as the bikini turns 73 years old, dip your toes into its history

as the bikini turns 73 years old, dip your toes into its history

although evidence of a bikini-style garment has been found as early as 5,600 BC, the iconic swimsuit is commonly dated to 1946 when french automotive and mechanical engineer louis réard introduced it. july 5 marks national bikini day and today we celebrate 73 years since its invention.

micheline bernardini wearing the first bikini, 1946
photo by keystone/getty images



the modern bikini made its first appearance at a poolside fashion show in paris, exploding immediately onto the fashion scene. it happened when réard — who was running his mother’s lingerie business — noticed women in st. tropez rolling their swimsuits to get a better tan. this  coincided with a material rationing after world war II, where fashion houses were forced to use less fabric, resulting in more exposed flesh. réard’s bikini featured four triangles made from 194 centimetres of fabric with a newspaper pattern.

actress jane wyman sitting in lounge chair on california beach, 1935
image source los angeles times photographic archive, UCLA library



once he had the two-piece bathing suit ready, réard found it nearly impossible to find a model brave enough to wear the suit at his press conference. instead, he hired micheline bernardini, a 19-year-old nude dancer from paris. the engineer made the official presentation of the bikini five days after the first test of a nuclear device at bikini atoll, shocking the public because his design exposed the navel.

a first socialist camp student wearing a bikini in leipzig, east germany, 1959
image by helmut schaar, german federal archives



after its inception, the bikini received significant social resistance, even if more than 50,000 women showed their support to réard via written letters. the swimsuit was only worn by women in the vanguard, mostly european and upper-class. in 1951, the controversial piece was banned following the first miss world contest in london, when the winner was crowned in a bikini. catholic countries like belgium, italy, spain and australia also banned it.

a pin-up of williams from a 1945 issue of yank, the army weekly



then the 1960s came with the sexual revolution, where bikinis rose to popularity. french sex symbol brigitte bardot helped when pictures of her in a bikini on a beach at cannes filled the media. since then sales roared and the bikini went mainstream, even if still today, the bikini remains a hot topic, like for example in barcelona, where people can only wear bikinis on the beach.

annette kellerman in a self-designed form-fitting one-piece tank suit, c. 1910s

annette kellerman started the form-fitting swimwear trend, 1909

color bikinis, shop window, 2015
(above and main) image by mahesh shantaram from washington, USA

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