History of the bikini: Wikis


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Woman wearing bikini in Chicago, United States, 1973

The history of the bikini is a checkered one. Though the bikini shocked when it appeared on French beaches in 1947, its origins date back millennia. Depictions of bikini-like garments appear at the Chalcolithic site of Çatalhöyük, and two-piece bikini-like garments were worn by women for athletic purposes in Greece as far back as 1400 BC. Mosaic artwork dubbed "Bikini Girls" dating back to the Diocletian period (286-305 AD) in Rome, Sicily gained significant archeological renown, while statues of Venus in a bikini was found elsewhere in the Roman Empire. In the modern era, the first functional two-piece swimsuit was designed in 1913 by Carl Jantzen. Australian swimmer-performer Annette Kellerman was arrested in 1907 for wearing a two-piece. Later it was made popular by pin-up girls like swimmer-actress Esther Williams, and actresses Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner.

The modern bikini was invented by French engineer Louis Réard in 1946. He named it after Bikini Island in the Pacific, the site of the Operation Crossroads nuclear test on July 1, 1946, believing that the burst of excitement it caused would be as explosive as a nuclear device. Since his contemporary Jacques Heim had called his bikini precursor the Atome in view of its size, Réard claimed to have "split the Atome" to make it even smaller. His innovation was largely based on exposing the navel, which was not available with earlier two-piece bathing costumes. Though a moderate hit in France, it was not well accepted in other parts of the world. The Miss World contest in UK, the Hays production code in the US, and the Catholic countries banned the costume. But, the advent of bikinis in popular media, including Ursula Andress in Dr. No., Brian Hyland's song "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini", and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, eventually gained social acceptance for the bikini. By the early 2000s, bikinis had become a US$811 million business annually, and boosted spin-off services like bikini waxing and the sun tanning industries. Further variants were added to the bikini family of beachwears and bathing costumes, contributing to the popular lexicon a variety of -kinis and -inis.


Antiquity: earliest bikinis

Leather thong bottom from the time of Roman Britain

In the Chalcolithic era around 5600 BC, the mother-goddess of Çatalhöyük, a large ancient settlement in southern Anatolia, was depicted astride two leopards wearing a costume somewhat like a bikini.[1] Two-piece garments worn by women for athletic purposes are depicted on Greek urns and paintings dating back to 1400 BC.[2] Active women of ancient Greece wore a breastband called a mastodeton or an apodesmos, which continued to be used as an undergarment in the Middle Ages.[3] While men in ancient Greece abandoned the perizoma, partly high-cut briefs and partly loincloth, women performers and acrobats continued to wear it.[4]

One of the earliest visual documentations of a bikini, from the Ancient Roman Villa Romana del Casale

Artwork dating back to the Diocletian period (286-305 AD) in Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily, excavated by Gino Vinicio Gentile in 1950-60, depicts women in garments resembling bikinis in mosaics on the floor.[5][6] The images of ten women, dubbed the "Bikini Girls",[7] exercising in clothing that would pass as bikinis today, are the most replicated mosaic among the 37 million colored tiles at the site.[8] In the artwork "Coronation of the Winner" done in floor mosaic in the Chamber of the Ten Maidens (Sala delle Dieci Ragazze in Italian[9]) the bikini girls are depicted weight-lifting, discus throwing, and running. Some activities depicted have been described as dancing,[10] as their bodies resemble dancers rather than athletes.[11] Coronation in the title of the mosaic comes from a woman in a toga with a crown in her hand and one of the maidens holding a palm frond.[6] Some academics maintain that the nearby image of Eros, the primordial god of lust, love, and intercourse, was added later, demonstrating the owner's predilections and strengthening the association of the bikini with the erotic.[12][13] Similar mosaics have been discovered in Tellaro in northern Italy and Patti, another part of Sicily.[14] Prostitution, skimpy clothes and athletic bodies were related in ancient Rome, as images were found of female sex workers exercising with dumbbells/clappers and other equipment wearing costumes similar to the Bikini Girls.[15]

