Historians and archaeologists suggest that the history of the bikini begins far before the official 1946 introduction of the two-piece swimsuit we now know as the bikini. Indeed, wall paintings and murals from ancient Rome would support this belief by boasting several pictures of women wearing costumes that looking surprisingly similar to modern-day bikinis. Even before 1946, in several countries throughout the world, women were known to wear two-piece swimsuits. However, these swimsuits most often covered the navel and displayed very little of the midriff or back.
The history of the shockingly scanty bikini officially begins in 1946 with the simultaneous invention and marketing of the now familiar two-piece swimsuit by two French fashion designers. In the summer of 1946, amid the first post-war experimental explosions of atomic bombs at the Bikini Reef in the South Pacific, Jacques Heim and Louis Reard both introduced the bikini swimsuit to the fashion world. Heim produced his tiny two-piece swimsuit to be sold in his beach shop in the French resort town of Cannes. He christened his innovation the “Atome,” named for the smallest known particle of matter. To advertise his new swimsuit, Heim sent out skywriters above the Mediterranean sky, proclaiming the Atome to be “the world’s smallest bathing suit.”
Unknown to Jacques Heim and the visitors of Cannes, Louis Reard, another French fashion designer, had produced a similar bathing suit in style and cut. Reard named his swimsuit the bikini. To trump Heim’s advertising of the Atome, Reard sent skywriters out above the French Riviera just three weeks after Heim, broadcasting the bikini as “smaller than the smallest bathing suit in the world.” For reasons unknown, the name bikini stuck as the official appellation of the midriff-baring, thigh-revealing, two-piece swimsuit. Doubtlessly, the name was a perfect tag for the fashion bombshell the bikini would become.
Throughout the summer of 1946, and in later summers, the bikini continued to shock its witnesses. As French women paraded across Paris runways in the revealing swimsuits, men’s reactions were recorded as akin to the shock of the atomic bomb explosions in the Bikini Reef.
Many newsmen believed the bikini would never be accepted as appropriate swimwear in the United States and would forever remain as an article of attire worn solely by more extroverted French women. However, the bikini would be introduced into American fashion just one year after its birth in France. Until the summer of 1960, however, many American women shied away from the scanty swimsuit. The wearing of bikinis on public beaches, if not actually banned, was heavily discouraged prior to 1960.
In modern times, the bikini has become one of the most prominent icons in swimsuit fashion. According to a recent Mervyn’s department survey, the bikini is the most common type of swimsuit purchased by young women. Throughout the 60 years since its explosive introduction to the world, the bikini has continued to shock and titillate men and women alike, all the while becoming ever more popular in the world of swimsuit fashion design.
. A History of the Swimsuit .
. The Surprising History of the Bikini .
. Interesting Facts about the Swimsuit .
. How to Make Your Own Swimsuit .