Where Did the Bikini Come From?

by Lex Ansley

By today’s standards, the bikini is the most recognizable part of summer swimwear. Oddly enough, the modern bikini has a history spanning just under 70 years. From its designer reveal in the 40’s to the modern styles of today, the bikini has evolved and taken swimwear by storm.


The Modern Bikini’s Birth

The bikini was first designed and publicly sold in France by designers Jacques Heim and Louis Reard in 1946. Heim was a swimsuit designer who had created a two-piece swimsuit to sell in his beach shop in Cannes. He marketed the swimsuit as the “Atome,” (named for its small size after the smallest particle, the atom).


Reard's first two-piece swimsuit, which he called "the Bikini", modeled by Parisian nude dancer Michelina Barbarini, in 1946


During the same time, Louis Reard was creating his own two-piece swimsuit. According to, Reard named his swimsuit the “Bikini” after the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, off the coast of which the U.S. tested atomic explosives earlier in that week, saying that it was “smaller than the smallest bathing suit in the world.” In fact, CNN reports that Reard believed a two-piece swimsuit wasn’t a proper bikini unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring. When he launched his history-making design, which was only roughly thirty inches of fabric, his model, Parisian nude dancer Micheline Bernardini (above), held a matchbox – Reard’s hint that his swimsuit was small enough to fit in it. Reard’s name “bikini” soon overtook Heim’s “Atome” as the most popular name for the two-piece swimsuit.


Bikinis in the U.S.

American versions of the bikini in the 1940’s and 1950’s were extremely modest. The bottom was designed to reach above the navel and the top covered the entire bust.


The first American bikinis, made in the 50's, were very modest, covering as much skin as it could for its design.


In the 1960’s, coinciding with female empowerment movements and the growing beach culture through music (including bands like The Beach Boys), the bikini was revamped to be more revealing. The string bikini made its first appearance in the 1970’s exposing the stomach and sitting seductively at the hips. Similarly, the top was styled to mimic a bra.


Less is Now More

In the 1980’s, the bikini took an extreme turn with the introduction of the “thong” bottom, inspired by tribal groups in the Amazon.

In the 1990’s and 2000’s, the thong bikini and string bikini only grew in popularity. Modern designs are now more intricate and feature cutouts along with eye-catching prints.


Kayokoko Swimwear premieres its captured balconet bikini.



In a short span of over 60 years, the bikini has managed to shake up the world of swimwear and cement itself as a woman’s summer essential. There’s no telling what the future of the bikini holds, but it currently promises to continue pushing fashion boundaries.


Image Sources
1950’s bikini:
Reard’s bikini
2014 cutout bikini: Kayokoko Swimwear


Additional Research Sources



Alexis AnsleyAbout the Author:
Alexis Ansley is a Central Florida fashion blogger, fashion consultant and co-founder of Lex&Pooch Styling Co. An avid enthusiast for all things vintage, Alexis has made a name for herself by uniquely combining vintage and contemporary styles within her personal fashion choices and while styling clients. Alexis is a member of the Independent Fashion Bloggers (IFB) community and work towards bringing fresh and unique fashions to the forefront of all her style ventures.



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