Get to know the bikini on its 70th birthday. By Ong Sor Fern
Photo: ninamalyna / www.123rf.com
The bikini was unveiled 70 years ago this week by French designer Louis Reard. The scanty two-piece swimsuit, named after Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean where the atomic bomb was tested, has since become commonplace in beaches worldwide. Here’s a look at five things about the history of the bikini. (Also read: 8 Pretty swimsuits that help you get a real workout)
1. THERE WERE TWO DESIGNERS COMPETING TO GRAB HEADLINES WITH THE WORLD’S SMALLEST BATHING SUIT
French designer Jacques Heim called his two-piece bathing suit the Atom and aptly, the marketing tagline was “the world’s smallest bathing suit”. Reard made a bigger splash with the launch of his bikini at Parisian swimming pool Piscine Molitor on July 5, 1946.
The big bang launch was almost sunk before it could happen because no model wanted to wear the tiny outfit, made from just 70 cms of cloth. The bikini, featuring a pattern of newsprint, was so small it could fit into a matchbox. But Reard managed to find a pretty 19-year-old Parisian showgirl, Micheline Bernardini, who was used to dancing in the nude, to model his outfit.
2. WORLD WAR II SHORTAGES PLAYED A ROLE IN THE EVOLUTION OF THE BIKINI
During World War II, the shortage of fabric resulted in a trimming of the traditional swimsuit design. The skirts over one-piece swimsuits were removed, and the extra material over the midriff was cut.
Two-piece swimsuits, comprising a halter top and shorts, had already appeared in the more liberal beaches of Europe in the 1930s and these became the template. But the war, which occupied the beaches of Europe, put a stop to swimming and swimwear fashion. 1946 was the first summer after the war’s end and the bikini symbolised the new carefree joy of peace and liberation.
3. TOO TINY FOR COMFORT
European women took to the bikini like, er, ducks to water. Young women sporting the skimpy suits in Spain and Italy scandalised older conservatives. Spain and Italy even banned the bikini from public beaches, and the Vatican declared it a sin to wear the outfit. It was the most daring young women who donned the two-piece, but by the 1950s, it had become a beach mainstay.
Photo: jano gepiga / www.pexels.com
America, more prudish in its tastes, only took to the bikini in the 1960s. Brian Hyland’s hit song Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, which reached Billboard’s No. 1 spot in the summer of 1960, embodied America’s shyness in embracing the new fashion.
On a small side note, Singaporeans may remember an adorable four-year-old girl named Pepita Wee who sang this song, dressed in a kiddie bikini, in a 1970s TV programme called Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars.
4. POP CULTURE WAVES
The movies, and the beautiful women who wore bikinis in them, did much to promote the popularity of the bikini.
In Europe, it was Brigitte Bardot who helped popularise the bikini in Europe when she appeared on the Cannes waterfront in the swimsuit to publicise her 1956 movie, …And God Created Woman.
Disney’s wholesome star Annette Funicello helped push the outfit with the teen crowd, sporting a relatively modest hot pink two-piece in 1965’s Beach Blanket Bingo. And there were the classic cinematic moments when actresses became sex symbols thanks to their appearances in the two-piece.
There was Ursula Andress in her legendary Venus emerging from the sea in a white bikini moment in 1962’s Dr No. Raquel Welch wore a fur bikini in 1966’s One Million Years BC and entered pop culture history even though she had only three lines in the rather cheesy movie. For a whole generation of nerdy boys, the sight of Princess Leia in a slave girl bikini outfit was the defining moment of 1983’s Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi.
5. EVOLUTION OF THE BIKINI
The bikini has since evolved into other variants. The monokini dispenses with the top entirely. The microkini is an even smaller version of the bikini, definitely not for the faint of heart. The tankini is a more modest variant with a tank top instead of the more revealing bra top. The bandeaukini exchanges the bra top for a bandeau top. The skirtini offers more coverage for the bottom with a little skirt instead of a scanty panty. On the opposite end of the scale from the bikini, but borrowing its catchy name, is the burqini, which looks like a full wetsuit and is designed for Muslim women.
A version of this article appeared in the online edition of The Straits Times on July 07, 2016, with the headline ‘5 things about the bikini, which turns 70 this week‘.