National Bikini Day | A History of the Iconic Swimsuit
July 5th marks a monumental day in the watersports community. It’s the day the first-ever bikini was sighted seventy years ago. Since its invention, this classic piece of women’s swimwear has experienced both celebration and criticism. Today’s styles are varied and include classic cuts, one-pieces, active wear, and even retro pieces that date back to earlier times. In honor of National Bikini Day, we thought it only fitting to explore the evolution of women’s swimwear throughout the ages.
At the turn of the century, women showed up to the beach fully clothed, then stepped into a dressing room on wheels to change into their bathing costumes. The costumes were essentially a conservative dress, complete with weights sewn into the bottom to prevent the skirt from flying up.
In 1913, Carl Janzten introduced a form-fitting two-piece suit to enhance athletic performance. The full-coverage suits were essentially shorts and a T-shirt or tank, but the transition was quit revolutionary.
One-piece swimsuits continued to dominate, but a backless cut was introduced, marking a huge change stylistically.
World War II called for fabric rationing, thus sparking the appearance of two-piece suits that revealed a sliver of skin at the waistline.
On July 5, 1946, French engineer Louis Rèard designed the world’s first bikini. He claimed that it was smaller than the world’s smallest swimsuit and was the first suit to reveal the belly button.
The suit was named after a nuclear test site–Bikini Atoll–because Rèard believed his design would be as explosive as a bomb. Rèard had to hire a nude dancer to model his design because nobody else wanted to be seen in his suit.
A few individuals sported the bikini, but one-pieces continued to reign throughout the 50s. Many countries banned the bikini and many considered it sinful to wear.
By the 1960s, the bikini became commonplace and was the swimsuit of choice. In 1962, Ursula Andress appeared in the James Bond film, Dr. No, sporting a homemade bikini. In 1964, Sports Illustrated launched its first swimsuit issue. The bikini, it seemed, was finally accepted.
The 70s were decorated with high-cut bottoms and low-coverage tops. Designers jumped on the more accepting times and released a wide variety of barely-there suits.
Neon colors and high-cut bottoms dominated the scene throughout the 80s. The G-string made its first appearance in Brazil during the later end of the decade.
Bikinis remained immensely popular during the 90s, but additional styles like the tankini, adjustable bra-style tops, and the classic Baywatch red, one-piece monopolized the water.
These days, bikinis come in too many styles to keep track of. There are strapless tops, cheeky bottoms, monokinis, athletic styles, high-waisted bottoms, and eco-friendly suits. You name it and your local SUP shop has it. It’s a beautiful time to be a paddler.
The bikini has come so far since its debut in 1946 and like everything, it will continue to evolve for years to come. Will suits become more geared towards athletes? Will we see the return of a style from a previous era? Or will we be introduced to a new style entirely? Only time will tell.
Happy National Bikini Day! Now get out and paddle.
Sustainable swimwear that’s perfect for any SUP woman.
Bikinis are just one of many reasons to date a paddler.