The History of the Bikini


Originally banned by television, movies and many Catholic countries, the bikini is now an $811 million dollar business.

The first two-piece suit was designed in 1913 by Carl Jantzen, only to be redesigned by Swedish engineer Louis Reard who made a more revealing version in 1946 named after Bikini Island in the Pacific. In fact, early versions of this navel exposing swimsuit can actually be seen in mosaics and paintings as early as 1400 BC.

Originally designed by Jantzen when females were introduced to Olympic swimming, the first bikini featured a short sleeved top with shorts on the bottom. When this suit debuted at New Yorks Madison Square Garden in 1916, it was considered a landmark day in fashion and social mores.

With the advent of the daring fashion of the 1930s came more revealing, body hugging swimwear. Burlesque and vaudeville performers of the time adopted the two-piece suit as well as women across Europe. However, it was not until the 1940s that two-piece suits began to appear in the United States, mostly due to the war rationing of fabric.

Pin-up stars of the time such as Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner began to don these two-piece sensations and by July of 1945, the two-piece had made the cover of Life Magazine. The modern bikini made its debut when Reard, a car engineer who also happened to be running his mothers lingerie shop, designed a smaller two-piece when he noticed women rolling up their suits to get a better tan. His design, a string bikini with a G-string back, was a hit in Europe but did not gain popularity in the US until the 1960s with the debut of Ursula Andress in the iconic bikini scene from Dr. No.

The popularity of surfer movies and the sexual liberation of the 1960s combined so that by the end of the 60s, the bikini had been on the cover of Playboy, Sports Illustrated and Time magazine. Starlets such as Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Jane Russell, along with pin-up posters of Brigitte Bardot and Raquel Welch, contributed significantly.

By the 1980s, the bikini sold more than any other type of swimsuit in the US. By the millennium, bikinis could be seen everywhere, from movie blockbusters such as Blue Crush and Charlies Angels to PETA ad campaigns featuring Pamela Anderson.

According to Beth Dincuff Charleston, research associate at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, "The bikini represents a social leap involving body consciousness, moral concerns, and sexual attitudes."


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