History of the Bikini
to Graf, from ground zero to grass, here's the skinny on
you happen to be the kind of person-let's face it, if
you happen to be the only person-who really does read
the articles in the swimsuit issue, then you already
know that last year witnessed the 50th anniversary of
the invention of the bikini (from the Latin bi, meaning
"two," and kini, meaning "square inches of Lycra").
may not have considered is this: We now stand poised at
a historical crossroad, a crucial cleavage in the
history of the swimsuit. Nineteen ninety-seven is the
dawn of a new age, the first year of the second half of
the Bikini Century. This raises several vexing
questions, not the least of which are, Where is the
bikini heading? Can I follow it there? And if so, will I
have to wear sunglasses and pretend I'm not looking?
a 1957 Life photo shoot, Jayne Mansfield was as buoyant
as a bevy of bikinied water bottles photograph by Allan
much at stake, I was asked to compose the following
bikini lines, to offer these bikini waxings.
Please-allow me to bikini brief you.
eminently qualified to do so, having just screened the
actual motion pictures Bikini Beach, Bikini Squad,
Bikini Drive-in, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, How
to Stuff a Wild Bikini, Stocks and Blondes (um, it had a
bikini on the box) and It's a Bikini World. To which the
following pages will wholeheartedly attest: It certainly
is a Bikini World.
issue you will circumnavigate that world on a navel
expedition more epic than Magellan's. Since last
September, SI has endeavored to visit every important
port in Bikinidom, or to burn-and-peel trying. I was
appointed Official Bikini Researcher, which only sounds
as if it belongs on a T-shirt sold in truck stops, next
to those declaring I'M WITH STUPID or TAKE ME DRUNK, I'M
HOME. In fact, my work would address some serious
swimsuit issues and require exhausting excursions to
centers of swimwear scholarship. Which is to say, St.
Tropez is home to Club 55, a bistro frequented by bikini
icon Brigitte Bardot, who helped bring the suit to
prominence, as did pinup girl Diana Dors, who in '55
sported a mink number at the Venice Film Festival.
"Nineteen fifty-five was to the bikini what '54 was to
black school children and '56 was to Hungarian freedom
fighters," says my colleague Alexander Wolff, whose
story on Monaco begins on page 36 and whose
company-mandated psychiatric examination begins on
Tuesday. Good luck, Alex!
close, the French Riviera is not quite ground zero in
Bikini World. That distinction belongs to the actual
ground zero itself: to Bikini, the Pacific atoll on
which A-bombs were tested in 1946. That year, Louis
Réard, a French automotive engineer who was running his
mother's lingerie business, named his new two-piece,
atom-sized swimsuit for the test site, and the rest is
(revisionist) history: The bikini was born.
the combination of surf, song and skin, it was a bikini
world in '67 courtesy of Joe Russo.
mosaics found in the fourth-century villa at Piazza
Armerina in Sicily are festooned with women wearing
bikinis. And cavewomen wore fur bikinis (and mascara) as
early as the Stone Age, if the appearance of Raquel
Welch in One Million Years B.C. hews to prehistorical
fact. And who's to say it doesn't? But that is neither
here nor there.
adieu to the Riviera, we next dropped anchor off the
coast of Venezuela, spending several buenas noches on
Los Roques. There, E.M. Swift went fishing with
supermodel Niki Taylor. This, too, was an epochal event:
The first time in swimsuit issue history that a fishnet
was used for-get this-actual fishing.
likewise spent some time angling, though this
regrettably had nothing to do with fish. It happened in
Malibu at the rented beach house of three swimsuit
models. In accordance with the restraining order filed
against me in California, what occurred there can be
recounted only in a fictionalized form, and I do so on
page 200. All parties are forbidden to comment further.
Can we just move on?
well. You will notice that this issue is peopled with
professional athletes, as well as models in various
stages of undress. (By the way: Undress is believed to
be a contraction of Ursula Andress, who as a Bond girl
named Honeychile Rider wore history's most memorable
bikini in Dr. No. It was accompanied by a hip holster
that held a hunting knife and generally looked more in
keeping with J.R. Rider than H. Rider. But I digress.)
Hawaii, for instance, we photographed members of the
women's beach volleyball tour. They are among the few
professional athletes to actually compete in bikinis,
including, of course, the mysterious Swedish Bikini Team
members, whose "sport" was about the only thing never
made explicit by those beer commercials in which they
course, Hawaii itself is not so much associated with
bikinis as it is with grass skirts. So we commissioned a
designer to combine the two concepts. The result is worn
on page 194 by Chandra North (in a grass bikini, by
Mother Nature, $5 a square foot). We believe it is the
future of swimwear. But seriously: "Who did design the
grass bikini?" I asked swimsuit issue editor Elaine
"Moschino," she corrected me.
the two-piece became a fixture on dormitory walls around
the country with Babette March's appearance on SI's
first swimsuit cover photograph by J. Frederick Smith
I am not
making this up.
was "grown" by the Italian clothing design firm of
Moschino, which suggests that you wash on gentle cycle
and lay flat to dry.
looking into bikinis, as it were, I happened upon the
seaweed bikini, macramé bikini, vinyl bikini, string
bikini, mink bikini, rubber bikini, monokini, Brian
Hyland's Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot
Bikini, Chanel's infamous "eye-patch" bikini and the
irrepressible tanga, "thong" or "dental-floss" bikini,
responsible for the crack epidemic on Brazilian beaches.
