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The explosive birth of the bikini

A beauty contest candidate wears a bikini by Louis Réard at the Molitor pool in Paris in July 1946. Sixty-eight years ago the bikini exploded onto the world, and a trip to the beach has never been the same since.

Had “Sports Illustrated” existed in 1900, its swimsuit issue would not have been especially titillating. Back then, the standard lady’s swimsuit wasn’t much different than her everyday clothes. It was basically a dress, plus a hat and even shoes.

By World War II, with fabric in short supply, slightly more revealing two-piece numbers were considered okay. But even they didn’t expose anything so scandalous as a — gasp! — Belly button.

But post-war? A couple of Frenchmen sensed the world was ready to loosen up. The first of them — one Jacques Heim — designed a two-piece so tiny he called it “l’atome.” The Atom.

But Heim was one-upped by his countryman, Louis Reard. On July 5th, 1946, he unveiled an even tinier suit: “The Bikini.” Named after a Pacific island atoll where, four days earlier, an atomic bomb had been tested. Reard claimed he had “split The Atom.”

Public reactions were … extreme. Reard got 50,000 fan letters thanking him for the invention. Mostly from men. But in some countries, shocked lawmakers instated bikini bans. Reard happily embraced the controversy. In ads, he said bikinis were small enough to be "pulled through a wedding ring."

Soon, the anti-bikini lobby collapsed as the suit became popular on beaches all over Europe and finally — in 1960 — in the U.S.A.  The same year singer Brian Hyland scored a number-one hit about a girl too embarrassed to be seen in one.


This story comes to us courtesy of our friends at Dinner Party Download.

About the author

Rico Gagliano is the host of Dinner Party Download.

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