Since it hit the market in 1946, the modern bikini has become beachwear staple for women around the globe. However, despite its current popularity, the bikini wasn’t always such a hit. In fact, it faced some serious backlash around the world after its modern incarnation swept through our culture in the 1940s.
Want to laugh at our pearl-clutching first reactions to the bikini? We’ve compiled here 17 hilarious reactions to its invention, from the prescient to the prudish. And for more summer fun, don’t miss this great roundup of the Biggest Summer Blockbusters Every Year Since Jaws.
“Like the [atom] bomb, the bikini is small and devastating”
–Louis Réard, 1946
Louis Réard, the inventor of the modern bikini, revealed the reasoning behind the swimsuit’s name, having dubbed it the bikini after Bikini Atoll, a Marshallese island where the atomic bomb was being tested. And if you want to make sure your own clothes are within bounds, skip these 17 Outfits You Should Never Wear to Someone Else’s Wedding.
Pope Pius XII deemed the bikini “sinful”
Réard’s bikini was officially dubbed a sinful item of clothing by Pope Pius XII shortly after it was introduced. Following the Vatican’s decree about bikinis, many Catholic countries began to implement their own rules about wearing the scandalous garment.
“It is hardly necessary to waste words over the so-called bikini…”
“… Since it is inconceivable that any girl with tact and decency would wear such a thing.” – The Modern Girl Magazine, 1957
The German magazine decided that the swimsuit was so scandalous that it wasn’t worth discussing in print—except for issuing this quote, that is. And if you want to improve your own style, start with these 30 Best Tips for Dressing Well in Your 30s.
“The bikini is the most important thing since the atom bomb”
–Diana Vreeland, 1946
However, stateside, Diana Vreeland, the famed French-born columnist for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, claimed that the bikini was a game-changer for the world of fashion.
“A bikini is a thoughtless act”
–Esther Williams, 1953
Famed swimmer and actress Esther Williams eagerly expressed her disdain for the bikini in 1953, although she’d later go on to wear one herself.
Bikinis were banned from beauty pageants in 1951
Swedish beauty pageant contestant Kiki Hånkasson was crowned Miss World wearing a bikini in 1951, prompting a swift backlash. After the scandalous event, bikinis were temporarily banned from beauty pageants, with Miss World contestants opting for evening gowns instead the following year.
“[I] have little but scorn for France’s famed bikinis”
–Fred Cole, 1950
The swimwear designer behind the Cole of California line was vocal about his complete lack of admiration for the iconic garment.
The bikini was banned in multiple countries
The bikini wasn’t always as accepted on beaches as it is today. In fact, after its initial rise to popularity, the bikini was banned in Australia, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and in parts of France and the United States.
“It’s at the razor’s edge of decency”
–Anne Cole, 1959
Swimsuit designer Anne Cole—known for her one-piece suits—made her position on the bikini clear, calling it “nothing more than a G-string.”
Dictator Francisco Franco got involved in bikini legislation
In order to promote tourism, Pedro Zaragoza, the mayor of Spanish city Benidorm, pleaded with dictator Francisco Franco to lift the bikini ban to attract tourists to the city’s beaches. The ban was lifted in 1959 and Zaragoza proved that he had been right—tourism flourished.
“[It’s not a bikini] unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring”
–Louis Réard, 1946
Doubling down on the bikini’s scandalous reputation, its inventor, Louis Réard declared that a swimsuit couldn’t truly be called a bikini unless it could be slipped through a wedding band.
The bikini endured a stateside ban onscreen
The National Legion of Decency, an organization committed to keeping potentially racy material off the big screen, was eager to get bikinis out of movie theaters across the United States. It seems their crusade worked for some time: Hays production codes, which had been introduced in the 1930s, were being enforced to keep these scandalous swimsuits—and particularly images of women’s navels—out of movie theaters.
“[Bikinis] reveal everything about a girl except for her mother’s maiden name”
–Fred Cole, 1950
Fred Cole’s disapproval of the bikini didn’t end at him expressing his general scorn. The swimwear designer also launched this scathing criticism of the suit and the women who wore them.
Belly buttons were scrubbed from fashion magazines
To remain on the right side of decency, some fashion magazines decided that even if a woman was wearing a bikini in a photo, her navel was not to be seen. In fact, magazines like Seventeen edited out belly buttons from their swimsuit features.
A German woman was punished for wearing a bikini in public
In 1957, more than a decade after the modern bikini hit beaches around the world, a German woman was sentenced to six days of cleaning an elder care facility for taking a walk across Munich’s Viktualienmarkt square in her bikini.
Cannes opened its beaches to bikini-wearers
As a means of attracting tourists, Cannes, France became a haven for bikini wearers in the 1950s. After a photo of Brigitte Bardot wearing a bikini at the Cannes Film Festival was circulated around the world, bikini-wearers flocked to the resort town’s shores.
Bikinis were banned from Australian fashion parades
Despite the increasing acceptance of the bikini around the world, they were still considered too eye-catching for public consumption in many places. In fact, fashion parades in Sydney, Australia wouldn’t allow certain bikini styles to be worn alongside more modestly-dressed attendees. And if you think the bikini backlash was wild, wait until you see The 47 Weirdest Laws from Around the World.
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