Although bikinis are now all the craze, worn by most women beachgoers,
bikinis were once extremely controversial. And looked very different:
I can even remember my own mother telling me about the horror her (deeply religious) grandmother spoke of when she visited Florida and saw the first versions of bikinis being worn.
Their inventor, Louis Reard:
He was originally an automotive engineer, but he took over his mother’s clothing business after she retired.
He got the idea for the bikini when he was visiting local beaches—seeing women constantly rolling swimsuits up, which tended to cover a lot more of their body.
Just before he designed and released his, a competing designer released the Atome, which was marketed as the smallest swimsuit available:
Which still covered the navel and upper waist.
And thus—a minor, bikini arms race began.
Reard created his version of the bikini. He introduced it on July 5th 1946. He ran into a problem though—none of the fashion models wanted to wear it as they saw it as too risque.
Eventually, he hired a nude model, Micheline Bernardini to wear it:
The name for the bikini came from a nuclear test that took place on the Bikini Atoll:
Only days prior.
The name was a marketing ploy, stating that the bikini design would explode—getting everyone’s attention. (source: A Little Piece of History, Cocozza, Paula)
And—in a way he was right. He got negative publicity at first, stating his design was too pornographic. And, of course, he got thousands of letters from male fans around the same time.
But despite any controversy, his design and naming of the bikini swimsuit would, decades later, evolve to the world’s most popular bathing suit.