The history of the bikini, although taking full swing into the mainstream in the 40s fashion, dates back to the 4th century. Although the outfit worn by female athletes in the 4th century was called a subiculum and it was made from loincloth to cover both the upper and lower parts of the body. The upper part had a breastband, or what was called strontium, it was made of linen and was used by ladies who were active or constantly involved in sports for extra comfort.
After the 4th century, things changed drastically and women’s attire became very conservative. Women’s clothing became adorned with a lot more material, making them extremely decent. Until the 20th century where women were allowed to appear at beaches but were still expected to wear their long skirts with heavy fabric which restricted them from truly enjoying the freedom that was expected from time out at the beach.
As women’s swimming was introduced in the 1912 Olympics, female swimwear took the look of a sleeveless one-piece with legs bare, alongside matching stockings and a cap, designed by Carl Jantzen. By the 1930s, ladies were seen often with two-piece swimwear that comprised of a decent upper piece with a low back and almost no visible cleavage and a high-waisted boy short or skirts that were meant to cover the navel completely. Up until 1930, swimwear was made from wool and other heavy material, but in 1931, Lastex was invented to give swimwear a lighter carriage and to allow more flexibility when wet.
The Bikini of Louis ReaRd
The 1940s was a memorable decade for a number of reasons; one was the constant trial of Atomic weapons and the other was the creation of le Bikini. Fashion designer and former mechanic Louis Read took a job at his mother’s lingerie store and after spending some time working there, he created le Bikini which was named after Bikini Atoll an Island where the US had been testing atomic bombs. Le Bikini was brought to the public on July 5th, 1946, however, prior to the release of Reard’s Le Bikini, Jacques Heim developed a prototype which he called atomically and he labeled it ‘the world’s smallest bathing suit’. Jacques’ prototype did not hold much ground, so when Read came forward with his the world was ready to bring him down at all cost.
The post-war era of the 1940s brought about a global scarcity of material, so this invention by Louis Reard came at the right time. However, the world was a very decent place, so decent that certain parts of America refused to accept the use of the Bikini until the 1960s.
One of the major hurdles Reard had to face for the debut of his swimwear was the lack of professional models to display his pieces. The Bikini was scandalous and too skimpy for a lot of models to wear, and it revealed the navel, which was an unacceptable amount of indecency at the time. Reard had to turn to an exotic dancer, Micheline Bernardini who had no problem appearing in public half nude, to model his piece. It was a hit and since then ladies from all over the world, especially the Mediterranean coast, began adopting. Although some places took longer than others to allow it, in time, they began to loosen up their rules and permit the freedom of ladies to a greater extent.