July 5, 2012

Classic Summer Fashion with Bikini

On July 5, 1946, less than a week after the United States detonated an atomic bomb above tiny Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific, a Frenchman named Louis Réard — an automobile engineer moonlighting as a fashion designer — introduced to the sunbathing public the world’s smallest swimsuit. Réard called his creation the bikini, a name inspired, he later said, by the sight of women rolling up their bathing suits in order to acquire a more complete tan.

Two-piece swimsuits had been around for decades before Réard came along. In fact, the concept was even far older than that; Greek urns and mosaics created more than 3,000 years ago depict women athletes wearing two-piece outfits. But Réard’s genius was to devise a garment, out of as little fabric as possible, that one could still legally wear in public. (He marketed his new fashion brilliantly, as well — pronouncing, for example, that a bathing suit wasn’t a true bikini unless both pieces could be pulled through a wedding ring.)

Here, on the bikini’s birthday, LIFE.com offers a celebration in pictures of a summer staple that, through the years, has enjoyed — and endured — a dizzying array of permutations while always remaining, unmistakably, itself.

Some of the early photos in this gallery depict two-piece bathing suits that might, at first glance, look like bona fide bikinis. A closer look, however, reveals that while these are, clearly, two-piece suits, there’s far too much material invested in the garments for them to legitimately earn the moniker. After all — one can hardly claim to be wearing a genuine bikini if, say, one’s bellybutton is entirely covered by a swath of nylon, no matter how elegant or tasteful that swath might be.

Santa Monica, California, 1940

Sun tan with creative "tattoos," 1941

Actress Donna Drake playfully takes aim with a rifle on the balcony of her Los Angeles home, 1942

Rita Hayworth at home in Los Angeles, 1945

Florida, 1945

Sunbathing in France, 1945

Actress Linda Christian, the first "Bond Girl," in 1945

Sunbathing in France, 1945

French actress Barbara Lange in a makeshift two-piece bathing suit she cut from one yard of cloth, 1945

Beauty pageant winner Jackie Lee Barnes poses poolside in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1949

Model in a bikini, 1950

Model in a bikini, 1950

French fashion model Christiane Richard wears a bikini while drinking her morning coffee, 1950

Model Lynn Jones, 1955

Jayne Mansfield poses with hot-water bottle likenesses floating around her, 1957

Skin diving in Israel, 1960

Model June Pickney, 1960

Sunbathing, 1961

Jayne Mansfield with husband Mickey Hargitay, 1961

Actress Philomene Toulouse, cradling a pet fox, vies for attention at the Cannes film festival, 1962

Cannes, France, 1962

Atlantic City, New Jersey, 1964

Hungarian model, 1965

Model Naty Abascal shows off designs on her chest and stomach, Bahamas, 1968

Near Malibu, California, 1970

Southern California, 1970


Browse by Decades

Popular Posts