Birth of the Bikini

Day 59 of Colourisation Project – July 5th

On July 5, 1946, the first bikini went on sale after its debut at an outdoor fashion show at the public swimming pool, Piscine Molitor in Paris, France. Quite an achievement considering engineer and designer Louis Réard had a hard time finding a woman willing to model the tiny costume that came in two pieces. Eventually he hired Micheline Bernardini, a 19-year-old nude dancer from the Casino de Paris as his model, seen here modelling the bikini.

Named after the testing site for nuclear weapons, Bikini Atoll,* because of the expected explosive reaction of the viewer, the bikini caused quite a stir and a media sensation. The first bikini was a string bikini with a g-string back made out of 30 square inches (194 cm2) of cloth in a newsprint-patterned fabric. It was a hit. The men loved it and Bernardini shot to fame overnight receiving over 50,000 fan letters.  Brigitte Bardot

19 year old French actress, Brigitte Bardot, seen here in a bikini at Cannes is credited with popularizing the bikini. She was dubbed “The Bikini Girl” after her role in 1952 film, “The Girl in the Bikini.” Today’s photo is a publicity shot from that film.

Although it sold well in France, the Bikini did not fare so well outside of Europe. Réard’s swimwear was banned by many American states and several countries, including Italy and Belgium, where it was met with scorn, with its detractors claiming the suit left nothing to the imagination. Not surprisingly even the Vatican joined the chorus declaring it sinful.

Today, anything goes. The swimwear industry is in a constant state of metamorphosis as it changes with the prevailing attitudes of the day, evolving from weighty wool to high-tech skin-tight garments, eventually cross-breeding with sportswear, underwear and exercise wear…but once upon a time, a dressing room on wheels was considered essential for women wanting to go for a swim in Europe’s beaches in the 1890s. Women would have to sew weights into the hems of their garments to prevent them from riding up and showing their legs.

The first recorded use of a bathing costume was in Greece 350 BC when people wore mostly togas to go into the water. Infact the Australian slang for bathing suit, togs is derived from the latin toga. In 1907 Australian swimmer and vaudeville performer, Annette Kellerman was arrested on a Boston beach for indecent exposure. She was wearing a form-fitting one-piece which showed arms, legs and neck. (More on Kellerman tomorrow)


* Bikini Atoll is an atoll in the Marshall Islands. The word Bikini is derived from the Marshallese Pikinni, meaning coconut place

Whatever your predilection for swimwear, in Australia the bathing suit is also known by many differing names depending on where you live; eg cossie or cozzie from swimming costume, bathers, swimmers, trunks, and speedos from the brand name ‘Speedos’ and also the generic term for men’s swimming briefs made famous by our Prime Minister who has a penchant for being photographed in them, (cringe) giving rise to the term “budgie smugglers;” (you can work that one out for yourselves).


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