Nowadays the bikini is probably the most popular form of female swimwear, but this wasn’t always the case. Although two-piece swimsuits were worn in ancient Rome, the modern bikini was only invented in the 1940s. During the 1950s bikinis were controversial, but this all changed in the 1960s as they entered the mainstream. By the 1990s bikinis had evolved to become tinier and more revealing as shifting social norms took effect.
From Ancient Rome to World War II.
Dating from the C4th AD, the Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily houses one of the largest collections of Roman mosaics, including the earliest known depiction of the bikini. Bikinis then seem to have fallen out of the spotlight until the pre-Hollywood musical films of the 1930s such as “Footlight Parade” (1933), and “Fashions of 1934.” World War II brought the rationing of many goods, including fabrics. So by 1945, two-piece swimsuits had become more common and Hollywood stars such as Rita Hayworth and Esther Williams started modelling them for pin-up magazines.
The invention of the modern bikini.
In 1946, French fashion designers Jacques Heim and Louis Réard separately introduced their own versions of the bikini. Heim christened his design the “atome”, but Réard coined the name “bikini” in reference to the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. The bikini was debuted at a fashion show in Paris where Micheline Bernardini modelled the design. The revealing design was considered both liberating and scandalous as it revealed the model’s navel.
Reaction and controversy.
Bikinis slowly began to become popular with European women. In 1951, Eric Morley put on the “Festival Bikini Contest”, later known as Miss World, and the contest’s winner Kiki Hakansson was crowned in a bikini. Pope Pius XII lambasted the event and called the bikini sinful. Consequently, bikinis were banned at beauty contests and Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Spain outlawed them. There was also a negative reaction from Catholic groups in the US. Some conservative social norms were not adhered to everywhere and the bikini started to become popular in Australia, for example. In 1953, the bikini was made legal in Benidorm in Spain, leading directly to its popularity as a tourist attraction.
At the Cannes Film Festival in 1953, Brigitte Bardot posed for photos on the beach in a bikini. This led to an increase in its popularity among European and American women. In the 1960s social norms relaxed, hemlines became shorter, and casual clothing was more widely accepted. Bikinis suddenly became ubiquitous. In 1962, Ursula Andress sported an iconic, white bikini in the first James Bond film, “Dr. No.” Sports Illustrated launched its first annual swimsuit-themed issue in 1964. By 1965, young women almost everywhere were wearing bikinis.
New styles of bikini.
By the 1990s, bikinis had lost their taboo. They were officially adopted as the kit for Olympic women’s beach volleyball in 1996, and in 1997 the Miss America pageant removed its bikini ban. Now the bikini has evolved and we have the microkini which exposes even more skin, and the tankini, which includes a top which covers the navel.