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Invention of the Bikini
Victorian and Edwardian Swimsuits
"A bikini is like a barbed wire fence. It protects the property without obstructing the view."
Swimming has long been a popular form of exercise. Early swimmers were naked or just wore whatever they had on hand. But by the time swimming became an official Olympic sport in 1896, swimming suits had become common. They were very modest, usually covering all but the lower arms.
The women's suits were typically made of heavy material and consisted of several pieces, including tights, skirt, top and usually some sort of head covering. Real swimming was no possible in these suits, the most you could expect is just bobbing up and down in the water.
Suits Get Smaller and Lighter
In 1909 swimmer Annette Kellerman wore a one piece bathing dress on a California beach, causing shock and outrage. Eventually the suits started to get smaller, but they were still one piece and relatively modest.
First Bikini Is Created
The bikini was born on the beaches of France. Women there were already wearing more daring one piece suits than the rest of the world, so a 2 piece suit was a natural next step.
In 1946, Jacques Heim designed the first commercial 2 piece suit for sale at his store in Cannes. The top was a like a skimpy brassiere. The bottom piece was 2 triangles of cloth that were high above the hip and well below the navel. The sides were connected by 2 rings of white bone.
Heim called his suit the Atome (atom). But in July 1946 the United States detonated a small atomic bomb on the Bikini Atoll. The piece of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was used to test the device.
France took a fatalistic view of the testing. Prior to a second test, also in July, people started holding doomsday parties, thinking that the atomic blast could blow up the planet. The parties were called Bikini parties. Another designer soon made a suit similar to Heim and named it after the Atoll that was in the news.
There are a couple of solutions to the question of why a couple of pieces of cloth got their name from a piece of land destroyed by the power of the atom. One is that the bikini has an impact on man equal to an atomic blast, another is that the bikini makes a woman as bare as the Atoll was after the atomic blast.
However it was named, bikini soon became the generic term for a 2 piece women’s bathing suit. The suit soon spread to the United States, with returning soldiers giving them to their wives and sweethearts. But the bikinis were soon banned from public beaches, it wasn’t until the more liberal 1960’s that bikinis became common sights on beaches.