Charles Seltman, a fellow of Queens' College, Cambridge, curator of the Archaeology Museum there and an editor of The Cambridge Ancient History, illustrated a chapter titled "The new woman" in his book Women in Antiquity with a 1950s model wearing an identical bikini against the 4th-century mosaics from Piazza Armerina as part of a sisterhood between the bikini-clad female athletes of ancient Greco-Romans and modern woman. A photograph of the mosaic was used by Sarah Pomeroy, Professor of Classics at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York, in the 1994 British edition of her book Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves to emphasize a similar identification.[16] According to archeologist George M.A. Hanfmann the bikini girls made the learned observers realize "how modern the ancients were".[17]

In ancient Rome, the bikini-style bottom, a wrapped loincloth of cloth or leather, was called a subligar or subligaculum ("little binding underneath"), while a band of cloth or leather to support the breasts was called strophium or mamillare.[18] The exercising bikini girls from Piazza Armenia wear subligaria, scanty briefs made as a dainty version of a man's perizoma, and a strophium band about the breasts, often referred to in literature as just fascia, which can mean any kind of bandage. Observation of artifacts and experiments shows bands had to be wrapped several times around the breasts, largely to flatten them in a style popular with flappers in the 1920s.[19] These Greco-Roman breastbands may have flattened big breasts and padded small breasts to look bigger. Evidence suggests regular use.[20] The "bikini girls" from Piazza Armenia, some of whom sport the braless look of the late 20th century, do not depict any propensity of such popularity in style.[19] One bottom, made of leather, from Roman Britain was displayed at the Museum of London in 1998.[21] There has been no evidence that these bikinis were for swimming or sun-bathing.[22]

Venus in bikini from the house of Julia Felix, Pompeii

Finds especially in Pompeii show the Roman goddess Venus wearing a bikini. A statue of Venus in a bikini was found in a cupboard in the southwest corner in Casa della Venere, others were found in the front hall.[23] A statue of Venus was recovered from the tablinum of the house of Julia Felix,[24] and another from an atrium in the garden at Via Dell'Abbondanza.[25] Naples National Archaeological Museum, which opened its limited viewing gallery of more explicit exhibits in 2000, also exhibits a "Venus in Bikini".[26] The museum's exhibits include female statues wearing see-through gold lamé brassiere, basque and knickers.[27] The Kings of Naples discovered these Pompeii artifacts, including the one meter tall, almost unclothed statue of Venus painted in gold leaf with something like a modern bikini. They found them so shocking that for long periods the secret chamber was opened only to "mature persons of secure morals". Even after the doors were opened, only 20 visitors were to be admitted at a time, and children under 12 were not allowed into the new part of the museum without their parents' or a teacher's permission.[26]

There are references to bikinis in ancient literature as well. Ovid, the writer ranked alongside Virgil and Horace as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature, suggests the breastband or long strip of cloth wrapped around the breasts and tucked in the ends, is a good place to hide love-letters.[20] Martial, a Latin poet from Hispania who published between AD 86 and 103, satirized a female athlete he named Philaenis, who played ball in a bikini-like garb quite bluntly, making her drink, gorge and vomit in abundance and hinting at her lesbianism.[28] In an epigram on Chione, Martial strangely mentions a sex worker who went to the bathhouse in a bikini, while it was more natural to go unclothed.[29] Reportedly Theodora, the 6th century empress of the Byzantine Empire wore a bikini when she appeared as an actress before she captured the heart of emperor Justinian I.[17]

19th century to 1930s: Bikini precursors

Woman wearing early two-piece swimwear in Hietaniemi beach near Helsinki, Finland in 1929

The modern bikini has had a checkered history. The first domestic swimsuit for "decency" appeared in 1830. Featuring red and white horizontal stripes from ankle to wrist, it was named the "prison suit".[30] In 1907, Australian swimmer and performer Annette Kellerman was arrested on a Boston beach for wearing a form-fitting one-piece although it became accepted swimsuit attire for women by 1910.[31] Pictures of her were produced as evidence in the Esquire magazine versus United States Postmaster General legal battle over indecency in 1943.[32] In 1913, inspired by the introduction of females into Olympic swimming, the designer Carl Jantzen made the first functional two-piece swimwear, a close-fitting one-piece with shorts on the bottom and short sleeves on top.[33] Silent films such as The Water Nymph (1912) saw Mabel Normand in revealing attire, and the first annual bathing-suit day at New York's Madison Square Garden in 1916 was a landmark.[34] The swimsuit apron, a design for early swimwear, disappeared by 1918, leaving a tunic covering the shorts.[35]