But none were so intriguing as the grass bikini, and I
for one think we blew a rare opportunity in neglecting
to have Steffi Graf pose in her best surface, rather
than on it.
right. Now it can be told: Graf is our Fräulein
February, having been photographed in a
double-secret-probationary shoot in Cabo San Lucas,
Mexico, last December. Everyone agrees that she looks
wunderbar, which reminds me: Wonderbra model Eva
Herzigova also helps us pay homage to Bikini Atoll by
barely wearing a bikini atall, on page 134.
that? You say you'd like to turn to those photos
straightaway? Then I'll cut my remarks short. I had so
much more to tell you about swimsuits, but it's obvious
we're not on the same page here. (Probably in the most
literal sense of that phrase. You turned to Tyra Banks
10 minutes ago, didn't you?)
the use? You say, "Moschino"; I say, "Monsanto." You
say, "Wonderbra"; I say, "Wunderbar." Moschino,
Monsanto, Wonderbra, wunderbar: Let's call the whole
TIMELINE OF THE BIKINI BATHING SUIT
PEOPLE MAGAZINE (A revealing history of the timeless
An explosive year. Bikini Atoll becomes no Bikini at
all. In Paris, engineer Louis Reard quietly unveils a
swimsuit of the same name. The world yawns.
Bikinis, perhaps seen as an unfair advantage to the
wearer (and as potentially dangerous to the health of
some judges) are banned from beauty pageants after the
Miss World Contest. The tasteful one-piece reigns
Bikini-clad Brigitte Bardot frolics in "And God Created
Woman," creating a hot market for the swimwear.
Coincidentally, Hollywood markets 3D glasses in
Brian Hyland sings "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow
Polka Dot Bikini," triggering a bikini-buying spree
among American teens.
The bikini meets a challenge in the generous form of
Annette Funicello. The ex-mouseketeer's "Beach Party,"
with singer Frankie Avalon, leads to six sequels,
including the memorably titled "How to Stuff a Wild
Bikini" (in 1966). No special effects were used.
The bi- ("two") kini becomes the mono- ("one") kini, in
the eyes of designer Rudi Gernreich. The Vatican
denounces the topless garb. An unrepentant Gernreich
sells more than 3,000 suits in less than a season in
Europe. More Americans go abroad.
The bikini grows fur in "One Million Years B.C.," which
catapults comely cavegirl Raquel Welch to stardom
despite mixed reviews of the saggy screen saga.
Rio and St. Tropez produce the Tanga suit-- also called
the Thong, the string bikini or "dental floss." The
uncomfortable design becomes de rigeur for teen posters,
muscle car magazines and boxing ring girls who announce
Carrie Fisher, as Princess Leia, wears an ornate version
of the bikini (studded collar optional) in "Return of
the Jedi." Even Yoda notices. The film is the most
successful of the George Lucas trilogy.
Score one for the "sports bikini." The hugging
halter-top design becomes the rage, thanks to Volleyball
queen Gabrielle Reece and MTV.
HISTORY OF THE
BIKINI BATHING SUIT
Reard (ray-YARD) had this problem. He had designed
Something that would stir the masses. But he needed a
name for it, something exotic, bold, and eye opening.
Four days before he was to show the world his new bikini
in Paris, the U.S. Military provided him with a name.
They exploded a nuclear device near several small
islands in the Pacific known as the "Bikini Atoll". On
July 5th, 1945, he unveiled the bikini. although he
would later claim he named the bikini after the islands
and not the atomic blast, he was clearly taking
advantage of a "hot topic". Another Frenchmen, Jacques
Heim, had created his own two piece bathing suit, which
he called "The Atome", and he described it as "The
world's smallest bathing suit.
called his "Smaller than the world's smallest bathing
"bikini" was so small, in fact, that no Parisian models
at the time would wear it on the runway. He hired
Micheline Bernardini, who had no qualms about strolling
around in a bikini, seeing as her day job was a nude
dancer at the Casino de Paris. Bernardini was not what
you'd a classic beauty, but after photos of her in a
reclining pose hit the press, she was swamped with fan
mail, close to 50,000 letters.
suits weren't new. As part of wartime rationing, the
U.S. Government, in 1943, ordered a 10 percent reduction
in the fabric used in woman's swimwear. Off went the
skirt panel, and out came the bare midriff. At beaches
across the country, men paid special attention to women
doing their patriotic duty. But Reard pushed the
envelope. He shrunk his suit down to 30 inches of fabric
- basically a bra top and two inverted triangles of
cloth connected by string - and put the navel on center
took notice. In Catholic countries - Spain, Portugal,
and Italy - The bikini was banned. Decency leagues
pressured Hollywood to keep it out of the movies. One
writer said it's a "two piece bathing which reveals
everything about a girl except for her mothers maiden
name." Movie star Esther Williams who probably was seen
in a two piece bathing suit by more people than anyone
in the world, once said: "A bikini is a thoughtless
not clear whether she was talking about the bikini or
the thought of wearing one. Reard's firm did it's part
to fan the fantasies by proclaiming that a two piece
wasn't a bikini "unless it could pulled through a
wedding ring." In the '50's Brigitte Bardot did wonders
for business- But not in modest America. Here it
remained an invitation to scandal. As recently as 1957,
Modern Girl magazine sniffed, "It is hardly necessary to
waste words over the so called bikini since it is
inconceivable that any girl with tact and decency would
ever wear such a thing.
America was ready for new frontiers, including, it
seemed, great expanses of bare flesh. That year pop
singer Brian Hyland immortalized the suit with his song
"Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini."
Three years later "Beach Party", the first in a series
of Annette Funicello / Frankie Avalon flicks with a
recurring theme of women dancing in bikinis, hit the big
tastes change, however, and just as importantly, people
age. Through the '80s and early '90s, the bikini sales
began to slide. Sales dropped to less than a third of
the women's bathing suit market. in 1988 Reard's company
bikini, however, appears to be making a comeback. Sales
are up! Some cite the "Baywatch" factor - or perhaps the