A bikini or two-piece is a type of women's swimsuit, characterized by two
separate parts — one covering the breasts, the other the groin (and optionally
the buttocks), leaving an uncovered area between the two garments. It is often
worn in hot weather and while swimming. The shapes of both parts of a bikini
closely resemble women's underwear, and the lower part of a bikini can therefore
range from the more revealing thong or g-string to briefs and the more modest
Two-piece garments worn by women for athletic purposes have been observed on
Greek urns and paintings, dated as early as 1400 BC. Ancient artwork from over
1700 years ago in Villa Romana del Casale have depicted women in garments
resembling modern-day bikinis.
Sometimes the term bikini is used to describe the type of man's swimsuit also
known as a speedo although real men's bikini swimsuits do exist that are not
According to the official version, the modern bikini was invented by French
engineer Louis Réard and fashion designer Jacques Heim in Paris in 1946 and
introduced on July 25 at a fashion show at Piscine Molitor in Paris. It was a
string bikini with a g-string back. It was named after Bikini Atoll, the site of
nuclear weapon tests a few days earlier in the Marshall Islands, on the
reasoning that the burst of excitement it would cause would be like the nuclear
device. Reard's suit was a refinement of the work of Jacques Heim who, two
months earlier, had introduced the "Atome" (named for its size) and advertised
it as the world's "smallest bathing suit". Reard 'split the "atome"' even
smaller, but could not find a model who would dare to wear his design. He ended
up hiring Micheline Bernardini, a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris as his
Bikini-style swimwear existed for many years before the first official bikini,
however. The July 9, 1945 issue of Life, for example, shows women in Paris
wearing similar items. Films of holidaymakers in Germany in the 1930s show women
wearing two-piece bathing suits. Anyone who has seen the elaborately and
lavishly assembled Busby Berkeley film spectacle, Footlight Parade of 1932 would
have been treated to a stunning aquachoreography that profusely featured what
could only be regarded as bikini swimwear. They were to be seen again a year
later in Gold Diggers of 1933.
Bikinis in modern culture
In 1951 bikinis were banned from the Miss World Contest following the crowning
of Miss Sweden in a bikini and subsequent protests with a number of countries
threatening to withdraw. In 1957, however, Brigitte Bardot's bikini in And God
Created Woman created a market for the swimwear in the US, and in 1960, Brian
Hyland's pop song "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" inspired a
bikini-buying spree. In 1962, an icon was born as Bond Girl Ursula Andress
emerged from the sea wearing a white bikini in Dr. No. Finally the bikini caught
on, and by 1963, the movie Beach Party, starring Annette Funicello (emphatically
not in a bikini, by mentor Walt Disney's personal request) and Frankie Avalon,
led a wave of films that made the bikini a pop-culture symbol.
In Malta, bikinis took time to be introduced. In the 1960s, the police fended
off Bishop Michael Gonzi's request to ban bikini clad tourists following fear of
compromising Malta as a tourist destination. Malta Labour Party girls felt safe
putting on bikinis during beach parties but this was unacceptable by those
supporting the Nationalist Party.
On beaches and certain parks in Europe, the top part of the bikini is sometimes
Development of the bikini
Women often wear bikinis when tanning.
In recent years, the term monokini has come into use for topless bathing by
women: where the bikini has two parts, the monokini is the lower part. Where
monokinis are in use, the word bikini may jokingly refer to a two-piece outfit
consisting of a monokini and a sun hat. The term was coined by Rudi Gernreich.
The tankini is a swimsuit combining a tank top and a bikini bottom of the
traditional bikini that generally consists of the barest minimal fabric coverage
for the top and bottoms, both are reduced to triangles of cloth connected by
The lower part of the bikini was further reduced in size in the 1970s to the
Brazilian thong, where the back of the suit is so thin that it disappears into
Female athletes who play beach volleyball professionally usually wear
The sex appeal of the apparel prompted numerous film and television productions
as soon as public morals changed to accept it. They include the numerous surf
movies of the early 1960s and the television series, Baywatch. Iconic portrayals
of bikinis in movies include Ursula Andress as Bond girl Honey Ryder in Dr. No
(1962), 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 scenes were recently ranked 1, 86, and 84 in Channel 4 (UK)'s 100 Greatest
Sexy Moments (in film) respectively. In addition, a variant of the bikini
popular in fantasy literature is a bikini that is made up of metal to serve as
(admittedly rather impractical) armor, sometimes referred to as a "chain mail
bikini" or "brass bikini"; the character Red Sonja is a famous example. A term
for such usage, where sex appeal is more important than actual practicality, is
babes-at-arms (parodying "men-at-arms" for fully armoured soldiers).
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia wearing her metal bikini.
A woman in bikini with a thong bottom.
In science fiction, features the notable "" costume, that is worn by the
character Princess Leia when she is held captive at the film's beginning. This
particular "bikini" has since been elevated to pop culture icon status, spawning
various spoofs and parodies (most notably the episode of Friends, The One with
the Princess Leia Fantasy) and even a dedicated fansite, Leia's Metal Bikini.
In the Gang of Four (band) song "I Found That Essence Rare", the Bikini is
suggested to be "...dressed for the H-Bomb..."
* The song "I Found That Essence Rare" by Gang of Four includes the lyrics:
Aim for the body rare, you'll see it on TV
The worst thing in 1954 was the Bikini
See the girl on the TV dressed in a Bikini
She doesn't think so but she's dressed for the H-Bomb