Bikini Birthdays: Bathing Suits and Bombs


While many of us were busy celebrating the Fourth last week, an important milestone slipped by us: the birthday of the bikini. And while the swimwear itself may be itsy-bitsy, this birthday definitely wasn’t - the two-piece turned 65 on July 5.

The concept of the bikini - a garment that covers two very specific areas of the body while leaving the torso bare - has been around for ages. Ancient artwork depicts women wearing similar attire. The modern version of the bikini, however, was invented in 1946 by a man named Louis Reard who was once an engineer for Renault. He was competing against designer Jacques Heim to create the tiniest bathing suit ever. Although Heim beat Reard to the punch with “the world’s smallest bathing suit,” Reard one-upped him by basically taking a bra and two triangles of fabric and marketing it as “smaller than the world’s smallest bathing suit.” He got exotic dancer Micheline Bernardini (pictured) to debut his daring fashion at Parisian swimming pool Piscine Molitor on July 5, 1946. Bernardini received more than 50,000 letters from new fans.

Although Reard immediately had copycats across the design world, he kept his popularity huge by keeping the amount of fabric small. In the 1950s, he declared that it wasn’t a true bikini “unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring.”

The bikini was named after the Bikini Atoll, where a series of nuclear weapon tests called Operation Crossroads (that’s a July 25, 1946, test pictured) had just started at the Atoll not long before the introduction of the equally explosive bikini, so Reard named his invention in its honor. Had he known just how risky and unsafe the nuclear testing was, maybe Reard would have thought twice about the name: thanks to the risk of radiation, the Bikini Atoll remains uninhabited to this day. It has been deemed safe enough for exploration and tourism, although it’s recommended that you avoid eating any of the produce growing there.

See Also: The Quick 10: Itsy-Bitsy, Teeny-Weeny Trivia About Bikinis

[Bernardini photo credit]