Every time summer rolls around, women dig through their closets and pull out their favorite bikinis for days on the beach or pool parties. But, how many people really know the history of the bikini, where it comes from, and why it’s called a bikini?
As it happens, there is a deep and complicated history to the bikini, one that is steeped in sexism and the patriarchy. Before bikinis came into fashion, before even one-piece swimsuits were all the rage, women were expected to wear full-length heavy bathing suits which were far from ideal. In this article, we provide a rundown of the history of the bikini and explain why a bikini is called a bikini!
What does bikini mean?
A bikini is a two-piece bathing suit that is generally worn by women. As for the origins of its name, the term bikini was coined by French designer Louis Reard in 1946. The name was inspired by the US atomic bomb test which occurred in Bikini Atoll, which made international headlines.
History of the bikini
The history of the bikini is long and varied, as swimsuits went through different iterations before the bikini that we know and love today came to be. Even after the initial creation of the bikini, it has gone on to have a rich history thanks to the cultural wave that ensued, which adopted the bikini as a staple summer wardrobe essential.
1. Ancient Rome
Much like the rest of the Ancient Roman civilization, the Romans were ahead of their time, as they had their own version of a bikini. Although not officially described as a bikini, the outfits worn by gymnasts of this time bore a lot of similarity to today's bandeau bikini, even though they were not used in the water.
Swimming for fun was not an activity that the ancient Romans would have partaken in, so the clothes worn by female gymnasts were the closest they came to our bikini. To this day, we can still see a mosaic depicting a Roman woman wearing her gymnastic apparel at Villa Romana del Casale.
2. The Two-Piece
Technically, a version of the bikini emerged in the 1930 and early 1940s when Hollywood actresses wanted to play with the boundaries of modesty. Although by today's standards, these swimsuits are considered modest, at the time, they were considered risky and revealing.
The original two-piece bikini consisted of a bikini bottom and a bikini top, but still, most of the woman's body was covered. The bottoms came up over the belly button and went down to halfway up the thigh, while the tops went down past the bust to meet the end of the rib cage.
Some scholars on the matter might not even class these original two-piece suits as bikinis, but since the definition of a bikini is a two-piece bathing suit used for swimming, one could argue these were technically bikinis.
3. Today's bikini
What we consider a modern-day bikini actually originated in July 1946. We can attribute today's bikini to the rationing that occurred in World War II. Although most people are aware of the food rationing that occurred during the war, many are unaware that other goods were also rationed, one of which was fabric.
As the rationing of fabric was introduced, designers could no longer accumulate the material needed to make the more modest bikinis that had become popular in the 30s. They therefore had to get creative and daring with their designs. It is then that two designers, Jaques Haim and Louis Reard competed to make the smallest possible bikinis.
Reard’s bikinis were smaller, but he struggled to market them as women would not try them on since they were considered taboo. To popularize his creation, Reard used an exotic dancer to market what he had named the bikini and this initiative gave rise to its popularity. As you might have guessed, it was not instantly adopted and loved by everyone. Going from a fairly modest piece of swimwear to the bikini was a shock to some, namely the Vatican, and it was subsequently banned in a multitude of different countries.
4. Gaining Popularity
Eventually, the bikini made its way out of Paris and across the pond to America where it gained increasing popularity. It took far longer for the bikini to thrive in America, and it was not until the 1960s that it became a mainstream bathing suit choice. It was the female liberation and youth movements of the 60s that afforded Reard’s creation to finally do so well in the United States of America.
Women in bikinis came to be a regular sight at pools and on beaches, but it was also being increasingly used in mainstream media as the modesty regulations were slowly becoming more and more obsolete. It was then that actresses and models started sporting the bikini on the big screen and in magazines across the world.
5. The bikini today
The bikini today is a fashion staple that you can find in virtually every woman's wardrobe. Today it is not only worn for recreational and fashion reasons, it has also somewhat returned to its Roman roots as beach volleyball players often wear bikinis as their uniforms.
There is also a whole range of variations of bikinis that are on the market today. Whilst the classic triangle bikini is still popular, it has also been adapted so that more people can enjoy swimsuits. For example, there are strapless bikinis available, tankinis or bikinis that are closer to the bikini of the 40s.
Find the perfect bikini
With summer fast approaching, it is time to start shopping for the perfect bikini to stand out on the beach or by the pool. The perfect bikini is different for everyone and knowing your body type will help you choose the bikini that will suit you perfectly. You also need to keep your own personal aesthetic in mind, and above all choose a swimsuit that you will feel comfortable in. Everybody has a bikini body so whatever you choose, you will rock it!
If you are in the market for a new bikini or swimsuit, visit Bikini Beach Australia. Our unique set of swimsuits will ensure you stand out on every occasion. From the classic triangle bikini top and string bikini bottom, to metallic one-shoulder bikinis, we have styles to suit everyone.