The Beginning of the Bikini
•French women in the 1700’s adopt a sunbathing trend that involves wearing a silk chemise, with sleeves that reach elbow length, and bottoms that extend to the knees. The midriff remains concealed, making this an early version of a long-sleeve bikini that was more like a dress.
•Two-piece swimwear is adopted by many European women in the 1800’s. The swimwear shows bare shoulders, a concealed midriff and bottoms that extend to the thigh. This more liberal version of earlier sunbathing attire sets the stage for a true early bikini design, with exposed midriffs set to follow.
•Olympic swimwear designer Carl Jantzen creates the first distinctly two-piece bathing suit in 1913. The bikini features a short-sleeve top and form-fitting shorts as bottoms. With the midriff exposed for the first time since the Roman Era, this innovation marks the first modern take on the bikini we know today.
•Adoption of Carl Jantzen’s swimwear design becomes widespread in the 1930’s and 40’s with some adjustments. Sleeves are removed, plunging necklines adopted and shorter, more form-fitting bottoms are created. For the first time, the bikini resembles a modern design.
Building the Modern Bikini
•In 1946, French engineer Louis Réard and French fashion designer Jacques Heim introduce strikingly similar adaptations of the modern bikini within days of each other, sparking widespread demand for the cutting edge beachwear. The word bikini was also adopted for the first time, along with the slogan, “it’s not a genuine bikini unless it can be pulled through a wedding ring.”
•The bikini hits a monumental peak in the 1960’s as it’s adopted by the American sexual revolution. Bikinis began to be viewed as liberating, flattering and even found their way into such prolific mediums as television and movies. In 1962, the character Ursula Andress from the James Bond film Dr. No emerged from the sea wearing a white bikini and since the appearance, the scene has been named one of the most memorable of the series.
•The bikini competition is introduced into the Miss America Pageant in 1997, solidifying the garment as a piece of mainstream world culture and its acceptance as a true piece of fashion and designer wear.
What in the World is a “Bikini?”
When Louis Réard introduced his fabulous new swimsuit to the masses in France, he chose to use the word “bikini,” a moniker that has stuck with the signature piece of swimwear ever since.
The word “bikini” comes from the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, a cluster of islands famous for being the first site of nuclear testing by the United States. Just as the first nuclear explosion was a groundbreaking and culture-altering moment in the history of the world, Réard hoped that his new swimsuit would “explode” onto the popular fashion scene of the world. He wasn’t wrong!
Réard’s “bikini” also held other symbolic meaning for the swimwear design. Meaning “two” in Latin, the prefix bi- found at the beginning of the word “bikini” helped to solidify the swimwear as being distinctly a two-piece creation.
Fun facts about the bikini
•The most expensive swimsuit in the world is a bikini. Designed by Susan Rosen and Steinmetz Diamonds, the bikini is worth $30 million and is made with more than 150 carats of D flawless diamonds, set in platinum.
•Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman was arrested in 1907 for wearing a very conservative version of the bikini, which exposed only her arms and legs. Shortly after, she was praised for her physique and the style of swimwear she was arrested for wearing began to rise in popularity.
•The world’s largest swimsuit photo shoot took place on September 25, 2001. Roughly 1,010 women wearing bikinis posed in Sydney, Australia for the photo shoot, sponsored by Cosmopolitan Magazine and Venus Breeze.
•In 2005 alone, American women spent roughly $1.4 billion on two-piece bathing suits and bikinis.
•The modern string bikini was worn for the first time by French model and nude dancer Micheline Bernardini. Displayed at the Piscine Molitor, a prominent fashion show in Paris on July 5, 1946, she would later receive over 50,000 fan letters.