Short History of Bikinis: How It All Started

Fashion is an unending evolution. Through the years, we have seen different fashion styles that have been constantly changing to give us something ‘new’. One of the most notable fashion garments that share a long history is the bikini swimsuit.

When one thinks of bikinis, the idea of a two-piece garment for swimming that looks very much like women’s underwear easily comes to mind. Yes, it’s how it is typically described but as time has passed, bikinis came up with vast variations that feature different types of styles.

Before we dive into the latest trend in the bikini scene, let us walk you through the history behind it. You’d be surprised to know that bikinis were worn as early as 1400 BC! The ancient Greek paintings and artifacts can prove that.

Well, considering its long history, there are just too many interesting things to know about bikinis and we’ll try to briefly cover those in this article.

Where it all started – Designer Invention

In 1916, a swimwear brand called Carl Jantzen introduced a special type of swimsuit that will help Olympic swimmers to move more freely and therefore improve their overall performance. Athletes used to stick in a one-piece swimwear which limited their movements. From this viewpoint, designers looked for ways to improve the suit and therefore concluded that two-piece garments are much better. This first wave of bikinis found its way to the general public so fashion designers were quick to catch up.

Back in 1946, French fashion designer Jacques Heim, together with engineer Louis Réard showcased the modern version of bikini during a fashion show held in Piscine Molitor, Paris. By using the term ‘modern’, it describes a more daring take on bikinis compared to the first wave of two-piece swimwear which was basically a tight shirt and a pair of shorts. Jacques Heim and Louis Réard’s design features a string bikini donning a daring G-string back. The name ‘Bikini’ was from Bikini Atoll – a chain of reefs in the Marshall Islands. While the origin of its name is not quite familiar to the French women that time, the term ‘bikini’ has been widely used by designers and fashion enthusiasts alike since then.

As the popularity of Heim and Réard’s bikini design grew, they began to improve the design and give it a much more daring take. As a part of promoting their new designs, Jacques Heim searched for a model that would wear his new bikini design – the Atome. The bikini was called ‘Atome’ because of its very small size and skimpy fit. It was actually dubbed as the ‘World’s Smallest Swimsuit” at that time but since it’s too revealing, considering the conservative culture at that time, no models wanted to wear his design. Jacques Heim ended up having Micheline Bernardini, a nude dancer, to model for his design. From there, Micheline’s popularity, as well as the bikini she wore, skyrocketed in popularity.

Media Perception of Bikinis in Pin-up Culture

The pin-up fashion became a prominent style genre in the 1950s thanks to the rising popularity of sexy stars and celebrities. While celebrities and models in bikinis donning the sexy image were enormously sensationalized, the trendy bikini swimsuit still faced its own challenges. It was actually banned from the Miss World contest in 1951 due to its ‘risqué’ cuts that revealed too much skin.

But then while bikinis are still not widely accepted at that time, sexy pin-up fashion icons continuously contributed to its popularization. Brigitte Bardot wore a bikini in the popular French film ‘And God Created Woman’ and from there back in 1957; to which it started to be more popular among women in their mid-20s and above. The famous pop song entitled “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” by Brian Hyland also initiated the hype in bikinis. At this point, it created a new wave of bikinis that embrace more variety thanks to the media portraying bikinis as the newest ‘fashion must-have’ for women.

Malta is one of the most popular beach destinations up until today but it’s one of the places that didn’t take the idea of bikinis as early as it is in the US. The issue became quite political as Bishop Michael Gonzi requested for bikini outfits to be banned due to its negative effect to tourism. While the ban didn’t fully push through and wasn’t really implemented, it’s still deemed unacceptable for many, especially those who support the Nationalist Party.

As time goes by, bikinis are becoming more and more common to the public eye. They have become more widely acceptable hence, their continuous appearance in films and magazines. As women in bikinis were seen as extremely desirable especially in the 50s to 60s, many brands market their products using women in bikinis. Bikini models were a normal sight in fashion magazines so its influence got more significant than ever. It has influenced a lot of women to lose weight during the summer to channel the perfect ‘bikini body’. While the initial purpose of bikinis was to provide fashionable comfort, it eventually had negative effects on women too. Some even resort to drastic diets just to achieve a slimmer, curvier figure for their bikinis.

How Bikinis Evolved Through the Years

Just like any other popular fashion clothing, bikini also found its way through different versions and interpretations. It used to be just a two-piece swimsuit garment where there’s a top to cover the breasts and a bottom to cover the groin. But as fashion designers consistently made drastic changes to the traditional bikini, it began to feature a lot of different designs. It is where Monokinis came from. At that time, monokini is used to refer to topless swimsuits. It’s basically just a cover for the lower part of the body while keeping the rest of the upper area bare. It then evolved to a type of one-piece swimsuit but features daring cuts like that of a bikini.

Another modern bikini version is called Tankini. It’s a type of swimsuit which features a tank top and a bikini bottom. This style became enormously popular as well due to its more wearable cuts and style. In the 1970s, string bikinis have become much popular too. However, it’s a very daring style that still caused a bit of stir among the conservative public. That didn’t stop models, celebrities and even ordinary women from flaunting such revealing type of bikini! The string bikini style involves very minimal fabric coverage, with the ‘cover-up’ fabric being reduced to small triangles merely connected by strings.

The Birth of Micro Bikinis

Fast-forward to the present, bikinis have evolved into ‘Microkinis’ or Micro Bikinis. Just like what the name suggests, it features a ‘micro’ size, pertaining to the very minimal fabric used in the swimsuit. It’s much skimpier and definitely more adventurous. Micro bikinis also come in many different kinds – with narrow thongs, g-strings, and monokinis being its most popular pieces.

Micro bikinis are not as ‘rare’ as it used to be back in the day but its history can be traced as early as the 70s. It all started in Venice Beach, California, where people visiting the beach began creating their very own swimsuits due to a law that bans nudity in the area. As it is also a time when ‘tanning’ became very trendy, more women are seeking to get a fresh tan with the least tan lines as possible. By donning microkinis with very minimal fabric, one can achieve a fuller tan. In 1975, more swimsuit brands are coming up with more daring bikini styles features very little fabric and from then, the popularity of micro bikinis carried on.

Typically, micro bikinis are meant for those who are looking for more radical designs. It’s also a great swimsuit piece for a woman who advocated for body positivity and empowerment. Additionally, it fills in the gap between conservative swimwear and nudism.

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