The Colorful History Of The Bikini

The bikini has been raising blood pressures and making people blush since its modern creation in 1946. It has gone through a few changes over the years in style; different patterns, plummeting waist lines, disappearing amounts of fabric and fluorescent fishing lure-like colors, but like most things in fashion, things tend to come full circle, and designers look for something new by looking at something old for inspiration.

To celebrate these liberating two pieces of fabric, and as a reminder of the fleeting summer days, we’re taking a look at the colorful history of the bikini, Styles from then and now, and the most famous (or infamous) bikinis known in pop culture.

The Most Famous Bikinis of All Time


Brigitte Bardot

Credited with creating the bikini market in the US with her provocative role in the 1950’s film ‘And God Created Woman.’



Ursula Andress

The most famous bikini scene in the history of cinema, from the 1962 James Bond Classic ‘Dr. No.’ In the scene Andress ermerges from the water wearing an off-white bikini.



S.I. Swimsuit Issue

The first issue was published in 1964 and is credited with legitimizing the bikini. The popularity of the annual magazine, which features supermodels in bikinis in exotic locals, has grown steadily since its first release, peaking in 1989 with the 25th anniversary issue with Kathy Ireland. In 2005 the single issue carried $35 million in advertising.



Raquel Welch

“Discover a savage world where the only law is lust!” In One Million Years BC (1966), a strange caveman adventure film, Welch is seen wearing a torn, fur-lined brown leather bikini.



Carrie Fisher

In Return of the Jedi (1983) Princess Leia’s gold metal bikini causes a drastic increase in the number of pale skinny white kids found on the beach at any given time.



Phoebe Cates

In the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), a red bikini and a slow motion dream sequence is all it took to propel Cates into bikini history.



Halle Berry

An attempt to remake the famous Ursula Andress scene seemed to happen in just about every Bond film proceeding Dr. No, but with little success, until, that is, Halle Barry came very close in 2002’s ‘Die Another Day,’ only this time, wearing and orange bikini with familiar white knife belt.



Jessica Alba

In the 2005 thriller ‘Deep Blue’ Jessica Alba plays a girl who wears a blue bikini. No other plot line exists.


Some Famous Men in Very Little Fabric:

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Phelps

Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat, and Jim Carey as himself

History of the Bikini

Two-piece garments worn by women for athletic purposes have been observed on Greek urns and paintings, dated as early as 1400 BC. Ancient artwork from over 1700 years ago in Villa Romana del Casale have depicted women in garments resembling modern-day bikinis. Other bikini-style swimwear existed for many years before the first official bikini. Films of holidaymakers in Germany in the 1930s show women wearing two-piece bathing suits. They were to be seen again a year later in Gold Diggers of 1933. Two-piece swimsuits started appearing in the US when the U.S. Government ordered a 10 percent reduction in the fabric used in woman’s swimwear in 1943 as part of wartime rationing. The July 9, 1945 issue of Life shows women in Paris wearing similar items.

Early Roman Athletic Bikini

According to the official version, the modern bikini was invented by French engineer Louis Réard and fashion designer Jacques Heim in Paris in 1946 and introduced on July 5th, at a fashion show at Piscine Molitor in Paris. It was a string bikini with a g-string back. It was named after Bikini Atoll, the site of a nuclear weapon test called Operation Crossroads on July 1 in the Marshall Islands, on the reasoning that the burst of excitement it would cause would be like the nuclear device. Monokini, a bikini variant, derives its name, as a back formation, from bikini, interpreting the first syllable as the Latin prefix bi- “two” and substituting for it mono- “one”, on the (perhaps intentionally) mistaken notion that the bi- element was the Greek prefix meaning “two”. Réard’s suit was a refinement of the work of Jacques Heim who, two months earlier, had introduced the “Atome” (named for its size) and advertised it as the world’s “smallest bathing suit”. Réard “split the ‘atom'” even smaller, but could not find a model who would dare to wear his design. He ended up hiring Micheline Bernardini, a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris as his model.