Annette Kellerman in the form-fitting one-piece tank suit that troubled the law

By the 1930s, necklines plunged at the back, sleeves disappeared and sides were cut away. Hollywood endorsed the new glamour with films such as Neptune's Daughter in which Esther Williams wore provocatively named costumes such as "Double Entendre" and "Honey Child".[30] Williams also portrayed Kellerman in the 1952 film Million Dollar Mermaid (titled as The One Piece Bathing Suit in UK).[36] American designer Adele Simpson, a Coty American Fashion Critics' Awards winner (1947) and a notable alumna of the New York art school Pratt Institute, who believed clothes must be comfortable and practical designed a large part of her wardrobe which included mostly one-piece suits that were considered fashionable even in early 1980s.[37] This was when Cole of California started marketing revealing prohibition suits and Catalina Swimwear introduced almost bare-back designs.[38]

Pin-up photo of Yvonne DeCarlo wearing a two-piece bathing suit in the June 9, 1944 issue of Yank, the Army Weekly

With new materials like lastex and nylon, by 1934 the swimsuit started hugging the body and had shoulder straps to lower for tanning.[35] Burlesque and vaudeville performers wore two-piece outfits in the 1920s, films of holidaymakers in Germany in the 1930s show women wearing two-piece suits,[39] and in 1932 French designer Madeleine Vionnet offered an exposed midriff in an evening gown. They were seen a year later in Gold Diggers of 1933. The Busby Berkeley film Footlight Parade of 1932 showcases aquachoreography that featured bikinis. Mack Sennett's Bathing Beauties series (1914-1919) and Dorothy Lamour's The Hurricane (1937) also showed two-piece bathing suits.[39] In 1935 American designer Claire McCardell cut out the side panels of a maillot-style bathing suit, the bikini's forerunner.[40] A woman's cotton sun-top of 1939, printed with palm trees, provides a good example here.[30]

Pin-up photo of Esther Williams wearing a conservative two-piece in the October 12, 1945 issue of Yank, the Army Weekly

Two-piece swimsuits without the usual skirt panel and other superfluous material started appearing in the US when the government ordered a 10% reduction in fabric used in woman's swimwear in 1943 as wartime rationing.[41] By that time, two-piece swimsuits were frequent on American beaches. The July 9, 1945, Life shows women in Paris wearing similar items. Hollywood stars like Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner tried similar swimwear or beachwear.[42] Pin ups of Hayworth and Esther Williams in the costume were widely distributed.[33] The most provocative swimsuit was the 1946 Moonlight Buoy, a bottom and a top of material that weighed only eight ounces. What made the Moonlight Buoy distinctive was a large cork buckle attached to the bottoms, which made it possible to tie the top to the cork buckle and splash around au naturel while keeping both parts of the suit afloat. LIFE had a photo essay on the Moonlight Buoy and wrote, "The name of the suit, of course, suggests the nocturnal conditions under which nude swimming is most agreeable."[43]

Swimwear of the 1940s, 50s and early 60s followed the silhouette mostly from early 1930s. Keeping in line with the ultra-feminine look dominated by Dior, it evolved into a dress with cinched waists and constructed bustlines, accessorized with earrings, bracelets, hats, scarves, sunglasses, hand bags and cover-ups.[44] Many of these pre-bikinis had fancy names like Double Entendre, Honey Child (to maximize small bosoms), Shipshape (to minimize large bosoms), Diamond Lil (trimmed with rhinestones and lace), Swimming In Mink (trimmed with fur across the bodice) and Spearfisherman (heavy poplin with a rope belt for carrying a knife), Beau Catcher, Leading Lady, Pretty Foxy, Side Issue, Forecast, and Fabulous Fit.[43] According to Vogue the swimwear had become more of "state of dress, not undress" by mid 1950s.[44] But, to a bikini, size makes all the difference.[45] Pin-up queen and Hollywood star Williams, who also was an Amateur Athletic Union champion in the 100 meter freestyle (1939)[46] and an Olympics swimming finalist (1940),[47] commented, "A bikini is a thoughtless act."[33] Popularity of the charms of Williams were to vanish along with pre-bikinis with fancy names over the next few decades.[48]

