The origins of the modern bikini aren’t at all what you might expect. Invented by an engineer and named after an atomic bomb test site, the only part of the equation that seems to fit is that Louis Réard was French. His creation was considered quite risqué at the time because it exposed (are you ready?) … the navel.
Back in 1946, the mere sight of a belly button was enough to send shock waves and indeed several countries, including Spain and Italy, banned the bikini early on. By the 1950s the bikini had become more acceptable in other parts of Europe, spurred in part by regular sightings of popular actresses Sophia Loren and Bridgett Bardot frolicking in the sparse suits along the French Rivera.
Two-piece swimsuits without a skirt panel started appearing in the United States as part of WWII rationing when the government ordered a 10% reduction in fabric used in woman’s swimwear, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that the navel-baring style gained widespread social acceptance.
Hollywood played a major role in stimulating demand for the diminutive suit led by a bikini-clad Ursula Andress emerging from the sea in the 1962 film Dr. No. Another defining moment for the bikini came in 1964 with the publication of the first-ever Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
Today, it’s hard to imagine the controversy that surrounded the original itsy bitsy teeny weeny bikini. In an era of butt-bearing Brazilian-cut bottoms and thongs, simply displaying one’s belly button seems rather, well, Girly!
Whatever your choice of swimsuit, slather on plenty of sunscreen when heading to the beach or pool this summer. And, always pack a tampon … just in case.