AKA: two-piece

How to say it:  bih-kee-nee

Traditional Features: Bikini

  • two piece swimsuit consisting of a top and bottom
  • exposes the midriff area
  • comes in various shapes, styles and fabrics

21st Century Bikinis

In the 21st century there is no limit to the number of bikinis available to beach goers. Every style, every size, every colour and every price point is represented many times over on the modern marketplace, allowing women to pick and choose the style and size that suits them the best.

Ella Moss Marc by Marc Jacobs

Ella Moss, Marc by Marc Jacobs

Matthew Williamson Zimmermann

Matthew Williamson, Zimmermann


…of the style: The bikini, or two-piece swimsuit is generally thought of as a fairly recent addition to the swimwear category, however, archaeological evidence shows that the bikini was worn by Ancient Greek women as far back as 1400 B.C. and by Roman women in the 4th Century. So the bikini actually has a surprisingly long history.

The story of the modern bikini begins in the 1930s, when women first began wearing two-piece suits in Europe. These early styles were just barely a bikini – the halter top and shorts combo exposed a mere sliver of midriff and the navel was most certainly covered. In the United States, the two-piece suit was a result of World War II – the fabric restrictions imposed by the government meant that less fabric could be used in the construction of swimsuits and thus the midriff was unveiled in the late 30s/early 40s.

However, it was amongst the post-war jubilation in Europe that the modern bikini was truly born. The summer of 1946 was the first War-free summer in years; everyone was enjoying their new freedom, and it was this liberated mood that inspired designer Jacques Heim to create a new swimsuit – the atome. The style was named for the atom, the smallest known particle of matter, and was advertised as the “smallest swimsuit in the world”, which it was. However, shortly after a fellow French engineer-turned-designer, Louis Réard, released his own version of the smallest swimsuit in the world – a string bikini made from a scanty 30 inches of fabric – it really was the smallest in the world. Réard’s style was so revealing (it was the first time the navel had been exposed) that he could not get any of his regular models to wear it, and so he hired a nude dancer to wear his creation when he introduced it to the world on July 5th, 1946.

The newly christened bikini was a hit in France but was banned on beaches across Europe, America and Australia; even the Miss World Pageant banned bikinis after the debut competition in 1951, and ‘women of taste’ continued to wear more modest two-pieces that showed less midriff. Towards the end of the 1950s European beaches had begun to accept the popularity of the bikini as starlets like Brigitte Bardot raised the status of the tiny swimsuit. American stars like Marilyn Monroe and Esther Williams followed suit in the USA, but the bikini was not accepted stateside until the 1960s. This acceptance was reportedly aided by Bryan Hyland‘s hit song ‘Itsy, bitsy, teenie, weenie, yellow polka dot bikini‘ and Ursula Andress emerging from the sea in a white bikini in the James Bond film ‘Dr. No‘.

With the help of movies, like Beach Party starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, and popular music by the likes of the Beach Boys, the bikini entered mainstream fashion around the world by the end of the 1960s. Once accepted, the bikini continued to evolve with the trends that shaped society and fashion through the decades. The shape of the tops and bottoms have continually changed, shrinking to the tiny g-string styles of Brazil, and growing to retro styles reminiscent of the two-piece styles of the 50s, the bikini is constantly being reinvented and reshaped, keeping it on the forefront of fashion.

While the term bikini was originally used to describe the skimpy, string-and-triangle design created by Louis Réard, the use of the moniker has now evolved to encompass any two-piece swimsuit on the market, with additional adjectives added to specify what sort of bikini it is – e.g. string bikini, bandeau bikini, halter bikini etc. Despite the increased fears of skin cancer and the rise in popularity of the one-piece swimsuit, the bikini is as popular as ever in the 21st century. Bikinis of every style, shape and colour abound in the fashion marketplace and beaches across the globe, and most likely will for decades to come.

…of the name: Louis Réard coined the name ‘bikini’ when he launched his two piece style in 1946. His named his swimsuit after the Bikini Atoll where the atomic bomb was being tested and “like the [atom] bomb, the bikini is small and devastating”.

Random Facts

  • In 2010, the International Federation of Bodybuilders recognized Bikini as a new competitive category
  • Louis Réard’s first bikini could fit inside a matchbox
  • even the Pope Pius XII had an opinion on the bikini – it was declared sinful by the Vatican in 1951
  • in 2001 Ursula Andress’ Bond bikini sold at auction for $60,000
  • The first Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition was published in 1964 with Babette March on the front in a white bikini
  • The Miss World Pageant did not allow two-piece bikinis to be worn in competition until 1997
  • Until 1965 a woman could get a citation for wearing a bikini on Hampton Beach, New Hampshire
  • Early images of women in bikinis that appeared in magazines often had the navels removed to make them more acceptable to the American market.

For more info on Bikinis try Wikipedia, Time Magazine, ELLE, Wikipedia again or the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

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