1940s to 1950s: introduction and popular resistance

Micheline Bernardini modeling one of the first modern bikinis

The modern bikini was introduced by French engineer Louis Réard and separately by fashion designer Jacques Heim in Paris in 1946. Réard was a car engineer but by 1946 he was running his mother's lingerie boutique near Les Folies Bergère in Paris.[49] Heim was working on a new kind of beach costume. It comprised two pieces, the bottom large enough to cover its wearer's navel. In May 1946, he advertised it as the world's "smallest bathing suit". Réard sliced the top off the bottoms and advertised it as "smaller than the smallest swimsuit".[50][51] The idea struck him when he saw women rolling up their beachwear to get a better tan.[5]

Réard could not find a model to wear his design. He ended up hiring Micheline Bernardini, a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris.[52] That bikini, a string bikini with a g-string back of 30 square inches (194 cm2) of cloth with newspaper type print, was introduced on July 5 at Piscine Molitor, a public pool in Paris. The bikini was a hit, especially among men, and Bernardini received 50,000 letters.[33][41] Heim's design was the first worn on the beach, but clothing was given its name by Réard.[5] Reard's business soared. In advertisements he kept the bikini alive by declaring that a two-piece wasn't a genuine bikini "unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring."[41] French newspaper Le Figaro wrote, "People were craving the simple pleasures of the sea and the sun. For women, wearing a bikini signaled a kind of second liberation. There was really nothing sexual about this. It was instead a celebration of freedom and a return to the joys in life."[33]

A first socialist camp student wearing a bikini in Leipzig, Germany, 1959

But sales did not pick up around the world as women stuck to traditional two-piece swimsuits. Réard went back to designing orthodox knickers to sell in his mother’s shop.[49] Actresses in movies like My Favorite Brunette (1947) and the model on a 1948 cover of LIFE were shown in traditional two-piece swimwear, not the bikini. In 1950, TIME interviewed American swimsuit mogul Fred Cole, owner of Cole of California, and reported that he had "little but scorn for France’s famed Bikinis," because they were designed for "diminutive Gallic women". "French girls have short legs," he explained, "Swimsuits have to be hiked up at the sides to make their legs look longer." One writer described it as a "two-piece bathing suit which reveals everything about a girl except for her mother's maiden name."[33] According to Kevin Jones, curator and fashion historian at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, "Réard was ahead of his time by about 15 to 20 years. Only women in the vanguard, mostly upper-class European women embraced it, just like the upper-class European women who first cast off their corsets after World War I."[53] Australian designer Paula Straford introduced the bikini to Gold Coast in 1952.

Brigitte Bardot wore a bikini at Cannes Film Festival in 1953, starting the trend of bikini-clad stars for the festival

Despite the controversy, some in France admired "naughty girls who decorate our sun-drenched beaches".[54] Brigitte Bardot, photographed wearing similar garments on beaches during the Film Festival (1953) helped popularize the bikini in Europe in the 1950s and created a market in the US.[42] Photographs of Bardot in a bikini, according to the The Guardian, turned Saint-Tropez into the bikini capital of the world.[50] The Cannes Film Festival, held on the French Riviera each May, remains as a reminder of the days when a starlet was as big as her swimsuit was brief. Esther Williams, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot all used the swimsuit as a career prop to their sex appeal,[55] with Bardot identified as the original Cannes bathing beauty.[56] Cannes played a crucial role in the career of Brigitte Bardot, who in turn played a crucial role in promoting the Festival, largely by starting the trend of being photographed in a bikini at her first appearance at the festival.[57] As late as in 1959, Anne Cole, a US swimsuit designer and daughter of Fred Cole, said about a Bardot bikini, "It's nothing more than a G-string. It's at the razor's edge of decency."[58] Modern Girl Magazine, a fashion magazine from the United States, was quoted in 1957 as saying: "it is hardly necessary to waste words over the so-called bikini since it is inconceivable that any girl with tact and decency would ever wear such a thing".[59]

The bikini became more accepted in parts of Europe when worn by fifties "love goddess" actresses such as Bardot, Anita Ekberg and Sophia Loren.[60] But, Spain, Portugal and Italy, three countries neighboring France, banned the bikini, and it remained prohibited in many US states.[42] In July 1959, the New York Post searched for bikinis around New York City and found only a couple.[43] Writer Meredith Hall wrote in her memoir that till 1965 one could get a citation for wearing a bikini in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.[61] By the end of the decade a vogue for strapless styles developed, wired or bound for firmness and fit, and a taste for bare-shouldered two-pieces called Little Sinners. But, it was the halterneck bikini that caused the most moral controversy because of its degree of exposure. So much so as bikini designs called "Huba Huba" and "Revealation" were withdrawn from fashion parades in Sydney as immodest.[62]

