The history of the bikini is a checkered one. Though the bikini shocked when it appeared on French beaches in 1947, its origins date back millennia. Depictions of bikini-like garments appear at the Chalcolithic site of Çatalhöyük, and two-piece bikini-like garments were worn by women for athletic purposes in Ancient Greece as far back as 1400 BC.
In the 70’s and the 80’s the media declared that only "perfect figures" were allowed to wear bikinis. Since then, a number of swimsuit designers have encouraged women of all ages and body types to wear this once provocative two-piece. And should you choose to be less inhibited there are now many swimsuit options, which have evolved from the bikini idea. These include the string bikini, tankini, microkini, pubikini and the even the sports bikini.
For a long time, the Brazilian bikini (typically low-slung hipster bottoms and tops that emphasize a larger bust, stabilizing lace-ups and under-wire support) was banned from Catholic countries such as Italy, Portugal and Spain. But since the 1980s, women in many European countries (including Italy) go topless while sunbathing at beaches, wearing only the bikini bottom, or the “monokini”. The irony here is that while the conservative Catholic countries permit topless women in public, the mainly Protestant United States remains very resistant to this trend
In planning the debut of his new swimsuit, Réard had trouble finding a professional model who would deign to wear the scandalously skimpy two-piece. So he turned to Micheline Bernardini, an exotic dancer at the Casino de Paris, who had no qualms about appearing nearly nude in public. The bikini was a hit, especially among men, and Bernardini received some 50,000 fan letters.”
Jumping on board the sexual revolution of the 1960s (during which men and women began to seriously reconsider the public ban of nudity), the string bikini became a popular bikini style in the 1970s. While the major erogenous zones of the 1960s had been the breasts and the midriff, the string bikini indicated a shift in public attention toward the upper thighs. Also known as the Tanga, the string bikini was an import from the Brazilian beaches of Rio de Janeiro.
Playboy first featured a bikini on its cover in 1962. The Sports Illustrated "Swimsuit Issue" debuted two years later.
In prudish America, the bikini was successfully resisted until the early 1960s, when a new emphasis on youthful liberation brought the swimsuit en masse to U.S. beaches. It was immortalized by the pop singer Brian Hyland, who sang "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 celebrated by rock groups like the Beach Boys. Since then, the popularity of the bikini has only continued to grow.
The original bikinis of the 1940s and 1950s were fairly modest in their coverage, as compared to current standards. Bottoms were cut above the navel, and tops provided full coverage of the bust. Fashion designers practiced with many varieties and innovations for the swimsuit, including a bikini top with attached propellers, a suit made entirely of red hair, and a rather discomforting version constructed of porcupine quills. In the 1940s and 1950s, the bikini was so small that it could easily be packed into a matchbook, but the suit would undergo even more drastic shrinkage as the years went on.
On July 5, 1946, a French engineer called Louis Réard unveiled an outfit "smaller than the world's smallest swimsuit." It arrived with a bang, so named after the nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll, and remains popular to this day.
European women first began wearing two-piece bathing suits that consisted of a halter top and shorts in the 1930s, but only a sliver of the midriff was revealed and the navel was vigilantly covered. In the United States, the modest two-piece made its appearance during World War II, when wartime rationing of fabric saw the removal of the skirt panel and other superfluous material.
Feminine cotton printed bathing suits often with little over skirts to hide the thighs gradually replaced the ugly 20's fashion. The 20's suit which sometimes sported cutout sections in the midriff panel disappeared as it evolved into a two piece garment.
Liberated from long skirts, young women of the twenties wore a figure hugging wool jersey sleeveless tank suit. The swimming suit was ideal for the androgynous athletic figure that fashion suited best in the 20s. The swimsuit legs stopped at an unflattering point mid thigh and beneath the swimsuit legs were built-in modesty shorts. Swimsuits were often in dramatic abstract patterns or stripes and those with poorer figures covered them up with wraps.
Layers of petticoats eventually gave way to a single-piece costume that no longer hid the contours of the female body. The precursor to the modern bikini emerged in 1907, when Australian swimmer and performer Annette Kellerman (not pictured here) was arrested on a Boston beach for wearing a formfitting one-piece.
As hemlines inch upward after 1890 it should be obvious that next least-bare zone is the ankle and its upward extension, the calf, and that these hot spots remain covered with only a single layer of hose. But wading and water apply serious pressure toward exposing this critical erogenous zone.
Morphogenesis occurs during the latter part of the 19th century as swimming becomes a sport, recreation and therapy. Women's swimsuits look much like the street clothes of this Victorian era; indeed, swimsuits will follow the silhouette of street clothes for many decades. The bathing dress longsleeved bustled appears on the beach by the middle of the 1800s, although society ladies may find this cumbersome to wear in water. And wading is hard to do with ones shoes on.
While the two-piece swimsuit we know of today as the bikini has only been marketed and sold as the “bikini” for 60 years, the fashion that inspired it is nearly as old as civilization itself. Years ago, archaeologists discovered Minoan wall paintings from 1600 B.C. and Roman mosaics from 300 A.D. that depict the bikini. Six years after the introduction of the bikini to the modern world, one Italian archaeologist was stunned to uncover wall paintings in the gymnasium of a traditional Sicilian villa that portray eight female gymnasts in diaper-like panties and strapless, bandeau-style tops.