L'Histoire du Bikini

Bikini History

As July 5, 1946 marks the recognized "traditional" 74th anniversary of the bikini, Sexy Bikini thought it fitting to delve into the history of one of the most outrageous articles of clothing.

From mosaics of Roman antiquity to satirical hymns to female athletes, the bikini appeared through the ages.

On the silver screen of post-war America and France, through to the modern fashions of the present decade, the bikini has become an icon fully fledged.

The history of the bikini is a fascinating look at the shifting view of the western world on femininity, fashion, modesty and self-expression across humanity.

A "Premodern" Bikini?

Bikini History

While most people associate the bikini , in all its forms, to a contemporary fashion piece, surprisingly there are close analogues of the bikini that date back to 5600 BC, during the Copper Age, when human civilization began to settle in large cities.

A period that predates by thousands of years the cultures of ancient Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, and other early recorded histories!

The mother goddess and the bikini

Although it doesn't look like a bikini by modern standards, the first example of this type of garment was found in the great ancient city of Çatalhöyük, Anatolia (present-day Turkey), which depicts a mother goddess figurine wearing a garment resembling a bikini , with two leopard-like creatures on either side.

Although historians are unsure of the figurine's exact meaning, it has been speculated that it represented a fertility fetish, given its exaggerated feminine features.

The Greeks, Romans, and the Bikini

We will move forward a few thousand years and the next cultural artifacts that give us insight "premodern" bikinis come from Greek urns dating from around 1400 BC and featuring women athletes wearing what was known as either an apodesmos or a mastodeton, which is more akin to a bandeau bikini and which was more of a garment for everyday wear than a bathing suit.

Like the Greeks before them, Roman culture seemed to possess clothing that today would pass for a bikini , as shown in a mosaic found in a Sicilian villa from what historians call the Diocletian period (286 to 305 AD), where women are seen wearing what was called the subligar and the strophium, which served as the lower and upper cover, respectively.

The mosaic in question features ten female athletes in various poses: running, weight lifting, and even discus throwing.

Perhaps even more interesting is that the ' Bikini Girls ' mosaic features an image of the Roman goddess of love, Eros, which historians say means either the association between the clothes "light", modesty and femininity, or the tastes of the owner of the villa.

Traces of similar fashions and the affinity of clothing with love and relationships are found throughout Roman society, from statues of Eros wearing a bikini found in Pompeii, called " Venus in a bikini ", to the classical Roman poet Ovid who wrote that the strophium would be an ideal place to hide the love letters of secret admirers.

It's an interesting similarity of thought to reconcile between the goddess figurine found in Anatolia and Roman mosaics and statues, given the thousands of years that have passed between the two cultures, and it shows that even when things change , they remain the same.

Over time, the Roman Empire began to weaken and give way to the Dark Ages, then the birth of various European states, and the "premodern" bikini seems to have followed.

Bathing and swimming were thought to spread disease and were strongly discouraged, so these items were no longer needed or relevant in medieval societies.

It was not until the 18th century that mankind began to wear specific clothing for bathing and swimming.

The turn of the century

Bikini History

Contrary to Greek or Roman standards for modesty, women's swimwear at the beginning of the 20th century did not resemble bikinis , but rather long-sleeved, ankle-length shirts, called bathing gowns , made of wool or flannel. This was partly due to society's mores of modesty and "decency".

Women's Swimwear in the Jazz Age

It was not until 1907 that a big step forward was taken when the Australian artist Annette Kellerman was arrested in Boston for wearing a one-piece, sleeveless, snug-fitting swimsuit that went from her neck to her feet. During the decade 1910-1920, the question of swimming as a feminine activity and what exactly this activity would look like was the subject of much cultural discourse.

There has been a lot of discussion about the functionality of " swimsuits " (which one might think of as modern swimwear ) and what used to be called " women's swimwear " (which could be considered clothing that meets societal standards of feminine decency while allowing women to dress appropriately to the beach).

Many fashion magazines have dedicated sections on their magazines to this issue, different styles and opinions on the subject. We can read that there are two types of swimwear : the loose straight jersey and the surplice , "...which holds its place because of its very becoming character."

However, just two weeks later, in the June 15 edition, the magazine added to this statement, indicating that a third style of women's swimsuit , a knotted jersey costume, existed (but provided no artwork) and was described as "...generally sleeveless, fairly short and fairly straight..." and "...intended for women who swims expertly."

Ultimately, however, societal mores evolved faster than institutions, and by the late 1920s women's swimwear move away from their swimming function towards decorative and revealing cuts (for the time) which become known as "sunsuits".

Sunsuits, the big screen and cultural acceptance

In the late 1920s and 1930s, societal norms regarding women's bodies and swimsuits started to relax. One-piece swimsuits began to have plunging backs and disappearing sleeves, and the creation of latex and nylon allowed fashion houses to develop bathing suits which began to tightly fit the body and straps.

We are witnessing the emergence of two-piece bathing suits , called "sun suits", which expose the midsection of the body and begin to look like bikinis sport. In addition to changes in women's fashion, cinema has played an important role in the acceptance bathing suits by the general public.

Bikini History

The actress Dolores del Rio holds the title of first superstar to wear a two-piece swimsuit on screen in the film Flying Down to Rio (1933). Other films, such as Fashions of 1934, feature similar items to bikinis modern, and The Hurricane (1937) also highlights this new style of swimsuit .

Unfortunately, when the United States entered World War II in 1942, the country's enormous manufacturing power was undermined. Due to the war effort, fabric rationing was introduced and a 10% reduction in fabrics used for women's swimwear was imposed by the US War.

The post-war effect

Bikini History

Paradoxically, the Second World War allowed to women's swimwear lose their more decorative patterns and begin to reveal more of the skin.

