Make a woman step out in a bikini and it’s guaranteed to turn heads. The beachwear that has always been a hotbed of controversy was introduced in the 1800s. According to the diktats of the morality of those times, the swimsuits consisted of a belted dress that was worn with long baggy bloomers. And in case, there was even a slight exposure of skin, extra precautions were taken by adding drawers and stockings. One can only imagine how daunting swimming would have been in such swaddling clothes made of flannel fabric.
Today, the bikini comes in all shapes, sizes, colours, and fabrics. Designers have expanded the style to flatter more body shapes, enticing more women to wear it. But did you know that the modern-day ‘bikini brief’ came into existence only in the 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 the reduction of fabric in beachwear for women. Thus, a few snips, cuts and slashes and the first signs of the bikini started taking shape.
Designer Jacques Heim, who ran a beach shop in the resort town of Cannes, now a popular film festival venue, created a two-piece garb in 1946 that he called it ‘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. He called this design of his – the bikini – and unveiled it on July 5, 1946, five days after the first testing of a hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll, US, in the hope of expecting an ‘explosive commercial and cultural reaction’.
While Europe enthusiastically donned the bikini after a long and arduous world war, America did not accept the bikini until the 1960s.
There is also 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, in either cloth or leather. Between this version and the modern one, there’s been a long pause that has seen swimwear evolve from bathing gowns to tank suits.
Here are some other interesting facts about the bikini which celebrates its 73rd birthday today.
* 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.
*Swimsuits that revealed any part of the torso was considered indecent at one point, even on men.
*The first Miss World pageant was just a swimsuit competition which took place in the summer of 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain. In its conception, the 26-person pageant was also known as the Festival Bikini Contest. The winner, Sweden’s Kiki Hakansson, is the only Miss World to have ever been crowded in a bikini. However, in 2014, the Miss World pageant strayed from its roots and dropped the swimsuit segment altogether.
*The first woman to ever model a bikini was a nude dancer named Micheline Bernardini whom Réard hired after every model he approached turned him down on account of his invention being too revealing.
*Though the bikini was introduced to the world in the late 1940s, it wasn’t until 1957 that celebrities and mainstream media began to accept the new style. It was in that year that French actress Brigitte Bardot appeared at Cannes Film Festival in a floral two-piece. And once Bardot made it acceptable to wear a bikini, celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Esther Williams quickly followed suit.
*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.
*The most expensive bikini in the world is made of diamonds and was created specifically for Sports Illustrated and Molly Sims in 2012. Designed by jeweller Susan Rosen, the two-piece is made of over 150 carats of flawless diamonds set in platinum, and it is valued at more than $30 million.
*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.