“The sight of the first woman in the minimal two-piece was as explosive as the detonation of the atomic bomb by the U.S. at Bikini Island in the Marshall Isles, hence the naming of the bikini.” Tom Waits
One of the earliest depictions of women wearing what looks like a bikini can be found at Villa Romana del Casale (appr. 300 AD) in Sicily. On the mosaic they are not swimming or enjoying the sun, but participating in different kind of sports, like discuss throwing and weight lifting and are wearing what we would now call bandeaux.
The modern bikini was introduced in Paris in 1946 by the Frenchman Louis Réard, who actually was a car engineer, but who was running his mother’s lingerie boutique. At the same time, Jacques Heim, a fashion designer, created the bikini as well. He called it the Atome, “the world´s smallest bathing suit”. Heim´s bathing suit was the first to be worn on the beach, but Réard´s name stuck with the public.
When trying to show his bikini, Réard could not find a model who felt comfortable enough in such a tiny outfit. So, he hired Micheline Bernardini, a nude dancer. The bikini was an instant hit and his business flourished.
Although the bikini was a success in France, women in other parts of the world found it too revealing and continued wearing one-piece swimsuits or traditional, less revealing, two-piece swimsuits. In the US it was seen as an indecent and tactless bathing suit and it was only until the early 1960´s that the bikini was introduced in Hollywood where two-piece garments were allowed, but showing the navel was not done. This happened under pressure of the National Legion of Decency, a Roman Catholic organization watching over American media. The Vatican declared the bikini sinful and it was banned in Portugal, Italy and Spain.
In France Brigitte Bardot wore a bikini at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival and turned it into the “bikini capital of the world”.
In 1962 Ursula Andress appeared in a white bikini in the Bond movie Dr. No. The scene has been put in different top tens of most memorable movie scenes. From this moment on, the appearance of the bikini on screen increased and the bikini became more and more popular.
The acceptance and popularity of the bikini is not just the history of a bathing suit, but 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.”
Although bikinis have shrunk considerably over the years, a countertrend can be spotted in the introduction of the burqini, a swimsuit that covers the whole body except the face, hands and feet, designed to accord with Islamic laws. The name is a combination of burqa and bikini. According to Time, non-Muslim women have also turned to the full-covered suit, whether it be for sun protection or worries about their weight. I don´t know if that is only in the US, since I have not yet spotted a non-Muslim woman with a burqini on the beach.
Funny: in Spain a bikini is not only a bathing suit, but also a toasted sandwich with ham and cheese.
a piece of clothing in two parts that a girl or woman wears for swimming or for lying in the sun and that does not cover much of the body (source: Merriam Webster).
The word bikini comes from French, named for U.S. A-bomb test of June 1946 on Bikini, Marshall Islands atoll. Various explanations for the swimsuit name have been suggested, none convincingly, the best being an analogy of the explosive force of the bomb and the impact of the bathing suit style on men’s libidos (source: Etymonline.com)
Bikini in other languages:
Spanish: el bikini (or el biquini)
Italian: il bikini