As I am on the beach now (sending you sunshine!) I thought it would be interesting to look at the history of our swimwear.
The Birth of Bikini
The bikini advances the two-piece with the added attraction of an exposed belly button. It is a product of the Nuclear Age, and takes its name from the homeland of 167 grass-skirted Micronesian natives, an obscure part of the world called Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. On June 30, 1946, after the natives are evacuated, Bikini Atoll becomes the site of the fourth atomic bomb explosion on Earth, dropped from a B-29 aircraft over a fleet of 95 ships anchored in the lagoon, including the remains of the Japanese Navy.
The event is broadcast worldwide and is spectacular.The labeling of the bikini is attributed to the French. First, at Cannes, where a couturier uses a skywriter to label his new creation “L’atome–the world’s smallest bathing suit,” only to outdone by Parisian swimwear designer Louis Réard, who, on July 18, 1946, two weeks after the Bikini Atoll nuclear blast, introduces, “Bikini–smaller than the smallest bathing suit in the world.”
Réard is the owner of a swimsuit shop in Paris and the world’s first bikinier. At first, the professional models of Paris refuse to wear Réard’s risqué two-piece halter and low-cut string brief, debating amongst themselves how much skin they can show. The assignment is finally accepted by a Parisian dancer and model, Michèle Bernadini, who models Réard’s concoction poolside for the Paris fashion press . At 129 square inches, the string triangle top is small, and the string briefs are cut well below the navel; they are quite cheeky, and way ahead of their time with the strings.
Réard’s famous fashion statement changes the world; like the bomb, the bikini is small and devastating. Vogue editor Diana Vreeland calls the bikini “the atom bomb of fashion,” and a Paris fashion writer suggests it is the image of a woman emerging tattered from the blast. Perhaps the shock of seeing the Marshallese islanders in the nuclear age enable the Technologists to discover seeing themselves in the tribal age. And to enjoy it.
The immediate reaction, lasting perhaps through 1947, demonstrates a wild experimental excess, including coupling the low-waistline with the lattice-side, or the bare buttocks. To quote another source, “What it reveals is interesting, what it conceals is essential.” Réard reverts to less daring designs, but never retreats on the navel. By 1950, things are more under control, and the world is ready for starlets like Brigitte Bardot to bring the culotte nombrill to the real beach. The buttocks remain covered and will remain so until the 1980s, while the lower belly will get slowly revealed during the next 30 years.
Bikini in the 1940s:
Bikini in the 1950s:
Bikini in the 1960s:
Bikini in the 1970s:
And Baywatch in the 1980s: