Since time immemorial—or at least since most of us can remember—the bikini has been a summer staple. But, as you’ll surely be surprised to learn, the modern version of the midriff-baring bathing suit is just 72 years-old. In other words, it’s younger than Better Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Helen Mirren—and it’s been through its fair share of ups and downs.
When it first hit the market in 1946, for instance, the swimsuit was considered so scandalous that the Vatican declared the garment to be “sinful.” But shortly after, thanks in part to the influence of Hollywood, the bikini rapidly ascended in popularity, and today you can wear the garment (almost) anywhere without the Vatican scolding you. In honor of the bikini’s upcoming birthday, we’ve gathered some of the most fascinating facts about the suit that revolutionized the swimwear industry. And for some concrete examples of how the garment changed the world, don’t miss the Hilarious First Reactions to the Invention of the Bikini.
The modern bikini was named after a nuclear bomb test.
Few people today would ever draw a parallel between the bikini and a hydrogen bomb, but that’s exactly what French car engineer Louis Réard did when he named the scandalous two-piece swimsuit. In May 1946, at the time of the modern bikini’s creation, the United States was testing hydrogen bombs in Bikini Atoll, and in these tests Réard found inspiration for the name of his bombshell new clothing item. The engineer-slash-designer thought that his new design was just as shocking as the nuclear tests—and at the time, his assumptions were accurate.
The bikini wasn’t the first two-piece.
Just a few months before Réard launched his version of the bikini, another French designer, Jacques Heim, unveiled a similar two-piece ensemble. Dubbed the Atome, Heim’s swimsuit was self-described as “the world’s smallest bathing suit,” though it still covered the naval and was conservative compared to what Reard had to offer. As we now know, the Atome faded out, and the bikini prevailed as the one and only scandalous swimsuit.
The bikini was initially rejected as too revealing.
Though the bikini was introduced to the world in the late 1940s, it wasn’t until 1957 that celebrities and mainstream media began to accept the skin-bearing new fashion trend. It was in that year that French actress Brigitte Bardot appeared at Cannes Film Festival in a floral two-piece. And once Bardot made it acceptable to wear a bikini, celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Esther Williams quickly followed suit. And for more Hollywood fashion, don’t miss The 30 Best Celebrity Style Evolutions.
Image via PixaBay
Several places still ban wearing bikinis today.
When the bikini was first introduced, countries like Italy, Portugal, and Spain prevented their citizens from wearing them. And though these countries have since lifted those bans, cities around the world still ban the provocative piece. Such places include Hvar, Croatia, where you can get fined for walking the streets in a swimsuit; the Maldives, where most public beaches are for one-piece suits only; and Ras al-Khaimah in United Arab Emirates, where swimwear is banned entirely.
Playboy didn’t put a bikini on its cover until the ’60s.
July 1962 marked the first time that Playboy ever featured a woman with a bikini on its cover. In fact, the iconic cover barely featured a woman at all. Instead, it focused artistically on a bikini bottom and the tan lines it created.
Image via Playboy
The infamous Dr. No bikini sold in auction for more than $50,000.
In 2011, the white bikini that Ursula Andress wore in 1962’s Dr. No sold for £41,125, which comes out to just over $54,000 with today’s exchange rates. Andress said of the garment: “This bikini made me into a success… My entrance in [Dr. No] wearing the bikini on that beautiful beach seems to now be regarded as a classical moment in cinema, and made me world famous as ‘The Bond Girl.'”
Image via Christie’s
Bikinis are the official dress code for female Olympic beach volleyball players.
The bikini has been the official uniform of women’s beach volleyball players since the sport was introduced into the Olympics in 1996. Evidently, this move came in response to complaints about the previous attire. Olympian Holly McPeak once told ABC News that “sand goes down the top [of a one piece] and collects in the bottom.” As of the 2012 Olympics, women also have the options to wear a body suit or shorts and a top, though the bikini remains the “official” dress code for players from all countries. And if you want to look like an Olympian, try these 30 Ways to Get Six-Pack Abs After 30.
The first “Miss World” pageant was just a swimsuit competition.
The first ever Miss World pageant took place in the summer of 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain. In its conception, the 26-person pageant was also known as the Festival Bikini Contest; the winner, Sweden’s Kiki Hakansson, is the only Miss World to have ever been crowded in a bikini.
But today, the competition doesn’t even have a swimsuit portion.