Kiki Håkansson, the first and last Miss World to crowned in a bikini

In 1951, the first Miss World contest, originally the Festival Bikini Contest,[63] was organized by Eric Morley as a mid-century advertisement for swimwear at the Festival of Britain.[64] The press welcomed the spectacle and referred to it as Miss World, and Morley registered the name as a trademark.[65] When, the winner Kiki Håkansson from Sweden, was crowned in a bikini, countries with religious traditions threatened to withdraw delegates. The bikinis were outlawed and evening gowns introduced instead.[66] Håkansson remains the only Miss World crowned in a bikini,[67] a crowning that was condemned by the Pope.[68] The National Legion of Decency pressured Hollywood to keep bikinis from being featured in Hollywood movies.[69] The Hays production code for US movies, introduced in 1930 but not strictly enforced till 1934, allowed two-piece gowns but prohibited navels on screen.[70] But between the introduction and enforcement of the code two Tarzan movies, Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932) and Tarzan and His Mate (1934), were released in which actress Maureen O'Sullivan wore skimpy bikini-like leather outfits. Film historian Bruce Goldstein described her clothes in the first film as "It's a loincloth open up the side. You can see loin."[71] In reaction to the introduction of the bikini in Paris, American swimwear manufacturers compromised cautiously by producing their own similar design that included a halter and a midriff-bottom variation.[72] The early bikinis often covered the navel but if it showed in pictures, magazines like Seventeen airbrushed it out. Navel-less women ensured the early dominance of European bikini makers over their American counterparts.[73]

Since 1960s: popularity and social acceptance

Ursula Andress in the iconic scene from Dr. No

In 1962, Bond Girl Ursula Andress emerged from the sea wearing a white bikini in Dr. No. The scene has been named one of the most memorable of the series.[74] Channel 4 declared it the top bikini moment in film history,[75] Virgin Media puts it ninth in its top ten,[76] and top in the Bond girls.[77] The Herald (Glasgow) put the scene as best ever on the basis of a poll.[78] It also helped shape the career of Ursula Andress,[79] the look of the quintessential Bond movie.[80] According to Andress, "This bikini made me into a success."[81] That white bikini has been described as a "defining moment in the sixties liberalization of screen eroticism".[82] Because of the shocking effect from how revealing it was at the time, she got referred to by the joke nickname "Ursula Undress". According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, "So iconic was the look that it was repeated 40 years later by Halle Berry in the Bond movie Die Another Day." In 2001, the Dr. No bikini sold at an auction for US$61,500.[5]

The appearance of bikinis kept increasing both on screen and off. The sex appeal prompted film and television productions, including Dr. Strangelove. They include the surf movies of the early 1960s. In 1960, Brian Hyland's song "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" inspired a bikini-buying spree.[83] By 1963, the movie Beach Party, starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, led a wave of films that made the bikini pop-culture symbol. In the sexual revolution in 1960s America, bikinis became popular fast.[5] In 1965, a woman told Time it was "almost square" not to wear one. In 1967 the magazine wrote that "65% of the young set had already gone over." Playboy first featured a bikini on its cover in 1962. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue debuted two years later. This popularity was reinforced by its appearance in movies like How to Stuff a Wild Bikini featuring Annette Funicello and One Million Years B.C featuring Raquel Welch.[42] Hollywood stars like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Gina Lollobrigida and Jane Russell helped the growing popularity further. Pin-up posters of Monroe and Mansfield and of Hayworth, Bardot and Raquel Welch contributed significantly .[84] By the end of the century, the bikini went on to become the most popular beachwear around the globe, according to French fashion historian Olivier Saillard due to "the power of women, and not the power of fashion". As he explains, "The emancipation of swimwear has always been linked to the emancipation of women",[5] though one survey tells 85% of all bikinis never touch the water.[59] By the early 2000s, bikinis had become a US$811 million business annually, according to the NPD Group, a consumer and retail information company.[53] The bikini has boosted spin-off services like bikini waxing and the sun tanning industries.[84]

