History of the Bikini
“a bikini is a two-piece bathing suit which reveals everything about a girl except for her mother’s maiden name.” – Reárd [one of the pioneers of the bikini]
The history of the bikini is not a recent story. Although in modern times, the bikini only reached widespread popularity in the 1960s, origins date back to the B.C. era. Not only acting as a fashion statement, the women’s swimsuit reveals much about the world’s political, cultural and social sub-context. Bromelia Swimwear takes you on a journey through the evolution of our favorite pieces of clothing: the bikini.
THE CLASSIC BIKINI | Ancient Times
5600 BC | The Leather Thong
For the first time in record, a large settlement in Anatolia [modern day Greece], goddesses are depicted astride two leopards wearing a costume that somewhat looks like a bikini.
The Greco-Roman Era
Tracing back 3500 years, we have found illustrations of women wearing two-piece garments during athletic events. Usage continued throughout the Middle Ages, with their use as undergarments.
THE BIKINI DRY SPELL | 1-18th Century
There was a long interval between the classic and the modern bikini. Swimming and outdoor bathing were discouraged in the Christian West and bathing gowns (ankle-length, full sleeve woolen outfits) were introduced in the 18th century to insure decency was not threatened.
At the beginning of the 19th Century, women wore wool dresses on the beach that were made of up to 9 yards (8.2 m) of fabric.
19th Century (first half):
The top half of the bathing suit becomes knee-length while an ankle-length bottom piece was added.
19th Century (second half):
Sleeves begin to slowly vanish, while bottoms rise to reveal the ankles and the fitted form starts to become a bit snugger.
THE MODERN BIKINI | 20th Century to Today
Breakthrough in 1913
The first functional modern bikini design, featuring sleeves for women in athletics, emerges.
1920s | Functionality
Thought process shifts from “taking in the water” to “taking in the sun”. At bathhouses, swimsuit designs start their movement from functional to decorative.
1930s | Little by Little
Necklines plunge, shoulder straps lower for tanning, sides are tightened and midriff exposure increases.
1940s | Suntan Fashion
Coco Chanel makes suntans fashionable. But the world can trace origins of the first modern-bikini back to a French man, who borrowed the name for the design from the ‘Bikini Atoll’, where atomic bomb tests were being carried out.
The United States soon issues a government order for a 10% reduction in fabric used in woman’s swimwear as wartime rationing. So in compliance, manufacturers make two-piece suits with bare midriffs.
In France, inspired by women on the Riviera rolling up their bottoms for a better tan, the navel has its first revealing in a triangle bikini made with newspaper print fabric. Unfortunately, the designs were all ahead of there time by 15-20 years. Only upper-echelon European women embraced them as they cast off their corsets. The bikini soon becomes banned in much of Europe, the States, and Australia, and the Vatican declares it sinful.
1950s | Actresses Start the Fashion
In 1951, the first Miss World pageant (originally the Festival Bikini Contest) features contestants in the trendy two-piece, but it is quickly banned from further competitions. We have to thank the likes of Actress Bridget Bardot who felt no shame as she was photographed wearing a bikini at the ’53 Cannes Film Festival. Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe also follow suit, using revealing swimwear to boost their careers.
1960s | Playboy & James Bond
Playboy soon becomes a fervent supporter, as the bikini graces covers, giving the two-piece an additional legitimacy. In ’62, Bond girl Ursula Andress emerges from the water in a white bikini. In ’66 Raquel Welch’s fur bikini in One Million Years B.C. becomes the most iconic bikini movie poster in cinema history. And finally, in ’67, Time magazine declares that 65% of youths wear bikinis.
As the decades pass, women begin to appreciate and embrace both their figure and the bikini. Many associate the emancipation of swimwear with the emancipation of women.
1980s | Star Wars
In 1983 Star War’s Princess Leia was forced to wear a metal bikini, which becomes the fantasy men want and women would like to be. However, florescent fashion takes over and the one-piece makes a comeback.
1990s | Skin Cancer
Bikini sales decline as skin cancer awareness grows and a simpler boxy fashion is defined. But, in ’97, as Miss America allows bikinis back into the competition, the bikini re-enters the fashion world with a vengeance.
2000s | Never Looking Back
The Bikini returns as the most popular beachwear in the world. Soaring to a US$810 million business annually, spin-off services also begin to boom such as bikini waxing and sun tanning.
Today through global name brands, we see an increase in education and independence and the right to make your own sexual choices. The modern woman has never been more supported in the media to show off whatever she dares. Bromelia Swimwear applauds those women who know what they are doing and own what they have. Shamelessly.
“The emancipation of swimwear has always been linked to the emancipation of women…the bikini represents a social leap involving body consciousness, moral concerns, and sexual attitudes.” – Olivier Saillard, fashion’s favorite curator.
For a taste of modern-day bikinis, visit our shop at Bromelia Swimwear.
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