Welcome to the
Short History of Bikinis and Swimsuits,
Part II of II
(Our history of the bikini evolution Part I – Here!)
Bikini Evolution Starts with the Name
The first designer, Jacques Heim, created a tiny suit called the atome. The second, Louis Reard, introduced his design on July 5, four days after the United States had begun atomic testing in the Bikini Atoll. In a rather bold marketing ploy, Reard named his creation ‘le bikini’, implying it was as momentous an invention as the atom bomb. Thanks to their provocative name and cut, bikinis made international headlines.
Looked on with Disdain
Photos of Micheline Bernardini, the stripper Reard had enlisted to model it, circulated across the planet. But in the United States, women, including actresses in movies like 1947’s My Favorite Brunette and the model on the 1948 cover of Life magazine, stuck with more traditional two piece swimsuits. In 1950, Time interviewed American swimsuit mogul Fred Cole and reported that he had “little but scorn for France’s famed Bikinis,” because they were designed for diminutive Gallic women. “French girls have short legs,” he explained to Time. “Swimsuits have to be hiked up at the sides to make their legs look longer.”
Brigitte Bardot’s legs, at least, didn’t need any such help. A photo was taken at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953, just as the bikinis were becoming common on the French Riviera. Even so, it remained illegal in many States, where it was seen as a suspect garment favored by ‘loose moral’ Mediterranean types.
Turning Point in 1960
A few years ago, Sports Illustrated dug up a 1957 issue of Modern Girl that declared: “It is hardly necessary to waste words over the so-called bikinis since it is inconceivable that any girl with tact and decency would ever wear such a thing.” Just three summers later, though, the bikini evolution had established a beachhead here in the United States. This was in large part because of the increasing popularity of private pools, which gave women a secluded place to test out the new look. A Neiman Marcus buyer classified bikinis as “a big thing” for 1960. Brian Hyland also had a hit that year with the song “Itsy Bitsy, Teenie Weenie, Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” which takes on new meaning when you realize the swimsuit was still catching on at the time. No wonder the song’s protagonist was “afraid to come out of the water.”
Catching on Quickly
Bikinis soon became extremely common. In 1965, a woman told Time it was “almost square” not to wear bikinis, which, given the outlet, suggests she was correct. In 1967 the magazine wrote that “65% of the young set had already gone over”. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue debuted in 1964, with a white bikini on the cover. And the swimsuit’s increasing popularity was reinforced by its appearance in contemporary movies like Annette Funicello’s How To Stuff a Wild Bikini and Raquel Welch’s One Million Years B.C. One of the bikini’s earliest and most memorable film roles came in the 1962 Bond film Dr. No. (A journalist who saw an advance screening reported, “Actress Ursula Andress fills wet bikinis as if she were going downwind behind twin spinnakers.”)
Busty to Lean
Bikinis definitely certainly complemented the va-va-voomery of Raquel Welch and her peers, who tended to be busty and a little soft in the middle. (In early bikini shots, stomachs are often evidently sucked in.) But the 1970s saw the rise of models like Cheryl Tiegs, who possessed the athletic figure that, for the most part, remains in vogue today.
Who Should Wear a Bikini
The advent of this lean ideal led many women to wonder: Who, exactly, should wear bikinis? In the 1960s, Emily Post decreed, “It is for perfect figures only, and for the very young”. Since then, though, a number of bikini designers (most notably Malia Mills) have encouraged women of all ages and body types to take up the style.
Bensimon’s lively Bikini Book splits the difference on this question. In one Q&A, the author asks venerated swimwear designer Norma Kamali who shouldn’t wear the bikini. She responds, “Anyone with a tummy”. Eighty-odd pages later, though, professional beach volleyballer Gabrielle Reece (who competes in a bikini) declares that “confidence” alone can make the bikinis sexy. Easy for her to say. But isn’t that what the bikini evolution was about?
By James Kitchling