The Bikini: A Story of Women and Morals

The bikini first appeared in Roman times, more than 1,500 years ago. Re-instituted in 1946 by Louis Réart, its path was one fraught with tensions, love, and disaffection. Louis Réart, the creator of this swimsuit, conceived the bikini by finalizing the work of Jacques Heim, the inventor of the smallest swimsuit in the world: the atom. Legend has it that the idea came to him by watching women roll up their clothes at the beach to get a better tan. So he reduced the dimensions a bit and, conscious of the explosive nature of the two pieces, not able to find a ready-to-wear model, hired a stripper from the Casino de Paris, Micheline Bernadini. He dubbed his creation the bikini, after the Bikini atoll close to the Marshall Islands.

As soon as these four triangles cut out from fabric and tied together with some rope crossed the threshold of daily apparel, it attracted the fury of the Church and do-gooders alike. In Spain, Belgium, and Italy, the bikini was even outlawed on beaches! Distraught by this perverse tool that normalized such a state of undress, the bikini would need a little help from the seventh art to dig its way out from this hole. In 1956, Brigitte Bardot showed off a gingham bikini in the film “And God Created Woman”. And the bikini races were off: Marilyn, Rita Hayworth, and Jayne Mansfield would all sport it, all rendering it reasonable as well as desirable.

But it was on the Bond Girls that the bikini would finally earn their reputation. In 1962, Ursula Andress, the very first Bond Girl, in Dr. No, emerged from the dreamy waters in a white, belted bikini. On the topic of this famous bikini scene, she today affirms: “it’s that bikini that made me a star”. This affirmation may not take into account Miss Andress’ sex appeal, but one thing is certain: she helped to make it an icon in American pop culture. During those years, popular infatuation for surf movies served to content public opinion on the sensual rather than sexual nature of the bikini. In 2002, it’s Halle Berry’s turn to incarnate the femme fatale and, like Ursula 40 years earlier, she would wear an almost-identical bikini, this time colored orange, to definitively cement the bikini’s status as an essential. Finally, more than just the story of a garment, it’s the story of the journey of a morale that the bikini has to tell.

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