The Fascinating History of the Bikini

Michelle Gabriel
4 Minutes Read

The first known depiction of the modern day bikini was found in 4th Century mosaics from Sicily.

As the poolside attire of choice by women worldwide, the bikini is a modern-day staple that society has not always accepted.

Worn by the numbers on beaches from Santa Monica to Ipenama, the garment’s origins date back to ancient times, reappearing in the mid-1900s to evolve into the short summertime pieces we see today.

The earliest bikini.

A 4th century Sicilian mosaic depicting girls wearing bikinis playing ball games and relaxing

The first known depiction of the modern-day bikini was found in 4th-century mosaics from Sicily.

Bikinis were worn in these times and shown in the art pieces as activewear worn during sports.

Paintings showing the clothing are also found from 1400 B.C. in Greece.

When did the bikini start gaining popularity?

The British Women's relay swimming team at the 1896 Stockholm Olympic Games

During the twentieth century, women’s swimwear underwent a significant change.

Its popularity was solidified at the Olympic Games in 1896 when women’s swimwear changed significantly due to material advancements and increasingly liberal fashion trends.

It caused quite a scandal.

Annette Marie Sarah Kellermann wearing a one-piece swin suit

Swimwear’s most notable early scandal and move toward the revealing garment we know today was in 1907.

Australian film actress Annette Kellerman was arrested in Boston for wearing a one-piece swimsuit on the beach.

The suit was form-fitting and had shorts that came above her knees, resulting in criminal charges and a scandal spread around the newspapers.

After this incident, the style became popular with many beachgoers worldwide.

The modest but daring bathing suit evolves.

A woman sitting on a boat wearing a bikini on the beach in the 1930's.

Moving into the 1930s, women began wearing two-piece bathing suits baring a sliver of their midriff.

These generally consisted of high waist bottoms, and it wasn’t until the 1940s that these high-rise pieces began to make their way down below the navel.

This was when today’s bikini began, defined by a separate swim top and bottom that shows the navel.

The modern-day bikini’s debut.

A person playing in the water wearing a bikini and shades.

It was in the summer of 1946 on the French Riviera that the modern-day bikini first debuted.

The claim to the invention was the fashion designer Jacques Heim and Louis Réard, a mechanical engineer.

Four days before Louis Réard debuted the modern-day bikini, the U.S. military performed nuclear strike tests at Bikini Atoll, inspiring Réard to name his new garment the ‘bikini’ with the intention that the look would explode as the nuclear strikes did.

On July 5th, 1946, the first bikini was seen at a poolside fashion event at the Piscine Molitor in Paris, France.

How wartime rationing leads to less modesty.

War ration papers.

The rationing that changed much of fashion during the 1940s war gave way to two-piece swimsuits, resulting in this now staple design.

The fabric was being rationed for the military, making it challenging to design clothing with the same modest coverage as before.

This was also a time of significant technological changes in fabric manufacturing.

Where swimwear was once made of natural fibers such as cotton and wool, by the time the bikini was, synthetic fabrics had been developed to dry quickly and be stretchier than their natural counterparts.

These elastic fabrics allowed the silhouette of swimwear to change and therefore be more revealing than those seen on the sandy shores of the past.

Backlash banned the bikini.

Two people standing behind a crown.

The garment experienced a backlash in the 1950s, with bikinis becoming banned from beauty pageants worldwide after the first Miss World contest was held in London.

Australia, Spain, Belgium, and Italy banned the garment, with the Vatican claiming bikinis as “sinful.”

Even after the garment’s popularity rose in France, Americans were not convinced about the ongoing skimpy trend.

They favored more conservative beachwear until they began seeing the look of Hollywood stars such as Rita Hayworth.

How celebrities brought the bikini back.

A person posing for the cameras.

Celebrities pushed the trend into the mainstream for much of the world.

The overall silhouette of the bikini has stayed consistent throughout the decades.

One of the most significant alterations was in the early 1960s, which introduced the string bikini, again hailing out of the French Riviera.

The look was most prominently spread after being seen on Brigitte Bardot while she wore the look on the beaches in Saint Tropez.

The 1960s were also the decade that saw the garment significantly impact the media.

Most notably in 1964, when the first bikini cover of Sports Illustrated was launched, a look that has now become a staple of the magazine’s brand.


After early controversies and decades of the iconic garment flooding the world’s coasts, the bikini has become a symbol of summertime and a beach day staple.

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About The Author

Michelle Gabriel
Michelle Gabriel

Michelle Gabriel is a freelance writer and blogger and currently loving it! Her primary focus and passion is traveling, which she does full time and continues to be her preferred topic when composing articles.

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