The bikini:the most popular beachwear around the globe by Amy Desj L’Heureux

The bikiniSummer time is here! Time to hit the beach in your favorite swimsuit. For those digging through that suit drawer trying to find two matching pieces, have you ever taken a second to think about how swimsuits went from those iconic knee length frocks to the little eye patch of material you hold dangling in your hand right now?

 

The French had a very large hand in designing bikinis the way that we know them now, but you’ll be surprised to know that their designs are actually a minor evolution from pre-Roman times in Italy. These were first found on floor mosaics in Romana del Casale, Sicily dating back to the Diocletian period in 286-305 A.D. In these mosaics women are wearing leather bottoms and bandeau tops that are strikingly similar to the suits worn on the beaches today. However, during the Diocletian period, the styles were not used for sunbathing or beaches but were rather by women (and some men) during sporting events. It was noted during these Greco Roman times that women would wrap their tops around themselves a number of times to suppress their breasts, and sewed any surplus fabric together to hide love letters and other things of a secretive nature. In fact, a number of statues have been found in Pompeii portraying the goddess Venus in a bikini tightening its straps.

 

Despite the initial shock of seeing women’s arms exposed, the sleeveless one-piece that covered the rest of a woman’s body down to her toes became the social norm on beaches around 1910 only to be rapidly overshadowed by the first functional two-piece swim suit designed by Carl Jantzen for the debut of women’s swimming event in the 1912 Olympics.

 

During the 1930s women shifted from swimming to sun worshipping and thus, necessity became the mother of inventioncswim suits began shrinking and straps were created that could easily be slipped down or removed for prime tanning opportunities. During the 1930s- 40s Coco Chanel helped bolster sun tanning as fashionable, forcing Hollywood to accept the fact that women could be as scantily clad on beaches as on the big screen.

 

Riding the Hollywood wave, French designer Jacques Heim, owner of a beach shop in Cannes, designed the first minimalist bikini named the 'Atome', a play on the word representing the smallest element of matter. In competition with Heim, another Frenchman, Louis Réard, who was actually a mechanical engineer for Renault, took over his mother’s lingerie shop and designed a bathing suit that, for the first time, exposed the naval.

 

Despite Hollywood utilizing the French-styled bikini to boost box office sales, many beaches still banned the bikini in America due to morality issues. This, however, was not sustainable once women began to feel more empowered, along with the rise of WWII rationing in America, and bikinis began to shrink even more.

 

Nowadays the bikini is the most popular type of bathing suit on the market, and has been developed into multiple styles: the tankini, monokini, string bikini, etc. French designers and their influence created a bikini-clad oasis in Saint-Tropez which is now known as the bikini capital of the world.