In my never-ending quest to see that you, my T.I.H. readers are kept aware of the most important events in history on any given day I bring you this: on today's date, July 5 in 1946 - 70 years ago - French designer Louis Reard introduced a revealing two-piece swimsuit at the Piscine Molitor, a popular swimming pool in Paris. Reard named his new product the "Bikini" after Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean wherein Atomic Bomb testing was being conducted. Why it is that the designer chose to link a small women's bathing suit with the ultimate weapon of mass destruction seems an odd question to which I may have a possible partial answer by the end of this posting. We'll see... but I make no promises.
What EXACTLY IS a Bikini?
Well, just in case any of you out there are somehow unclear on this point we will turn to "Wikipedia" for a proper definition:
"A bikini is usually a women's abbreviated two-piece swimsuit with a bra top for the chest and underwear cut below the navel. The basic design is simple: two triangles of fabric on top cover the woman's breasts and two triangles of fabric on the bottom cover the groin in front and the buttocks in back. The size of a bikini bottom can range from full pelvic coverage to a revealing thong or G-string design." So there you have it - two triangles on top and two (or maybe just one) on the bottom.
The Bikini Developed as a Wartime Measure
Ok, while that may be stretching the truth a bit, wartime needs did play a role in this story. In Europe of the 1930's women had been wearing a
kind of two-piece bathing suit all along which was made up of a halter top and shorts. But very little of the midriff was exposed, and none of the navel was visible. Over here in America a fairly tame version of the two piece began appearing during World War II. The war brought on fabric shortages and the rationing of their use requiring the removal of the skirt panel and other unnecessary bits of material. This version looked something like the suit Betty Grable is wearing at right. But heavily fortified coastlines pretty much put a stop to developments in ladies swimwear like everything else not related directly with the war.
The War Ends and Things Cut Loose
So the war ended in 1945. And beach lovers in 1946 were looking forward getting back to the beach for the first time in years. And some, including a pair of French fashion designers were really ready to cut loose. Fabric shortages due to the war were still in effect, so in an
The Bikini's Reception is Shock and Awe
Whatever Reard's confidence in his design, he ran into trouble conveying that to others, as no professional model was willing to
The Bikini Is Slow to Catch On
The Bikini was a great success in France, and soon began making appearances along the Mediterranean and Spanish coasts. Although some attempts were made to outlaw it in some such spots, eventually local officials bowed to the popular tide. But in spite of it's initial success in France, sales were sluggish, and by the 1950's Reard was back to making the more traditional one-piece design. And in America, buyers resisted the bikini through the 1950's. But once the 1960's arrived with its care-free youth movement in the air the bikini finally began to catch on with it being featured in the Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello beach party movies.