The History of the Bikini

Osuleo / iStock /

Osuleo / iStock /

Ladies, take a minute to stroll back in time and bring your favorite bikini, because after you read this, you are going to have a whole new love and appreciation for your lovely, barely-there beach wear.

Because the bikini, now a celebrated and permanent fixture in the fashion world, was once a shocking sight, a horrific stain upon the soul of any young lass that even dared to stroke its flimsy material. So much so, that the very first bikini in history was modeled by a showgirl because fashion models refused to be seen in such an indecent frock. But once it debuted in 1946, there was no stopping it, and since then, the bikini has punched the cultural norms of our past in the face to become the everlasting fashion icon it is today.

A relaxing trip to the beach in these times required a ton of work and ten times more fabric in order for a gal to take a refreshing dip in the ocean. Bathing suits were layered  dresses made of heavy wool. It was a big “no no” to show those gams, so small weights were sewn into the hems of the skirts to keep from riding up. Finally, to ensure the preservation of modesty, single wooden boxes-dressing rooms- were put on wheels to cart the ladies from the sand to the sea completely hidden from view.

Enough was enough with the itchy wool and weird boxed carts of the late 1800s, and that’s when things got a bit modern with the new and improved single piece suit that hugged the curves. It was sleeveless with shorts and definitely raised some eyebrows. When Australian swimmer Annette Kellermen donned the daring piece in 1907, she was arrested, but soon after the style became the norm.

WWII would push the bikini to fleshier heights in the early 1940s. War rationing called for less fabric usage by manufacturers and so, the “bare midriff” look was born.

July 5, 1946
This day marks the official birthday of the beloved bikini. French engineer Louis Reard created the “smaller than the world’s smallest bathing suit” and named it after Bikini Atoll, an area where the U.S. tested nuclear bombs. He hoped it would bring explosive results for his itsy bitsy teeny-weeny invention. Explosive was an understatement.

July 11, 1946
Remember how the fancy and fashionable Parisian models wouldn’t be caught dead in Reard’s bikini? Well, nude dancer Micheline Bernardini (pictured left) stepped up to the plate and will forever be known in history as the first woman to ever wear a bikini. The stringy ensemble became a huge hit in France…but the same couldn’t be said for the rest of the world.

The bikini was sinful, according to the Vatican during this time, and it was banned from beauty pageants and countries all over the world including Belgium, Australia, Italy, Spain and several U.S. states.

But nothing could stop it….

As the 1960s rolled around, the bikini was made popular by stars such as Bridget Bardot, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and many more. Sports Illustrated produced their infamous swimsuit issue in 1964, which further helped the bikini find acceptance. The tiny pieces of cute, colorful fabric were spreading like wildfire, sending the world one burning message: It was here to stay for good.

So during these long, hot summer months, when the beach is calling your name, and you yearn to strut that meticulous yoga bod you’ve been working so hard on, remember the history of the bikini and give it a little salute for the treacherous journey it went through for the sake of water lovin’ women all over the world.

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