In 2014, the Miss World pageant strayed from its roots and dropped the swimsuit segment altogether. Chris Wilmer, national director of Miss World America and Miss United States, told ABC: “It’s not just a beauty contest—it’s ‘beauty with a purpose.’ There didn’t seem to be a purpose to have the swimsuit.”
The first woman to ever model a bikini was…
…a nude dancer. Her name was Micheline Bernardini, and Réard hired her after every model he approached turned him down (on account of his “bikini” being too revealing).
Image via Wikimedia Commons
The world’s largest swimsuit photo involved more than 3,000 women.
In 2011, a city in China set the world record for the largest bikini photo shoot. With more than 40,000 volunteers helping out, the city gathered a total of 3,090 bikini-clad women together for the photo and beat the previous record set by Cosmopolitan in Sochi, Russia, of 1,923 women. The photo was part of a larger effort by Huludao Municipal Government to promote tourism to the area. And if you plan on visiting the area where the photoshoot took place, make sure you first read up on the 30 Smart Ways to Avoid Getting Sick When You Travel.
Image via Guinness World Records
The oldest recordings of a two-piece set date back to Ancient Roman times.
Yes, Réard did create the first bikini in the 1940s, but the oldest documented images of the swimsuit come from well before his time. As far as we know, the first depiction of a two piece comes from a 1,700-year-old Roman mosaic called Chamber of the Ten Maidens, in which several women are seen playing sports and exercising in what could be considered a modern-day bikini.
Image via Wikimedia
Women in bikinis make men impatient—for everything.
Images of women in skimpy swimsuits are plastered all over billboards nowadays—and they may just be making men more impatient, according to a new study. Researchers found that when men watched videos of women running in bikinis, their desire for immediate gratification increased. Evidently, when sexual desire is stimulated, so are the other brain systems that deal with gratification-seeking behaviors.
“Bikinis cause a shift in time preference,” study author Bram Van den Bergh wrote. “Men live in the here and now when they glance at pictures featuring women in lingerie. That is, men will choose the immediately available rewards and seek immediate gratification after sex cue exposure.”
Wearing a thong bikini is illegal in parts of Florida.
Florida might be The Sunshine State, but that doesn’t mean that its residents are free to soak up the sun in any clothing items they please. In 1990, the state banned thong bikinis from its state beaches, and in January 2005 the city of Melbourne followed suit. If you are caught wearing a thong in Melbourne, you will suffer a $500 fine or 60 days in prison—so don’t get cheeky!
A Vietnamese airline staffs its planes with bikini-clad flight attendants.
Headed by entrepreneur Nguyễn Thị Phương Thảo, VietJet Air is Vietnam’s first privately-owned airline and the world’s first airline with bikini-clad flight attendants. Thảo’s idea to switch up the flight attendants’ uniforms has put her in the billionaires club, and the company has commanded over 30 percent of the airline market in Vietnam. And in response to critics, Thảo has said: “We don’t mind people associating the airline with the bikini image. If that makes people happy, then we are happy.”
Image via Instagram
The most expensive bikini in the world is made of diamonds.
The most expensive bikini in the world was created specifically for Sports Illustrated and Molly Sims in 2012. Designed by jeweler Susan Rosen, the two-piece is made of over 150 carats of flawless diamonds set in Platinum, and it is valued at more than $30 million. If you don’t have $30 million lying around, you can use these much more affordable 20 Easy Ways to Elevate Your Style Game Instantly.
The famous Star Wars bikini was painful to wear.
Every Star Wars fan remembers a young Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia in her slave bikini. But while most fans of the Force consider the golden get-up to be one of the most iconic outfits of the series, Fisher wasn’t as fond of the wardrobe choice, as it was uncomfortable and didn’t give her much wiggle room. “I had to sit very straight because I couldn’t have lines on my sides, like little creases,” Fisher told NPR about wearing the bikini. And you might be surprised to learn that these celebrities are also Star Wars “Geeks.”
The original monokini took the bikini to the next level.
If the Vatican thought that the bikini was sinful, then it’s safe to assume that they definitely weren’t fans of the monokini. Designed in 1964 by Rudi Gernreich, the monokini was basically a regular swimsuit—but where a top should’ve been, there were two thin straps instead. As you might imagine, the “topless bikini” didn’t take off quite like the bikini did, and only two women ever wore the suit out in public (one of whom was arrested for doing so). The monokinis of today are slightly different—that is to say, you can actually wear them outside.
