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My French Life: Happy Birthday to Le Bikini!


Itsy Bitsy Roman bikini girls CC Wikimedia Commons

The iconic fashion garb known as the bikini was invented by a French engineer in 1946.

Or so it is said…

Actually there is more to the history of the bikini than meets the eye.  There are Roman and Greek illustrations on urns and mosaics of women wearing a two-piece outfit that looks remarkably like a bikini – like that at the Villa Romana del Casale circa 4th Century AD in Sicily. That aside, the bikini as we know and love it today, made its debut in July 1946 at a fashion show held at the Piscine Molitor in Paris.

On July 5, 1946, a French engineer called Louis Réard unveiled an outfit “smaller than the world’s smallest swimsuit” and able to fit into a match box. It was named after the nuclear tests conducted by the US military at Bikini Atoll – Réard intended that his sexy creation would be just as explosive as the test and it certainly did create quite an outburst in newspapers around the world when it was first revealed.

Models of the day were reluctant to wear the outfit – it was too daring and showed too much flesh and would almost certainly guarantee bad publicity, none of them wanted the scandal that would surely ensue.  How different from today’s headline grabbing models who would probably cause a groove in the pavement beating a path to Réard’s door!

Although Swimming costumes had become more daring in the 1940s as less fabric was used thanks to wartime scarcity of materials, the bikini seemed a big step up from the bare midriff get-ups that had started to become better known.

In the end, Réard clothed a 19 year old stripper, Micheline Bernardini, in his tiny bikini and she paraded it at the fashion show holding the box that it fit into. Ms Bernadini received 50,000 fan letters after the show. Controversy followed, the outfit was banned from beauty pageants and from the beaches in several countries and the Vatican issued a declaration that the bikini was “sinful”.

The bikini had its fans though and a young and beautiful Brigitte Bardot was one of them.  When she appeared in a bikini it was said that Bardot did more for France’s international trade balance than the entire French car industry. How many men fell head over heels for Ursula Andress in her role as Honey Rider in the bond film Dr No. in 1962 pouting memorably in her home made bikini!

Many decades on, the flimsy two piece is a fashion staple – bon anniversaire le bikini!

A bientôt


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