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Home > Learning Center > History of the bikini

History of the bikini

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History of the bikini

History of the bikiniLouis Reard (ray-YARD) had this problem. He had designed something that would stir the masses. But he needed a name for it, something exotic, bold, and eye opening. Four days before he was to show the world his new Brazilian bikini in Paris, the U.S. Military provided him with a name. They exploded a nuclear device near several small islands in the Pacific known as the "Bikini Atoll".

On July 5th, 1945, he unveiled the Brazilian bikini. Although he would later claim he named the Brazilian bikini after the islands and not the atomic blast, he was clearly taking advantage of a "hot topic". Another Frenchmen, Jacques Heim, had created his own two piece bathing suit, which he called "The Atome", and he described it as "The world's smallest bathing suit. Reard called his "Smaller than the world's smallest bathing suit."

Reard's "bikini" was so small, in fact, that no Parisian models at the time would wear it on the runway. He hired Micheline Bernardini, who had no qualms about strolling around in a Brazilian bikini, seeing as her day job was a nude dancer at the Casino de Paris. Bernardini was not what you'd call a classic beauty, but after photos of her in a reclining pose hit the press, she was swamped with fan mail, close to 50,000 letters.

Two piece suits weren't new. As part of wartime rationing, the U.S. Government, in 1943, ordered a 10 percent reduction in the fabric used in woman's swimwear. Off went the skirt panel, and out came the bare midriff. At beaches across the country, men paid special attention to women doing their patriotic duty. But Reard pushed the envelope. He shrunk his suit down to 30 inches of fabric - basically a bra top and two inverted triangles of cloth connected by string - and put the navel on center stage.

The world took notice. In Catholic countries - Spain, Portugal, and Italy - The Brazilian bikini was banned. Decency leagues pressured Hollywood to keep it out of the movies. One writer said it's a "two piece bathing which reveals everything about a girl except for her mothers maiden name." Movie star Esther Williams who probably was seen in a two piece bathing suit by more people than anyone in the world, once said: "A bikini is a thoughtless act"
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It's not clear whether she was talking about the Brazilian bikini or the thought of wearing one. Reard's firm did it's part to fan the fantasies by proclaiming that a two piece wasn't a bikini "unless it could pulled through a wedding ring." In the '50's Brigitte Bardot did wonders for business- But not in modest America. Here it remained an invitation to scandal. As recently as 1957, Modern Girl magazine sniffed, "It is hardly necessary to waste words over the so called bikini since it is inconceivable that any girl with tact and decency would ever wear such a thing.”

By 1960 America was ready for new frontiers, including, it seemed, great expanses of bare flesh. That year pop singer Brian Hyland immortalized the suit with his song "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini." Three years later "Beach Party", the first in a series of Annette Funicello / Frankie Avalon flicks with a recurring theme of women dancing in bikinis, hit the big screen.

Times and tastes change, however, and just as importantly, people age. Through the '80s and early '90s, the Brazilian bikini sales began to slide. Sales dropped to less than a third of the women's bathing suit market. in 1988 Reard's company folded.

The Brazilian bikini, however, appears to be making a comeback. Sales are up! Some cite the "Baywatch" factor - or perhaps the Internet itself.

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