Saturday, 12 January 2013

Sepia Saturday 159; Itsy bitsy...

History of the bikini;
The "Bikini girls" mosaic showing women exercising, first quarter of the 4th century AD. Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily

Predecessors of the bikini date to antiquity, in Çatalhöyük and the Greco-Roman world, Art dating from the Diocletian period (286–305 AD) in Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily depicts women in garments resembling bikinis in mosaics on the floor. The images of ten women, dubbed the "Bikini Girls", exercising in clothing that would pass as bikinis today are the most replicated mosaic among the 37 million colored tiles at the site.

Micheline Bernardini modeling the first modern bikini
The groundwork for the modern bikini began to be laid in 1907, when Australian swimmer and performer Annette Kellerman was arrested on a Boston beach for wearing a form-fitting one-piece swimsuit, which became an accepted beach attire for women by 1910. In 1913, inspired by the introduction of women into Olympic swimming, 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.
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".

 With new materials like latex and nylon, by 1934 the swimsuit started hugging the body and had shoulder straps to lower for tanning.
Finally, the modern bikini was introduced by French engineer Louis Réard and 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 Bergères in Paris. 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 the bathing suit, known as the "Atome," as the world's "smallest bathing suit". Réard named his swimsuit the "bikini". 

 Brigitte Bardot is recognized for popularizing bikini swimwear in early films.
Bikinis gradually became briefer and lower with narrower sides in the 1970s, and by the late 70s/early 80s very low hipster bottoms with string sides and ties became the fashion. By the 1990s however, fashions changed and high-cut bottoms and bandeau tops were in vogue. Bikinis went brief again in the early 2000s as they followed the trend for everything hipster. Despite the high popularity of skimpy thongs and g-strings as underwear from 1998-2006, thong bikinis never made it into high street fashion. Low rise bikinis with string and tie-sides are currently fairly standard, reminiscent of late-70's designs but not so low cut.

Brian Hyland - Itsy bitsy teenie weenie Yellow polka dot bikini

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.
 Afghan Miss Earth 2003 contestant Vida Samadzai (born in Afghanistan, raised in USA and living in India was severely condemned by the both the Afghan authority and community.
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". 
Bikini related wardrobe malfunctions including wedgies, whale tails or bikini tops falling off have also stirred controversies.
 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. Buddhists were upset again when organizers of Miss Universe 2005 shot photographs of contestants in bikini in front of Buddhist religious sites.

Now, come to the beach, Burleigh Queensland,

... first visit Sepia Saturday 159;


  1. This is very interesting. Who knew the bikini had been around for so long? Love the addition of the yellow polka dot bikini song.

  2. Thanks for telling us the history of what centuries later is known as the bikini. I thought also the Bikini Atoll played a role there.
    It is just too bad that some people get so fanatic about subjects such as this.

  3. In the whole history of the swimsuit, Jantzen is a name I recognize. When I was a kid, that was THE swimsuit to buy, but usually they were too expensive for us. (Isn't it funny that people still know and can sing the yellow polka dot bikini song??)

  4. I am not going to get that tune out of my head for the rest of the day. I always thought the bikini was a 'modern' invention named after the Bikini Atoll. I never knew the principle was so old. Fascinating.

  5. Wow! That is a very comprehensive history of skimpy swimwear. Very interesting about the religious uproars that this sort of swimsuit has caused. I loved the video too, thanks!

    Kathy M.

  6. I must admit that I never knew that the first bikini was so - well - brief! No wonder it caused a stir.

  7. That last picture of the beach is very inviting! This song was popular when I was a little girl (so was the one about the purple people eater) and I learned all the words. I'll have it singing in my head the rest of the day! :)

  8. A thoroughly enjoyable post (I say this from the point of view of a serious cultural historian rather than someone who enjoys looking at photographs of woman in bikinis).

  9. A novel take on the theme and very informative.

  10. What a stunning view of the last photo, take me there! I sure think that modern bikini was something else! Skin- all that skin exposed, compared to all those, only six inches from the knee bareness of the old-old days and beach style! Great post, thank you.

  11. Wow! So those ones on SURVIVOR who wear bikinis for the sports challenges are really on to something. Who knew?

    Looking at that second photo, I guess I shouldn't worry so much about saddlebags.