History of the bikini
Mosaico de los bikinis. ©Stevegeer / getty Images / iStockphoto
October, 1st 2020
Discover the history of this iconic swimwear and how it has evolved since its creation in the 1940s to the present day.
As incredible as it may seem to the youngest people, wearing a bikini on beaches and in swimming pools as we do actually is something that, for a time, was not well seen, being considered as a provocation and an act of rebellion unsuitable for “decent” women. Those were other times. Welcome, progress!
Although there is evidence that talks about similar garments to the bikinis of today in Italian mosaics of the IV century B.C. (“The mosaic of the bikinis” in Piazza Armerina (Italy), it will not be until the end of the XIX Century when some women start to use, garments of similar character, but different format, which covered the whole body up to the wrists and ankles, and of great discomfort when the linen or cotton of which they were made got wet, which made difficult their projection as useful garment.
With this precedent, the swimmer Anette Kellerman wore for the first time at the beginning of the 20th century a one-piece swimming costume that eliminated sleeves and legs in its design, ending up being stopped for wearing it in public in Boston; a controversial fact but one that transcended in such a way that a few years later similar pieces began to be seen on some European beaches, frequented at that time by royalty or high class people on their summer holidays.
But the real change came one year after the end of the Second World War, when Louis Rénard, a French mechanical engineer who ran a women’s lingerie business inherited from his mother, presented on 5 July what is considered the first two-piece swimsuit that left the navel exposed, a real hint at the time. Faced with the models’ reluctance to wear the garment for fear of public opinion, Micheline Bernardini, a cabaret dancer at the Casino de Paris was the first woman to wear a bikini in public, at the Molitor swimming pool in the French capital, in a fact that has since appeared in almost any book of modern fashion.
In a context like the one in which the World War had given way to the Cold War and the arms race between the USA and Russia, the bikini owes its name to the Marshall Islands atoll in the Pacific Ocean where the first tests of a hydrogen nuclear bomb were carried out. Thus, inspired by the nakedness generated in the islands by those nuclear tests, but also thinking about the media “bomb” that would be raised by the presentation of this garment, Rénard took his name when presenting it since “it was going to be more explosive than the Bikini bombs”. And so the name of one of today’s most famous swimwear was born.
And so it was. Although it had both supporters and detractors, the bikini did not become popular until the mid 50’s when some actresses like Brigitte Bardot or Ava Gardner, in Europe and Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe or Elisabeth Taylor, among others, in Hollywood, were photographed wearing two-piece bikinis that left the navel exposed.
In the 1960s, the bikini became a popular and accessible garment for all types of women, who over the years have progressively institutionalised it as a basic garment in any female wardrobe today.
Micheline Bernardini. © Getty Images
Micheline Bernardini, Marilyn Monroe y Ava Gardner. © Getty Images