The bikini was invented by a French designer named Louis Reard in 1946, modeled at the Piscine Molitor pool in Paris by showgirl Micheline Bernardi. The new apparel was named after a U.S. atomic test off the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific the week before. Since its inception into the minds of gasping G.I.s and women back home, the bikini’s popularity has grown.
Though European women had been wearing two-piece swimsuits as early as the 1930s, a lot less skin was revealed – and the navel was especially gauche to go about flaunting. In the United States, a more provincial take on the two-piece made its appearance during the second World War, mostly due to the rationing of materials.
In 1946, after the end of WWII, two French designers, Jacques Heim and Louis Reard, developed competing prototypes of the bikini to celebrate the new liberation. Heim’s “atom” was advertised as “the world’s smallest bathing suit”, while Reard’s swimsuit, was in fact significantly smaller, made with only 30 inches of fabric.
Before long, young women were causing a sensation along the Mediterranean coast in Reard’s bikini, and though European nations initially banned bikinis, the changing times caught up with the tiny swimwear and the bikini became a mainstay of European beaches by 1950s.
In a much more buttoned up America, the bikini was rebuffed until the early 1960s, when a new youth liberation movement began, and brought the swimsuit en masse to U.S. beaches. Immortalized by the pop singer Brian Hyland with “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini” in 1960, by the teenage “beach blanket” movies of Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, and by the California surfing culture, the nation began to celebrate the bikini – and continues to do so to this day.
For a slideshow on the evolution of the bikini, click here