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The history of the bikini

The History of the Bikini

Bikinis are a common sight on beaches and pool sides across the world. Whether it’s to take a dip in the water, or simply lay out to catch some sun, women everywhere love to don bikinis.

However, the bikini wasn’t always what it is today. In fact, like many other articles of clothing, the bikini has evolved dramatically since its debut in the fashion world many years ago.

Many assume that the bikini has only been in existence for a mere 60 years. However, while it’s true that the modern-day bikini only emerged in the mid 1940s – and that the term «bikini» was first used to describe the swim wear in 1946 — the history of this popular two-piece actually extends to thousands of years ago.

In present-day Sicily a compelling piece of evidence comes from a set of famous cave paintings dating from about 1600BC dubbed «Bikini Girls», which depict women wearing what look to be modern day bikinis. Roman mosaics and murals also offer evidence of the «ancient bikini», worn when cultural norms were more relaxed and lenient than they would later come to be.

While the bikini was — and now clearly is – embraced in many cultures, bikini precursors (swimwear that revealed more skin) weren’t always so welcome. For instance, while the first domestic swimsuit — designed for «decency» and featuring coverage from ankle to wrist — appeared in 1830, Annette Kellerman (an Australian swimmer and performer) was arrested in 1907 for wearing a «form fitting» swimsuit that exposed her arms and legs.

However, by 1913, designer Carl Jentzer made the first functional two-piece swimsuit (inspired by Olympic swimming), which consisted of shorts and a short-sleeve top. By the 1930s, two-piece swimsuits were regularly making appearances in Hollywood movies.

Of course, while there’s much history in the making and development of the bikini, the modern bikini gained popularity towards the end of World War II. Jacques Heim, a French fashion designer from Cannes, designed and unveiled a two-piece swimsuit in the summer of 1946. He called it the «Atome», after the newly discovered atom – the smallest detected particle of matter – and announced that his design was the «world’s smallest bathing suit».

However, just three weeks later, French mechanical engineer Louis Reard unveiled a similar swimsuit, which used less fabric and revealed even more skin. He, however, named it the «bikini», after the Bikini Reef (a South Pacific island where atomic bomb testing was occurring). Reard ultimately gained status as the inventor of the modern-day bikini.

While bikinis can now be seen in countless styles — and on countless bodies around the world — they’ve certainly come a long way in the making. So, next time you don a bikini on the beach or near the pool, why not give a thought to some ancient cave paintings in Sicily, the famous Annette Kellerman, or even Louis Reard himself?

After all, they all contributed to the creation of that tiny two-piece.

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