Mark your calendars, swimwear fans: there’s an important date coming up. International Bikini Day on July 5th marks the anniversary of the invention of the bikini. To celebrate, we’ve put together a history of bikini’s most glamorous, inspirational and controversial moments.
1940s – The bikini arrives
We know it as the bikini, but if French fashion designer Jacques Heim had had his way, we’d all be calling it the atome instead. Jacques Heim created a two-piece in June of 1946 and called it “the world’s smallest bathing suit”. Unfortunately for him, French engineer Louis Réard went one step further just a few weeks later on July 5th, when he unveiled a two-piece that exposed the belly button. Thinking along the same lines as his rival (this was, after all, an era where women were known as bombshells), Réard called his creation the bikini, after the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean where nuclear testing had taken place.
Réard found it difficult to persuade anyone to model the first bikini; in the end, it was dancer Micheline Bernardini who revealed the skimpy newspaper print two-piece at the iconic Molitor swimming pool in Paris. Naturally it caused a stir, but Réard was unrepentant. He took out an ad campaign stating that you couldn’t use the term bikini "unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring."
1950s – The bikini takes off in Europe
In the 50s, the bikini started to catch on. Sweden's Kiki Håkansson wore one when she was crowned the first Miss World in 1951. A year later, a young Brigitte Bardot (she was 17) starred in the French movie Manina, the Girl in the Bikini, and she wore a bikini to make her debut at the 6th International Cannes Film Festival in 1953.
As it entered the mainstream, the bikini gained popularity on the beaches of the Mediterranean, but it was not entirely smooth sailing for the new two-piece trend. The Vatican did not approve. Bikinis were banned for a time in some countries, including Italy and Spain, and tourists were fined for wearing them on the beach.
1960s – The bikini comes to America
The United States was slower to adopt the two-piece, but it made its mark on popular culture when Brian Hyland released the song Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini in 1960.
From that moment on, there was no stopping it. Playboy magazine put a bikini on its cover for the first time in June 1962 and Bond girl Ursula Andress sealed her place in cinema history when she emerged from the ocean in a white bikini, complete with a weapon at the hip, in the movie Dr No. A year later, Annette Funicello – in a baby pink bikini – and Frankie Avalon starred in Beach Party; the Beach Boys, meanwhile, were celebrating beach culture with songs like California Girls.
Perhaps the most iconic bikini moment of the decade, however, did not take place anywhere near the beach. The fur two-piece worn by Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC was voted Best Bikini of All Time in a 2016 survey.
1980s – From Brazil to Star Wars
By the 1980s, the bikini had become more popular than ever and now made up more than 20 percent of swimsuit sales in America. It also became decidedly skimpier, with the thong bikini making its way from the beaches of Brazil to American shores. At the other end of the modesty spectrum, athletic neoprene styles were also a big trend.
And the most influential bikini style of the 1980s? It has to be the gold two-piece worn by actress Carrie Fisher starring as Princess Leia in the Star Wars movie Return of the Jedi in 1983. More than three decades later, it’s still a favorite fancy dress costume.
Today – Bikini bans and plus size positivity
Over seventy years since it was first invented, the bikini is still causing controversy. Barcelona banned the bikini on its streets, and the Italian town of Vietri Sul Mare followed suit in 2013. This year, meanwhile, swimwear was dropped from the Miss America beauty pageant.
But the good news is that the bikini is still far and away our favorite swimwear style: it accounts for 68 percent of global swimwear sales, as opposed to a mere 28 percent for one-piece swimsuits. And the body positivity movement is having an impact too. Ashley Graham was the first plus size model to grace the cover of Swimsuit Illustrated in 2016 – a key moment in bikini history.
With a variety of bikini top and panty styles, bikini collections can be mixed and matched to create the perfect combination for you. It’s no wonder that more than seven decades after its invention, the bikini is more popular than ever.
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