Early Roman Depiction of a Bikini

Catholic countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy banned the bikini. Decency leagues pressured Hollywood to keep bikinis from being featured in Hollywood movies. One writer described it as a “two piece bathing suit which reveals everything about a girl except for her mother’s maiden name.” Movie star Esther Williams once said: “A bikini is a thoughtless act.” Brigitte Bardot helped popularize the bikini in Europe in the 1950s, but the United States took longer to adopt it. Modern Girl magazine wrote in 1957, “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.”

In 1951 bikinis were banned from the Miss World Contest following the crowning of Miss Sweden in a bikini and subsequent protests with a number of countries threatening to withdraw. In 1957, however, Brigitte Bardot’s bikini in And God Created Woman created a market for the swimwear in the US, and in 1960, Brian Hyland’s pop song “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” inspired a bikini-buying spree. By 1963, the movie Beach Party, starring Annette Funicello (emphatically not in a bikini, by mentor Walt Disney’s personal request) and Frankie Avalon, led a wave of films that made the bikini a pop-culture symbol.

Micheline Bernardini modeling one of the first modern bikinis

In 1962, an icon was born as Bond Girl Ursula Andress emerged from the sea wearing a white bikini in Dr. No. Other iconic portrayals of bikinis in movies include Raquel Welch as the prehistoric cavegirl in the 1966 film One Million Years B.C., and Phoebe Cates in the 1982 teen film Fast Times at Ridgemont High. These three scenes were recently ranked 1, 86, and 84 respectively in Channel 4 (UK)’s 100 Greatest Sexy Moments in Film. The Dr. No bikini scene has been quoted as one of the most memorable scenes from the British spy film series. Virgin Media puts it in 9th position in its list of top ten movie bikini, and the top position in the list for top ten Bond girls.The Herald (Glasgow) put the scene as best ever bikini scene on the basis of a poll. It also helped shape the career of Ursula Andress, the look of the quintessential Bond movie. According to Andress, “This bikini made me into success.” That white bikini has been described as a “defining moment in the sixties liberalization of screen eroticism”.

Ultimately the bikini caught on, due to a host of films and songs featuring the garment in the early 1960s. In Malta, bikinis took time to be introduced. In the 1960s, the police fended off Bishop Michael Gonzi’s request to ban bikini clad tourists following fear of compromising Malta as a tourist destination. Malta Labour Party girls felt safe putting on bikinis during beach parties but this was unacceptable by those supporting the Nationalist Party. The lower part of the bikini was further reduced in size in the 1970s to the Brazilian thong, where the back of the suit is so thin that it disappears into the buttocks.

In 1996, when the Miss World contest was held in Bangalore, a dozen Indian groups opposed the event claiming that the contest degraded women by featuring them in bikinis. Social activist Subhashini Ali commented, “It’s not an IQ test. Neither is it a charity show. It’s a beauty contest in which these things have been added on as sops.” The protests were so intense that the organizers were finally compelled to shift the venue of the “Swimsuit Round” to Seychelles. Afghan Miss Earth 2003 contestant Vida Samadzai was severely condemned by the Afghan Supreme Court, which said, “such a display of the female body goes against Islamic law and Afghan culture.”

Bikini Styles: Then & Now

Vintage image from David Zellaby; Swimwear by Catriona Mackechnie

Vintage image from David Zellaby; Swimwear by Catriona Mackechnie

Vintage image from David Zellaby; Swimwear by Loeffler Randall

Vintage image from David Zellaby; Swimwear by ERES

Quoted Content from Wikipedia: Bikini

Famous bikini images in the public domain

Author: evad
David Sommers has been loving color as COLOURlovers' Blog Editor-in-Chief for the past two years. When he's not neck deep in a rainbow he's loving other things with The Post Family (, a Chicago-based art blog, artist collective & gallery.

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