A New York mayor helped popularize the thong.
The thong might not cover much skin, but it’s better than being naked, at least according to New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. In 1939, he ordered exotic dancers and strip club performers to wear the new undergarment in order to dress more modestly for the World’s Fair. This date, you might have noticed, precedes the invention of the bikini, which is why some historians credit LaGuardia with popularizing (and even inventing) the G-string.
Western tourists in Thailand once feared a man dubbed the “Bikini Killer.”
In the 1970s, notorious criminal Charles Sobhraj wreaked havoc on tourists in Thailand. His first known murder occurred in 1975, when he and partner-in-crime Ajay Chowdhury silenced a bikini-clad American by drowning her in a tidal pool in the Gulf of Thailand. Not long after, Sobhraj killed yet another woman in a bikini, a French woman named Charmayne Carrou, and thus came to be known the Bikini Killer.
Someone made a solar-powered bikini.
In 2011, Brooklyn-based designer Andrew Schneider created a wearable unlike any other. Dubbed the Solar Bikini, his creation was just that: a bikini made of solar panels with USB sockets to charge your devices while you tan. According to Schneider, each solar-paneled swimsuit takes up to 80 hours to make—but if you suffer from a constantly drained battery, then the ends might just justify the means. If you think this bikini is the bees knees, then you’ll love these 25 Brilliant New Inventions That Will Make Your Life So Much Easier.
Image via Instagram
Seeing other women in bikinis makes women more insecure.
Women have a bad habit of comparing themselves to other women. Researchers from Chapman University recently found that seeing models in bikinis makes women insecure about their stomachs, their weight, their waist, their muscle tone, their legs, their thighs, and more. One woman told the researchers: “They all look so fit and healthy. I feel worse because there is nothing that I could do to look like them.”
And that goes for men, too.
It’s not just women who feel down in the dumps about their bodies thanks to mainstream media. One study published in Human Communication Research discovered that men who read magazines with spreads of bikini-clad women felt more insecure a year after reading them. The researchers speculate that these men felt inadequate after flipping through the magazines as they felt they would have to significantly step up their game to score such breathtaking women.
A burkini exists for women abiding by a modest dress code.
Why shouldn’t Muslim women be able to go swimming, too? That’s exactly what was going through Aheda Zanetti‘s head when she designed the burkini, a swimsuit that is modest enough for Muslim women to wear in the water. Though the burkini technically isn’t a bikini in the traditional sense, the name is a portmanteau of burqa (a garment worn by Islamic women in public) and bikini.
Image via Flickr
Men can wear bikinis, too.
Because men can’t let women have anything to themselves, they decided that they too needed a bikini. Dubbed the mankini, it’s like the original monokini, but for men. Borat popularized the ungodly contraption in 2006, and beachgoers everywhere have had to suffer ever since.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
Take a trip to Egypt and visit the women-only beach.
The burkini was a huge step forward for Muslim women, but some still desire to wear a real bikini out in public. The answer? La Femme. It’s a women-only beach in Marina, Egypt, where Muslim ladies are free to sport a bikini without the threat of the male gaze. And for more beach travel tips, make sure to check out the 20 Best Nude Beaches on the Planet.
An African-American woman first graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1997.
And her name was Tyra Banks. To date, only two other African-American women have ever had the same honor: Beyonce Knowles and Danielle Herrington.
Image via Sports Illustrated/Russell James
A woman was arrested for wearing a swimsuit too form-fitting.
Before there was the bikini, there was Annette Kellerman and her snug swimsuit. In 1907, the Australian swimmer was arrested in Boston for wearing a swimsuit that accentuated her body too much. (For reference, during this time, most women were wearing layers upon layers of petticoats to the beach.)
There is a holiday just to celebrate the invention of the bikini.
Do you love the bikini as much as Pamela Anderson? Luckily, you can celebrate your love for the barely-there bathing suit on July 5th, otherwise known as National Bikini Day. It’s the anniversary of the day in 1946 when Reard first introduced the modern bikini to the world!
The bikini was born in part thanks to World War II rations.
Rationing during World War II affected every industry, fashion included. When the war started, the government passed a law that required a 10 percent reduction in the fabric used for women’s swimsuits. In response to this new legislation, swimsuit makers began to design two-pieces, though these versions of the two-piece swimsuits bared no skin. And for more historical trivia, check out the 30 Things in History Textbooks That Weren’t There Just 10 Years Ago.
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