As the bikini turns 75, a brief look at a milestone moment in the evolution of modern swimwear

Modern swimwear for women can be traced back to 5 July 1946, when French designer Louis Réard unveiled the first-ever bikini.

FP Staff July 05, 2021 19:27:25 IST
Modern swimwear for women can be traced back to 5 July 1946, when French designer Louis Réard unveiled the first-ever bikini. Historically, women's bathing costumes would simply be long gowns made of wool (to keep away the chill from bathing in the sea). Later accoutrements included swim caps, stockings, jackets (to wear to and from the water's edge), sun umbrellas, and special slippers. The bathing gown transformed into long bloomers worn with a shorter dress. Still, when Australian swimming champion Annette Kellermann (top left) began wearing her one-piece suit in the early 1900s, it was considered quite scandalous. (Top, centre) 'Girl in a bathing suit', a vintage engraved illustration, 1897, France. (Top right) Woman with sun umbrella and bathing suit. Photos courtesy Wikimedia, Shutterstock/Lynea, Shutterstock/Everett Collection.
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Modern swimwear for women can be traced back to 5 July 1946, when French designer Louis Réard unveiled the first-ever bikini. Historically, women's bathing costumes would simply be long gowns made of wool (to keep away the chill from bathing in the sea). Later accoutrements included swim caps, stockings, jackets (to wear to and from the water's edge), sun umbrellas, and special slippers. The bathing gown transformed into long bloomers worn with a shorter dress. Still, when Australian swimming champion Annette Kellermann (top left) began wearing her one-piece suit in the early 1900s, it was considered quite scandalous. (Top, centre) 'Girl in a bathing suit', a vintage engraved illustration, 1897, France. (Top right) Woman with sun umbrella and bathing suit. Photos courtesy Wikimedia, Shutterstock/Lynea, Shutterstock/Everett Collection.
In many places, women's swimming costumes were monitored for 'decency'. Inspectors would check the length of hemlines and sleeves and impose fines for costumes that flouted the rules. A far cry from the situation in 2016, when many French municipalities banned the wearing of modest burkinis. Seen here: A group of revellers wade in the ocean. Image via Shutterstock/Chippix
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In many places, women's swimming costumes were monitored for 'decency'. Inspectors would check the length of hemlines and sleeves and impose fines for costumes that flouted the rules. A far cry from the situation in 2016, when many French municipalities banned the wearing of modest burkinis. Seen here: A group of revellers wade in the ocean. Image via Shutterstock/Chippix
The war years made the use of lesser material when manufacturing clothing acceptable. This was seen in more daring styles in swimwear as well. However, while women began sporting two-piece swimsuits, these tended to reveal only a little midriff as the bottoms were typically high-waisted. (Above) Poland, circa 1940s: Four women bathe in the sea. Image via Shuterstock/Elzbieta Sekowska
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The war years made the use of lesser material when manufacturing clothing acceptable. This was seen in more daring styles in swimwear as well. However, while women began sporting two-piece swimsuits, these tended to reveal only a little midriff as the bottoms were typically high-waisted. (Above) Poland, circa 1940s: Four women bathe in the sea. Image via Shuterstock/Elzbieta Sekowska
Louis Réard advertised his design for a brief two-piece swimsuit as "smaller than the world's smallest swimsuit" — a nod to a design by compatriot Jacques Heim. Réard named his design after Bikini Atoll, where the US had tested nuclear weapons for the first time on 1 July 1946. Réard wanted his bikini to become as much of a talking point. However, while the bikini garnered attention, it also attracted controversy and backlash. Still, its impact was seen on other styles of swimsuits as well, which became more daring. (Seen here) A woman poses on the beach in Haiti, circa 1950s. Image via Shutterstock/Igor Golovniov
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Louis Réard advertised his design for a brief two-piece swimsuit as "smaller than the world's smallest swimsuit" — a nod to a design by compatriot Jacques Heim. Réard named his design after Bikini Atoll, where the US had tested nuclear weapons for the first time on 1 July 1946. Réard wanted his bikini to become as much of a talking point. However, while the bikini garnered attention, it also attracted controversy and backlash. Still, its impact was seen on other styles of swimsuits as well, which became more daring. (Seen here) A woman poses on the beach in Haiti, circa 1950s. Image via Shutterstock/Igor Golovniov
The bikini had some high-profile outings when actress Brigitte Bardot wore one at Cannes in the early 1950s. Contestants at the first Miss World contest woe bikinis — only to be met with censure. The bikini would have to wait for its moment of ubiquity. Above image via Shutterstock/Everett Collection
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The bikini had some high-profile outings when actress Brigitte Bardot wore one at Cannes in the early 1950s. Contestants at the first Miss World contest woe bikinis — only to be met with censure. The bikini would have to wait for its moment of ubiquity. Above image via Shutterstock/Everett Collection
Even as the bikini was featured on the cover of magazines such as <em>Sports Illustrated</em>, the '60s would bring it unprecedented popularity. Its pop culture moment came when it was featured in the song '<em>Itsy Bitsy Teensie Weensie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini</em>' by Brian Hyland, and when Ursula Andress emerged from the sea in her now iconic costume as Honey Ryder in the James Bond film, Dr No. (Above) A woman rests on a beach, early 1960s. Image via Shutterstock/Elzbieta Sekowska
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Even as the bikini was featured on the cover of magazines such as <em>Sports Illustrated</em>, the '60s would bring it unprecedented popularity. Its pop culture moment came when it was featured in the song '<em>Itsy Bitsy Teensie Weensie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini</em>' by Brian Hyland, and when Ursula Andress emerged from the sea in her now iconic costume as Honey Ryder in the James Bond film, Dr No. (Above) A woman rests on a beach, early 1960s. Image via Shutterstock/Elzbieta Sekowska
A still from Dr No
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A still from Dr No
It would still be several years before the bikini was able to fight through the opposition, and become widely worn. Debates on whether it represented a step forward for women's liberation and emancipation or a step backwards were not easily resolved. Image via Shutterstock/Everett Collection
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It would still be several years before the bikini was able to fight through the opposition, and become widely worn. Debates on whether it represented a step forward for women's liberation and emancipation or a step backwards were not easily resolved. Image via Shutterstock/Everett Collection
Bikinis have now become the most popular type of beachwear across the world. Seen here, how bathing suits evolved from the 1890s to 2010s. Image via Shutterstock/Siberian Art
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Bikinis have now become the most popular type of beachwear across the world. Seen here, how bathing suits evolved from the 1890s to 2010s. Image via Shutterstock/Siberian Art