Tankini and More!
Moving into the 21st century, the tankini (pictured - left) was added to the growing selection of ladies's swim wear.
While the scantier swimsuit designs were invented by men, the tankini was invented by a woman - Anne Cole - in 1998. By blending the freedom of the bikini with the more modest coverage of the swimsuit, yet another two-piece swimsuit was invented. Very clever move, as women are mostly self-conscious of their bodies and hiding it. Varying in color and style, the tankini sold (and still sells) like hot cakes!
Other Bikini Facts
- It took 15 years for the bikini to be accepted in the United States
- Pop song 'Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini' by Brian Hyland in 1960 sparked a bikini-buying spree.
- Bikinis were banned from worldwide beauty pagents after the Miss World Contest in London, 1951.
- Female athletes who play beach volleyball professionally are required to wear two-pieces.
- Playboy featured a bikini cover page for the first time in 1962 after Ursula Andress wore one in the James Bond film Dr. No.
- Bikini sales in 1988 accounted for more than 20% of swimsuit sales in the United States.
The "bikini body" is one thing many women strive for. In their quest to have the perfect body, many women try to lose weight in order to don a bikini for summer. Having said that, most women still wear bikinis despite not achieving their weight goals. Thankfully, bikinis come in all shapes and sizes so there is something for everyone.
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Throughout the decades, designers have and will still continue to experiment with the smallest swimsuit in the world. You deserve a round of applause, bikini!