The history of the bikini can be traced back to antiquity. Illustrations of Roman women wearing bikini-like garments during competitive athletic events have been found in several locations. The most famous of them is Villa Romana del Casale. French engineer Louis Réard introduced the modern bikini, modeled by Micheline Bernardini, on July 5, 1946, borrowing the name for his design from the Bikini Atoll, where post-war testing on the atomic bomb was happening.
French women welcomed the design but the Catholic Church, some media, and a majority of the public initially thought the design was risqué or even scandalous. Contestants in the first Miss World beauty pageant wore them in 1951, but the bikini was then banned from the competition. Actress Bridget Bardot drew attention when she was photographed wearing a bikini on the beach during the Cannes Film Festival in 1953. Other actresses, including Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner, also gathered press attention when they wore bikinis. During the early 1960s, the design appeared on the cover of Playboy and Sports Illustrated, giving it additional legitimacy. Ursula Andress made a huge impact when she emerged from the surf wearing what is now an iconic bikini in the James Bond movie Dr. No (1962). The deer skin bikini Raquel Welch wore in the film One Million Years B.C. (1966) turned her into an international sex symbol and was described as a definitive look of the 1960s.
The bikini gradually grew to gain wide acceptance in Western society. According to French fashion historian Olivier Saillard, the bikini is perhaps the most popular type of female beachwear around the globe because of “the power of women, and not the power of fashion”. As he explains, “The emancipation of swimwear has always been linked to the emancipation of women.” By the early 2000s, bikinis had become a US$811 million business annually, and boosted spin-off services like bikini waxing and the sun tanning.
Image credit; Women wearing a Bikini in 1973
Further Reading; Zandra Rhodes, (2011) Vintage Fashion: Collecting and wearing Designer Classics, Seven Oaks