First Bikinis Shake the World!

Welcome to the 
Bikinis-You-Luv blog!
Short History of First Bikinis and Swimsuits
Part I of II

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The Debut

Over seventy years ago, the world’s first bikinis made their debut at a poolside fashion show in France. This particular swimsuit is now so common that it’s hard to understand how shocking people found it at the time. When bikinis arrived, its revealing cut scandalized even French fashion models who were supposed to wear it; the models refused, and the original designer had to enlist strippers! Bikinis slowly gained acceptance – first on the Riviera, then in the United States, and became a beachfront staple.

FireVogue Crochet Call Knitting Bikini Set
Crochet Call Knitting Bikini Set

Not the First Bikinis in Time

When bikinis were unveiled in the late 1940s, it was not the first time that women had worn revealing garments in public. In the fourth century, for example, Roman gymnasts wore bandeau tops, bikini bottoms, and even anklets that would look perfectly at home on the beaches of California today. At the beginning of the 20th century, though, such displays would have bordered on blasphemy.

FireVogue Cut Out Push-up One Piece Swimsuit
Cut Out Push-up One Piece Swimsuit

Hiding From View

Female swimmers went to great lengths to conceal themselves at the beach. They wore voluminous bathing costumes and even made use of a peculiar Victorian contraption called the bathing machine, essentially a small wooden or canvas hut on wheels. The bather entered the machine fully dressed and donned her swimming clothes inside. Then, horses pulled the cart into the surf. The bather would disembark on the seaside, where she could take a dip without anyone observing her from the shore.

FireVogue I Will Grow With You Floral Swimsuit
I Will Grow With You Floral Swimsuit

Legal Relaxation

In the decades that followed, the seaside dress code loosened up. In 1907, Australian swimmer and film star Annette Kellerman, an advocate of more hydrodynamic swimwear, was charged with indecent exposure for appearing on Boston’s Revere Beach in a form-fitting, sleeveless tank suit. The ensuing high-profile legal battle led beaches across the nation to relax swimwear restrictions. By 1915, American women commonly wore one-piece knitted maillots.

FireVogue Sexy Chest Bandage Swimsuit
Sexy Chest Bandage Swimsuit

Two-pieces Were Okay

Oddly enough, the two-piece swimsuit – which usually consisted of a structured halter top and modest bottom that covered the navel, hips, and derriere – arrived with much less fanfare than bikinis. By the early ’40s, film stars including Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, and Lana Turner were all wearing two-piece swimsuits, and it was seen frequently on American beaches.

FireVogue Floral Deep V-neck One-piece Swimsuit
Floral Deep V-neck One-piece Swimsuit

Bellybuttons Not Okay

Why was the skin above the bellybutton so much less controversial than below it? Hollywood’s Hays production codes allowed two-piece gowns but prohibited navels on-screen. That meant the rib cage earned a ho-hum reputation, but the bellybutton was terra incognito. In 1948, as Kelly Killoren Bensimon details in The Bikini Book, attractive women were known as “bombshells,” and anything intense was ‘atomic.’ So, when two Frenchmen independently designed skimpier alternatives to two piece swimsuits in the summer of 1946, both suits got nicknames./span>

(Part II of our history of the first bikinis continues tomorrow!)

By James Kitchling

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