At VienneMilano, we share a passion for learning – particularly the history of fashion. That’s why we’ve taken the time to blog about the history of stockings, robes and underwear. This week, we focus on the history of bikinis.
While the modern bikini is accredited to the French (which we’ll get to later), archaeologists have found evidence of women wearing bikinis in ancient Greece and Rome dating as far back as 5600 BC.
Here we have paintings of goddesses wearing two-piece outfits from Siciliy.
During the Roman empire, women wore bandeau tops combined with brief-like underpants.
By the 18th century, women were required to wear “swimming gowns,” which were ankle-length loose-fitting chemises made of wool. Over time, this type of swimming gown was modified as it became shorter and sleeveless.
The evolution of the modern bikini began when female swimming was added as a competitive event in the 1912 Olympics. Designer Carl Jantzen created the first contemporary two-piece swimsuit, which featured a top with short sleeves and a pair of shorts.
By the 1920s, sunbathing became popular. Swimsuits were created with decorative embellishments. Nylon was invented by the 1930s and was used for creating swimsuits – bathing suits became more form-fitting and revealing.
Materials such as cotton and nylon became scarce during the Second World War as the American War Production Board demanded textile companies to focus on producing uniforms. Due to the scarcity of materials, clothing manufacturers were forced to produce two-piece swimsuits as it required fewer materials, thus promoting the use of bikinis. Two-piece bathing suits became the norm after World War II.
After World War II, two Frenchmen decided to modified the two-piece bathing suit with their designs. One of the designers was named Jacques Heim, and he owned a beach shop in the French Riviera. He called his designed Atome (the French word for atom), as an atom is the smallest particle of matter. While the Atome was relatively small, it covered a woman’s navel.
Conversely, Louis Réard, who was managing his mother’s lingerie shop in St. Tropez, also redesigned the two-piece bathing suit. The difference in his design is that it revealed a woman’s navel. He noticed that women on the tropical island would roll their bathing suit down to maximize their exposure to the sun. As a marketing stunt, Réard named his design the Bikini – which is the name of the location where the American Government had been testing the atomic bomb.
At the time, no model dared to wear the Bikini as it was considered too revealing. Réard had to enlist a stripper to model his work – which paid off as evident by the fact that we use the name Bikini and not Atome.
The modern bikini wasn’t accepted everywhere. Many parts of the world considered it to be too risqué. However, with the push of Hollywood and the lifestyle of the rich and famous, the bikini became a fashion icon as we know it.