May 25, 2012

The Bikini – A Short History

You’d think that the bikini, probably the raciest piece of clothing that may be worn outside, appeared no more than a few decades ago, but the truth is that even in ancient times, women wore some version of the skimpy summer outfit.

Ancient mosaics found in Sicily, Italy, dating back to the Diocletian period (286-305 AD) depicts women dressed in what today would resemble a bikini and archaeological finds in the ancient city of Pompeii show Venus, the Roman goddess, wearing a predecessor of the garment.

The first official record of the modern bikini is marked by swimmer and performer Annette Kellerman’s arrest on a Boston beach for being scantily-clad in a tight-fitting one-piece swimsuit, in 1907. The one-piece became accepted feminine beach attire in 1910 and three years later, designer Carl Jantzen created the “bathing suit”, inspired by the debut of women in Olympic swimming. Initially made of wool, it proved difficult to swim in, so Jantzen decides to remake it in a lighter fabric. His company went on to create “The Suit That Changed Bathing To Swimming”, which also became a trademark tag-line.


During the 1930s, the swimming suit had a glamorous makeover, due to the influence exerted by Hollywood movies. Nylon and latex were introduced as fabrics for manufacturing swimsuits, while design-wise, necklines plunged at the back, short sleeves disappeared completely, sides had a higher cut and shoulder straps appeared.

Rita Hayworth
Rita Hayworth

In the early 1940s, pin-up girls such as Rita Hayworth, Ava Garner and Lana Turner were frequently seen donning two-piece swimsuits and in 1946, the modern bikini was at las introduced in Paris, thanks to French engineer Louis Réard and fashion designer and couturier Jacques Heim. Réard, who, in spite of his main occupation, also ran the Les Folies Bergères Shop in Paris, was Heim’s rival, so when Heim introduced what he called “Atome”, “the world’s smallest bathing suit”, consisting of two pieces, the bottom piece long enough to cover the navel, Réard reciprocated in a most creative manner. He “split the Atome”, introducing a new swimsuit, which he called “bikini” (inspired by the Bikini Atoll islands), and advertised it as “smaller than the world’s smallest bathing suit” with good reason, as it was comprised of a bra top and two inverted triangles of cloth connected by a string, all adding up to a mere 30 square inches of fabric.

Louis Réard

A decade later, movie stars like Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren popularised the bikini in Europe and despite the public’s reserve, it became a prop to boost sex-appeal for stars like Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable or Esther Williams. A decade later, the bikini became accepted by the public opinion as appropriate apparel for women and it began its rise in famous motion pictures like James Bond Dr. No, in which Ursula Andress emerges from the sea in a crisp-white bikini, and One Million Years B.C., in which Raquel Welch donned a sexy cavegirl outfit resembling a bikini.

Brigitte Bardot

Today, we have plenty types of bikinis to choose from, but a couple of them have had such an impact, that they’ve become iconic.

Take a look at 10 iconic bikinis from movies throughout the last few decades.

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Photos courtesy of: ,,,,