Chus Martinez On The BikiniPosted: January 31, 2013
Bikini typically refers to a two-piece women’s swimsuit. In 1946, the term “bikini” was coined by Louis Réard, who named the swimsuit after Bikini Atoll, where testing on the atomic bomb took place.
Réard chose the name “bikini” because he believed the suit’s revealing style would create a stir among people similar to their shock and surprise in response to America’s atomic bombing of Japan the previous summer.
One part of the attire covers the breasts and the other part covers the groin and part of or the entire buttocks, leaving an uncovered area between the two.
Merriam–Webster describe the bikini as “a woman’s scanty two-piece bathing suit” or “a man’s brief swimsuit.” It is often worn in hot weather, while swimming or sunbathing. The shapes of both parts of a bikini resemble women’s underwear, and the lower part can range from revealing thong or g-string to briefs.
The bikini is perhaps the most popular female beachwear around the globe, according to French fashion historian Olivier Saillard due to “the power of women, and not the power of fashion”. As he explains, “The emancipation of swimwear has always been linked to the emancipation of women.”
By the mid 2000s, bikinis had become a $811 million business annually, according to the NPD Group, a consumer and retail information company. The bikini has boosted spin-off services like bikini waxing and the suntanning industries.
The groundwork for the modern bikini began to be laid in 1907, when Australian swimmer and performer Annette Kellerman was arrested on a Boston beach for wearing a form-fitting one-piece swimsuit, which became an accepted form of beach attire for women by 1910.
In 1913, inspired by the introduction of women into Olympic swimming, designer Carl Jantzen made the first functional two-piece swimwear, a close-fitting one-piece with shorts on the bottom and short sleeves on top.
By the 1930s, necklines plunged at the back, sleeves disappeared and sides were cut away. Hollywood endorsed the new glamour with films such as Neptune’s Daughter in which Esther Williams wore provocatively named costumes such as “Double Entendre” and “Honey Child”.
With new materials like latex and nylon, by 1934 the swimsuit started hugging the body and had shoulder straps to lower for tanning.
By the early 1940s two-piece swimsuits were frequent on American beaches. Hollywood stars such as Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner tried similar swimwear or beachwear. Pin-ups of Hayworth and Esther Williams in the costume were widely distributed.
Finally, the modern bikini was introduced by French engineer Louis Réard and fashion designer Jacques Heim in Paris in 1946. Réard was a car engineer but by 1946 he was running his mother’s lingerie boutique near Les Folies Bergères in Paris. Heim was working on a new kind of beach costume. It comprised two pieces, the bottom large enough to cover its wearer’s navel. In May 1946, he advertised the bathing suit, known as the “Atome,” as the world’s “smallest bathing suit”.
Réard named his swimsuit the “bikini”, taking the name from the Bikini Atoll, one of a series of islands in the South Pacific where testing on the new atomic bomb was occurring that summer. Historians assume Réard termed his swimsuit the “bikini” because he believed its revealing style would create reactions among people similar to those created by America’s atomic bomb in Japan just one summer earlier.
Réard sliced the top off the bottoms and advertised it as “smaller than the smallest swimsuit”. Réard could not find a model to wear his design. He ended up hiring Micheline Bernardini, a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris. That bikini, a string bikini with a g-string back of 30 square inches (194 cm2) of cloth with newspaper type printed across, was introduced on July 5 at Piscine Molitor, a public pool in Paris. Heim’s design was the first worn on the beach, but the swimwear was given its name by Réard.
From a 1949 Los Angeles Times report: “The bathing beauty queen—blond Bebe Shopp, 18, of Hopkins, Minn.—got an enthusiastic welcome in Paris, but she said she hasn’t changed her mind about French swim suits. … ‘I don’t approve of Bikini suits for American girls,’ Bebe told her French interviewers. ‘The French girls can wear them if they want to, but I still don’t approve of them on American girls.”
Brigitte Bardot popularised bikini swimwear in early films such as Manina (Woman without a Veil,1952) in her appearances at Cannes and in many photo shoots. Bardot is said to be the original Cannes bathing beauty.
Bikinis gradually became briefer and lower with narrower sides in the 1970s, and by the late 70s/early 80s very low hipster bottoms with string sides and ties became the fashion. By the 1990s however, fashions changed and high-cut bottoms and bandeau tops were in vogue.
Bikinis went brief again in the early 2000s as they followed the trend for everything hipster (‘low rise’). Despite the high popularity of skimpy thongs and g-strings as underwear from 1998-2006, thong bikinis never made it into high street fashion. Low rise bikinis with string and tie-sides are currently fairly standard, reminiscent of late-70’s designs but not so low cut.