The bikini made its official debut in the summer of 1946, just a few days after the US Military conducted nuclear tests and exploded the H-bomb on the Bikini Atoll, a string of islands in the Pacific.
Two French designers, Jacques Heim and Louis Reard, developed competing prototypes of new two-piece swimsuits. Heim called his The Atom and advertised it as “the world’s smallest bathing suit”.
Reard, still lacking a name for his new suit, capitalised on the exotic local and newsworthy event of the H-bomb test and named his version The Bikini.
The slinky suit was deemed so indecent that French models refused to wear it for the runway. Reard found a willing model in Micheline Bernardini, a nude dancer at the Casino de Paris.
Her scantily-clad photos made her an immediate sex symbol and forever declared the bikini the symbol of sex.
Europe was the first to embrace the bikini, and the French blonde bombshell Brigitte Bardot immortalised the suit in the movie Girl in the Bikini (1952). America, however, wasn’t ready to reveal, and the movie was censored in the US.
Censors also made it their duty to prohibit the suit from the country’s beaches and guards measured the girls in their bathing suits to make sure that they didn’t reveal too much.
As morals loosened in the 60s, the bullet-bra and hipster brief bikini made a big splash.
Singer Brian Hyland immortalised the suit with his song Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, and fresh-faced Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello starred in a series of beach movies that featured bikini-clad girls dancing on the beach.
Raquel Welch enflamed the primal urges in her prehistoric fur bikini in One Million Years B.C. (1966), and Jane Fonda’s Barbarella (1967) was outta this world as a futuristic bikini babe.
The 70s got even teenier with the string bikini, and the tiny top made a turn on the disco floor when paired with designer jeans or slinky satin shorts. The bikini made its nighttime debut, and there was no stopping it.