On July 5, 1946, French designer Louis Réard unveils a

daring two-piece swimsuit at the Piscine Molitor, a popular

swimming pool in Paris. Parisian showgirl Micheline Bernardini

modeled the new fashion, which Réard dubbed “bikini,” inspired

by a news-making U.S. atomic test that took place off the

Bikini Atoll

in the Pacific Ocean earlier that week.

European women first began wearing two-piece bathing suits that

consisted of a halter top and shorts in the 1930s, but only a

sliver of the midriff was revealed and the navel was vigilantly

covered. In the United States, the modest two-piece made its

appearance during World War II, when wartime rationing of fabric

saw the removal of the skirt panel and other superfluous

material. Meanwhile, in Europe, fortified coastlines and Allied

invasions curtailed beach life during the war, and


development, like everything else non-military, came to a


In 1946, Western Europeans joyously greeted the first war-

free summer in years, and French designers came up with fashions

to match the liberated mood of the people. Two French designers,

Jacques Heim and Louis Réard, developed competing prototypes of

the bikini. Heim called his the “atom” and advertised it as “

the world’s smallest

Bathing Suit

.” Réard's swimsuit, which was basically a bra top

and two inverted triangles of cloth connected by string, was in

fact significantly smaller. Made out of a scant 30 inches of

fabric, Réard promoted his creation as “smaller than the world

’s smallest bathing suit.” Réard called his creation the

bikini, named after the Bikini Atoll.

In planning the debut of his new swimsuit, Réard had trouble

finding a professional model who would deign to wear the

scandalously skimpy two-piece. So he turned to Micheline

Bernardini, an exotic dancer at the Casino de Paris, who had no

qualms about appearing nearly nude in public. As an allusion to

the headlines that he knew his swimsuit would generate, he

printed newspaper type across the suit that Bernardini modeled

on July 5 at the Piscine Molitor. The


was a hit, especially among men, and Bernardini

received some 50,000 fan letters.

Before long, bold young women in bikinis were causing a

sensation along the Mediterranean coast. Spain and Italy passed

measures prohibiting bikinis on public beaches but later

capitulated to the changing times when the swimsuit grew into a

mainstay of European beaches in the 1950s. Réard's business

soared, and in advertisements, he kept the bikini mystique alive

by declaring that a two-piece suit wasn’t a genuine bikini

“unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring.”

In prudish America, the bikini was successfully resisted

until the early 1960s, when a new emphasis on youthful

liberation brought the

Beach Swimsuit
en masse to U.S. beaches. It was

immortalized by the pop singer Brian Hyland, who sang “Itsy

Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini” in 1960, by the

teenage “beach blanket” movies of Annette Funicello and

Frankie Avalon, and by the California surfing culture celebrated

by rock groups like the Beach Boys. Since then, the popularity

of the bikini has only continued to grow.

The garments we wear when swimming in pools, the ocean, or other

bodies of water are commonly known as “bathing suits”, but

why? Where did this name originate? The simple answer to that

question is that Beach Bathing Suits are named

for the English spa city Bath.

What is the difference between a “bathing suit” and

“swimwear”, or “swimsuit”?

These terms are used interchangeably in Styling by the Sea but

may be differentiated when encountered in other in places.

Swimsuit – an item of clothing designed to be worn by people

engaging in a water-based activity such as swimming, diving, and

surfing, or sun-orientated activities, such as sunbathing. Some

users associate the term exclusively with a woman’s bathing

suit and usually only refers to a woman’s bathing suit.

Bathing suit – most general term, gender-neutral, applies to

anything someone might wear while swimming.


also gender-neutral, but often used in department stores or in

the context of distinguishing among other types of clothing

lines (sportswear, formal wear, et

Swimming trunks – refers to men’s bathing suits only, it’s

understood, but sounds a bit outdated.