The 1930s and 1940s were a time of utility and fashion at the same time. Suits were often less-fussy, but with a cute twist. Performance fabrics were just coming onto the market, so most suits were fairly low-tech and often had extra fabric when compared with similarly cut suits of later years.
During the 1930s, men without shirts at the beach, just in swimming trunks, was beginning to be the norm. High-waisted shorts were the trend for ben and boys into the 1950s.
The original two-piece suit was designed by Louis Réard in 1946. As we see below, it is quite a bit skimpier than the suits that would directly follow it. The shock value that Réard was looking for could only come from a tiny suit. It is said that it could not be a true bikini unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring. For added market appeal, he named the suit after the Bikini Atoll nuclear testing site, cashing in on the atomic trend that was taking the world by storm. We can see from this photo of the reveal in 1946 in Paris that the original is more what we would think of as a string bikini, a concept which would rock the world again thirty years later.
Modest versions of this tiny new suit were worn in the following years, but with a much more generous cut. Some have credited Brigette Bardot for popularizing the bikini in Europe with her 1952 film The Girl in the Bikini while others have claimed Annette Funicello helped to make the bikini appear wholesome enough to be worn by the All-American girl next door. Still, there are many who credit the Swinging Sixties with the permissive attitudes that made a bikini appear acceptable beachwear.
Lycra, spandex, and other high-tech fabrics made less-bulky swimwear possible and changed what kind of designs could be fashioned for beachwear.
Though it has been at the center of many controversies, the bikini isn’t going anywhere. What a long way we’ve come from the days of wool dresses and suits worn with stockings! And for the men, while suits have gone up and down in size, there’s certainly no going back to the one-piece jumper style suit. Be sure to check out 100 years of high heels here!