We have wartime rationing to thank for the bikini as we know it but there is an indication of Roman women playing a pre-dated version of handball donning a bikini-esque bottom known as the subligar and a band across the breasts known as the mamillare, both in either cloth or leather. Between this version and the modern one, there’s been a long pause that saw swimwear evolve from bathing gowns to tank suits. In the early 19th century, fabric shortage post World War II led to the United States War Production Board slashing usage of natural fibre cloth along with a mandate on reduction of fabric in beachwear for women. Thus, a few snips, cuts and slashes and the first signs of the bikini started taking shape.
Enter the French. Designer Jacques Heim, who ran a beach shop in the resort town and now popular film festival destination, Cannes created a two-piece garb in 1946 that he aptly called ‘Atome’ a la atom. Around that time, Louis Réard, a French engineer who also looked after his mother’s lingerie store crafted a swimsuit that exposed the navel for the very first time and gave birth to the string bikini. His inspiration being the women who lolled about on the St Tropez beaches, rolling up their swimsuits for better tanning results. He called this design of his – the bikini – and unveiled it on July 5, 1946, a mere five days after the first testing of a nuclear device was held in Bikini Atoll, expecting an ‘explosive commercial and cultural reaction’. Needless to say, the reaction was more than an explosion.
By the way, did you know things about the bikini?
* The oldest recorded history of the bikini – fashionable bandaged numbers — has been documented in a 1,700-year-old Roman mosaic called Chamber of the Ten Maidens. It boasts of bikini-wearing women partaking in sports and athletic activities.
* Designer Andrew Schneider manufactured the first-ever solar-powered bikini called the iKini that generates electricity that’s enough to power an iPod whilst you relax on a beach lounger. On a side note, the inventor advises to unplug it before heading into the water.
* In 1951 when the premier Miss World contest was held, the winner, Swedish Kiki Håkansson took the title wearing a bikini. Countries with religious and orthodox conventions stood to withdraw their representatives due to which bikinis were prohibited from beauty pageants across the world. Håkansson was the first, last and only Miss World to be crowned in a bikini.
* The most expensive bikini in the world cost a whopping $30m! It was created by Susan Rosen for Steinmetz Diamonds. The bikini was made entirely of diamonds and was featured on a centre spread in the 2006 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition. The bikini had over 150 carats of D Flawless diamonds, including a 51 carat D Flawless Pear Shape, a 30 carat D Flawless Emerald Cut, a pair of 15 carat D Flawless Rounds and a pair of 8 carat D Flawless Pear Shapes all set in platinum.
* Remember the illustrious metallic bikini Princess Leia donned in Star Wars, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. That metallic bikini had two versions. One that she wore through the slow frames and another that she wore for her stunts made of softer fabric.
* The first person to wear the bikini was French woman Micheline Bernardini who strutted around in it at a press conference held on July 5, 1946 by Louis Réard at a public pool to launch his creation — the bikini.
* Closer home, Sharmila Tagore wore a bikini in the movie, An Evening in Paris (1967) sending the country into a tizzy. She became the first Indian actress to have worn the bikini for Filmfare’s cover.
* In the early ’90s, The International Volleyball Federation declared the bikini as the mandated uniform for women who played beach volleyball. What’s more, the bikini comes with a built-in sand-release system.
* People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sponsored for a bunch of vegetarian ladies to campaign across the globe sporting bikinis made of lettuce leaves only. The idea was that the Lettuce Ladies as they came to be known would encourage people to turn vegetarian.