When Mansfield and her husband Miklós Hargitay toured for stage shows, newspapers wrote that Mansfield convinced the rural population that she owned more bikinis than anyone.[85] She showed a fair amount of her 40-inch bust, as well as her midriff and legs, in the leopard-spot bikini she wore for her stage shows.[86] Kathryn Wexler of The Miami Herald wrote, "In the beginning as we know it, there was Jayne Mansfield. Here she preens in leopard-print or striped bikinis, sucking in air to showcase her well noted physical assets."[87] Her leopard-skin bikini remains one of the earlier specimens of the fashion.[88] Other memorable bikini moments include Raquel Welch as the prehistoric cavegirl in the 1966 film One Million Years B.C., and Phoebe Cates in the 1982 teen film Fast Times at Ridgemont High. These two bikini moments were ranked 86 and 84 in Channel 4 (UK)'s list of the 100 Greatest Sexy Moments in Film.[75] Raquel Welch appeared in five interjected repetitions of "Raquel Welch in a fur bikini" becoming the one special thing that increased the value of the film, making people want to see it again and again.[89]

Sharmila Tagore was the first Indian actress to wear a bikini in 1967

Bollywood actress Sharmila Tagore struck a memorable moment in 1967 when she appeared in a bikini in An Evening in Paris,[90] a film mostly remembered for the first bikini appearance of an Indian actress.[91] She also posed in a bikini for the glossy Filmfare magazine.[92][93] The costume shocked the conservative Indian audience,[94][95] but it also set a trend of bikini-clad actresses carried forward by Parveen Babi (in Yeh Nazdeekiyan, 1982[96]), Zeenat Aman (in Heera Panna 1973; Qurbani, 1980[96]) and Dimple Kapadia (in Bobby, 1973[96]) in the early 1970s.[97] Wearing a bikini put her name in the Indian press as one of Bollywood's ten hottest actresses of all time,[98] and was a transgression of female identity through a reversal of the state of modesty, which functions as a signifier of femininity in Bombay films.[99] But, when Tagore was the chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification, she expressed concerns about the rise of the bikini in Indian films.[100] By that time it became usual for actors to change outfits a dozen times in a single song — starting with a chiffon sari and ending up wearing a bikini.[101] In Nissim Ezekiel's one act Indian English moral play The Song of Deprivation, the protagonist becomes a "different woman altogether" as she takes off her bikini and gets into a sari.[102] Cultural and literary evidence, especially in the form of calypsos ("Whole day she jumping shamelessly/In a tiny little bikini"), show that Indo-Caribbeans, people with roots in the Indian subcontinent who reside in the Caribbean, were more receptive of the bikini than people of their original homeland.[103]

Pamela Anderson wearing a vegetable bikini

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the one-piece made a big comeback. In France, Réard's company folded in 1988,[53] four years after his death.[2] By that year the bikini made up nearly 20% of swimsuit sales, more than any other model in the US.[43] As skin cancer awareness grew and a simpler aesthetic defined fashion in the 1990s, sales of the skimpy bikini decreased dramatically. The new swimwear code was epitomized by surf star Malia Jones, who appeared on the June 1997 cover of Shape Magazine wearing a halter top two-piece for rough water.[51] After the 90s, however, the bikini came back again. US market research company NPD Group reported that sales of two-piece swimsuits nationwide jumped 80% in two years.[5] In the 1970s and 80s, bikinis became briefer with the string bikini.[44] According to Beth Dincuff Charleston, research associate at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, "The bikini represents a social leap involving body consciousness, moral concerns, and sexual attitudes."[33] According to Gina Bellafonte of The New York Times, actresses in action films like Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle and Blue Crush have made the two-piece "the millennial equivalent of the power suit."[33] PETA used celebrities like Pamela Anderson, Traci Bingham and Alicia Mayer wearing a bikini made of iceberg-lettuce for an advertisement campaign to promote vegetarianism.[104][105] A protester from Columbia University used a bikini as a message board against a New York City visit by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad[106]

