MSL love to know the history of garments and with summer holidays just around the corner we today look to the bikini. The two piece swimsuit, which we have come to associate with sandy beaches, is no new invention. In fact, drawings of bikini-like suits have been found on wall paintings dating back as late as 1600 B.C. Although, it’s the re-invention of the two piece, coined the bikini, that we are interested in.

The bikini was brought to us courtesy of two Frenchmen, Jacques Heim and Louis Reard. It was these men, who ideas combined, would see that in just 60 years we would be a nation of women obsessed with the two piece – favoring it above all other swimwear, making the bikini the most popular choice for beach attire.

Jacques Heim was a designer from Cannes, France, who had designed a very small bathing suit called the “Atome” French for the word atom. Hiem’s swimsuit the “Atome” was named in honor of the recently discovered atom; the smallest particle of matter yet known to man. After his design was complete, Heim hired a skywriting plane to advertise his invention. Taking to the sky Heim proudly had, “Atome – the world’s smallest bathing suit” written in skywriting. Only, it wasn’t long before another Frenchmen stole his limelight, three weeks after Heim’s unique advertisement, Louis Reard, a mechanical engineer, brought out a remarkably similar swimsuit. Reard also took to the skies to launch his take on the two piece and had another skywriting plane write, “Bikini – smaller than the smallest bathing suit in the world.”

Reard’s swimsuit contained just two sparse pieces of material that revealed the wears back and navel; to see a woman so scantily clad was, during this time, unheard of and was seen as utterly outrageous, which saw Readers bikini begin its life as a hard sell.

Reard named his swimsuit the “bikini,” taking the name from the Bikini Reef. It was July 1st, 1946 when the US completed its first atomic blast on the Bikini Atoll islands in the Pacific, with devastating results and it was in the aftermath of the effects, that Reader chose to name his bathing suit the ‘bikini’. Atomic bombs and swimwear bare no comparisons that I am aware of, so why did Reard name his tiny bathing suit after an island used for atomic bomb testing?

It is assumed by many, that Reard gave his swimsuit the name “bikini” because he believed that its revealing nature would stir controversies and reactions similar to those created by America’s atomic bomb testing in Japan the previous summer. Whatever his reasoning, the second Reard etched the words bikini in the skies, he went down in history as the inventor of the two-piece swimsuit we have all come to know and love.

So next time you find yourself browsing the rails for your latest pool side must have, take a minute to appreciate its history – think of those who lost their lives, and be thankful for the sexual and moral revolution of the late 1960s, which saw us liberated; a free nation able to wear a swim suit which was once deemed unacceptable; a swim suit which was banned due to its outrageous style and least we forget, give thanks to Louis Reard, for finally riding us all of those god awful tan lines.

Sophie Maguire


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