In the 1930s, two-piece swimsuits which exposed the midsection of the body were worn in movies by Hollywood stars of the time like Lana Turner , Ava Gardner And Rita Hayworth and dominated the big screen as in the film Neptune's Daughter (1949).

While more and more models of swimwear exploded onto the fashion scene, these new models tried to solve the eternal problems of size and fit, but in the 1950s, vogue sadly declares that the swimsuit has become "a state of putting on, not undressing".

The Modern Bikini Makes Its Debut

While one piece swimsuits and belly styles were still in fashion at the time, the aesthetics and design of the modern bikini are the result of two Frenchmen: Jacques Heim And Louis Reard .

The modern bikini owes its origins to these two men, but what is perhaps even more interesting is that they worked separately and their creations single-handedly revolutionized women's swimwear.

Jacques Heim was a fashion designer whose Cannes beach boutique introduced a bikini with a minimalist design, called "Atom", in 1946. bikini bottom was just wide enough to cover the navel.

Louis Réard, meanwhile, is an automotive engineer by training but participates in the management of his mother's lingerie store. Inspired after noticing that women on the beach in Saint-Tropez were rolling the edges of their bathing suits to tan better, Réard cut even more fabric from the lower part bikini (exposing the navel of the wearer) and it was made from only 30 square inches of fabric!

Wishing to show her new swimsuit to the whole world, Réard wanted to organize a press conference, but no model, with the exception of Micheline Bernardini , aged 18, did not want to wear her bikini due to his salacious nature, but on July 5, 1949 (five days after the first atomic bomb test off Bikini Atoll), Réard presented his bikini to a stunned crowd.

If Heim's design was worn first, it was Réard's name that remained. Both Heim and Réard embarked on a vicious ad campaign, hiring editors vying for supremacy. Réard even went so far as to say in an advertising campaign that two-piece swimsuits of the time were not of real bikinis unless they are able to "step through a covenant".

Whether the modern bikini happened, like women's swimwear before him, in the 1920s, the article of dress received its fair share of criticism, controversy and resistance in society.

The return of the bikini

The modern bikini received greater negative reaction than its predecessors, in part due to attitudes continually regarding women's bodily autonomy. But what is more surprising is that the modern bikini was so cutting edge that the consuming public didn't know what to make of it, and early sales showed it. It was not until the late 1950s that societal attitudes towards the bikini started to change.

The history of the modern bikini has been marred by multiple controversies, from the outright banning of bikini on some French beaches as well as in countries such as Italy, Spain and Belgium, to the Catholic Pope Pius XII who declared it a sin after the Swedish Kiki Hakansson was crowned Miss World in bikini in 1951. The bikini was subsequently banned from future Miss World competitions.

The bikini has even been ridiculed by fashion designers, women's magazines and actresses; swimsuit mogul Fred Cole poked fun at the bikini , German women's magazine The Modern Girl wrote, "It is unthinkable that a decent girl with tact could wear such a thing" and even the movie starlet Ester Williams said that " a bikini is a rash act".

Even with greater opposition than previous versions women's swimwear , the bikini , like two-piece swimsuits 1930s, found its place on the big screen and was worn by actresses of the time, Marilyn Monroe , Brigitte Bardot and Betty Gamble, who used the bikini as a prop to further their film careers.

However, no one has done so much to change societal norms about the bikini that Brigitte Bardot in the 1950s.

Bardot and the bikini beyond the 50s

Bikini History

Brigitte Bardot almost single-handedly popularized the bikini and won it mainstream acceptance in the early 1950s, when the negative reaction to the bikini was at its height. By displaying the bikini in the French film Manina, the girl in the bikini (1952) and wearing it throughout the Cannes Film Festival (1953), Brigitte Bardot gave the bikini an air of distinction and class.

However, when the 1950s gave way to the sexual revolution of the 1960s, appearances of the bikini have become much more common as women begin to exercise their physical freedom through fashion choices. Television, movies, songs, and pop culture ephemera of the time began to reflect this shift in attitude toward the bikini .

One of pop culture's most notable pieces that sparked a wave of bikini buying is the 1960 fantasy song by Brian Hyland “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” which was a worldwide hit, selling one million copies and reaching the top of the Billboard Hot 100.

Along with the fanciful songs of the time, films, like those of the 1930s, were the primary vehicle for dissemination that brought greater acceptance of bikini fashion . In the wake of the infamous bikini scene from the James Bond film Dr. No (1962), where the actress Ursula Andress emerges from the sea white bikini , many surf films such as bikini beach (1964) and Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) followed and continued to propel the bikini prominent in Western countries.

Magazines began to highlight the bikinis . Playboy presented a bikini on its cover in 1962, and just two years later, Sports Illustrated published its very first issue in swimsuit with German model Babette March on the cover, sporting a white bikini echoing the scene from Dr. No by Andress.

While magazines have played an important role in gaining greater visibility, another scene of infamous bikini turned out to be another cultural turning point: the fur bikini of Raquel Welch in the adventure and fantasy film One Million Years BC (1966).

The bikini truly arrived in the late 1960s, with Time Magazine writing that "65% of the younger generation 'already wears these tiny little sets". society and acceptance by society, women's swimwear , and by extension the bikini , finally gained widespread support in the mainstream cultural mainstream in the late 1960s.

Since then, the bikini has continued to be revolutionized by the appearance of new styles such as  mini bikinis , Brazilian bikinis , micro-bikinis , and beyond, through changing cultural attitudes to femininity, self-expression, and modesty.

Although existing in one form or another from pre-recorded history to the modern era, what is certain is that the history of the bikini has impacted and shaped the cultures in which it exists; from his artistic expressions like sculpture and painting to his written works, songs, cultural and social attitudes. Only time will tell how the bikini will continue to do so.

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