Bikini as a message board

The "-kini family" (as dubbed by author William Safire[107]), including the "-ini sisters" (as dubbed by designer Anne Cole[108]) has grown to include a large number of subsequent variations, often with a hilarious lexicon — string bikini, monokini or numokini (top part missing), seekini (transparent bikini), tankini (tank top, bikini bottom), camikini (camisole top and bikini bottom), hikini, thong, slingshot, minimini, teardrop, and micro.[109][110] In just one major fashion show in 1985, there were two-piece suits with cropped tank tops instead of the usual skimpy bandeaux, suits that are bikinis in front and one-piece behind, suspender straps, ruffles, and daring, navel-baring cutouts.[111] To meet the fast changing tastes, some of the manufacturers have made a business out of making made-to-order bikinis in around seven minutes.[112] The world's most expensive bikini was designed in February 2006 by Susan Rosen. The bikini, made up of over 150 carats of flawless diamonds, was worth a massive £20 million.[59]

Continuing controversies

Controversies around the bikini around woman's body ideal keep appearing around the globe.

The body ideal controversy

In the 1960s Emily Post decreed, "(A bikini) is for perfect figures only, and for the very young." In The Bikini Book by Kelly Killoren Bensimon, responding to a question on who should not wear a bikini, swimwear designer Norma Kamali says, "Anyone with a tummy." Since then, a number of bikini designers including Malia Mills have encouraged women of all ages and body types to take up the style. The 1970s saw the rise of the lean ideal of female body and figures like Cheryl Tiegs possessed the figure that remains in vogue today. The fitness boom of the 1980s led to one of the biggest leaps in the evolution of the bikini. According to swimwear designer Malia Mills, "The leg line became superhigh, the front was superlow, and the straps were superthin."[113] Women's magazines used terms like "Bikini Belly",[114] workout programs were launched to develop a "bikini-worthy body",[115] while the tiny "fitness-bikinis" made of lycra were launched to cater to the hardbodied ideal.[116] The ideal was carried further by models like Elle Macpherson, featured six times on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.[84] In one section of the Bikini Book, professional beach volleyballer Gabrielle Reece, who competes in a bikini, says that "confidence" alone can make a bikini sexy.[42] Faced with sexpot supermodels and the cult of body consciousness, a shift away from the bikini remains, offering passive resistance to the concept that "if you've got it, you have to flaunt it".[55]

Cultural controversies

In 1996, when the Miss World contest was held in Bangalore, India, dozens of Indian groups opposed the event claiming that the contest degraded women by featuring them in bikinis. Social activist Subhashini Ali commented, "It's not an IQ test. Neither is it a charity show. It's a beauty contest in which these things have been added on as sops." The protests were so intense that the organizers were finally compelled to shift the venue of the "Swimsuit Round" to Seychelles.[117][118][119] Afghan Miss Earth 2003 contestant Vida Samadzai (born in Afghanistan, raised in USA and living in India[120]) was severely condemned by the both the Afghan authority and community.[121] The Afghan Supreme Court, banning such contests, said that appearing naked in beauty contests is totally un-Islamic, and is against Afghan tradition, human honour and dignity. Afghan women affairs minister, Habiba Sarabi, said her semi-naked appearance "is not women's freedom but in my opinion is to entertain men". Afghanistan's embassy in Washington DC declared that claims by Afghan American Samadzai to represent Afghanistan is baseless.[122] Samadzai, the second woman to be crowned Miss Afghanistan after Zohra Daoud's crowing in 1972, received a number of death threats and had to be under the protection of FBI for three months.[121][123] She said she was bit uncomfortable wearing the skimpy "70s style red bikini", and was aware of the risks involved.[120][124][125] Bikini related wardrobe malfunctions including wedgies, whale tails or bikini tops falling off have also stirred controversies.[84] In April 2004, a bikini line with images of Buddha printed on it was withdrawn by Victoria's Secret, the manufacturer, in the face of protest by followers of Buddhism.[126] Buddhists were upset again when organizers of Miss Universe 2005 shot photographs of contestants in bikini in front of Buddhist religious sites.[127]

Health controversy

Significantly, on the beaches as on the streets, some of the youngest and prettiest women, who were once the only ones who dared to bare, seem to have decided that exposure is over. In beauty magazines, safe sun, as well as safe sex, is the latest fashion. Instead of extolling the glamor of a tan, the glossies promote products with high sun-protection factors.[55] Fears about the ozone layer have undermined the romantic vision of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Riviera in Tender Is the Night, where Nicole Diver, the female protagonist, lay on the beach and "her back, a ruddy orange brown, set off by a string of creamy pearls, shone in the sun." In southern England, health workers patrol beaches toting sunscreen sprays.[55]


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