The swimsuit as we know it, specifically the bikini, had an explosive beginning. One-piece swimsuits reigned until the 1940s when the U.S. government ordered manufacturers to reduce the amount of fabric they used. The rationing of fabric resulted in the navel-exposing midriff.
The inspiration for the name “bikini” came from the Marshall Islands located on the Pacific Ocean just north of the equator.
The Marshall Islands are composed of 29 atolls and five islands, which include the Bikini Atoll. Bikini, because of its location away from regular air and sea routes, was chosen to be the nuclear proving ground for the United States government. On July 1, 1946, the U.S. military conducted nuclear tests on the remote atoll.
Four days later, French engineer Louis Réard designed a two-piece swimsuit he called the bikini, named after the nuclear test site. Réard had hoped the swimwear would be as explosive on the fashion scene as its name signified. However, none of the Parisian models would wear his design initially.
Although Réard credits himself as the inventor of the bikini and the exact origin of the two-piece swimsuit is largely unknown, the bikini can be dated back to 1400 B.C.E, when it had been worn by Greek gymnasts.
The first woman to ever wear the bikini was Micheline Bernardini on July 11, 1946, in Paris. Bernardini was a nude dancer who wore the two-piece swimsuit for the press. By 1951, bikinis were banned from beauty pageants and were declared sinful by the Vatican.
Lycra, the textile company, helped make the swimsuit more form-fitting in 1958 and by the late 1960s, famous actresses Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, and Raquel Welch were making a splash in the bikini on the big screen and off.
The James Bond movie Dr. No ushered in a new wave of the two-piece, skin-bearing swimsuit. Swiss actress Ursula Andress, who played Honey Rider in the film, emerged from the crystal clear coastal Caribbean waters wearing a cutting edge bikini design. Four decades later, Halle Berry recreated the iconic bikini design as Jinx in Die Another Day.
The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue began in the winter of 1964 as a filler for a lull in sporting events. Then-editor Andre Laguerre needed to fill space and solicited the help of fashion reporter Jule Campbell who came up with the idea for a swimsuit issue. Campbell found also cover model, Babette March. Fifty years later, the coveted swimsuit issue is a major event – from selecting the cover model to the swimsuit designers and models.
According to Statistics Brain, the average American woman owned four swimsuits in 2012. Global Industry Analysts projected that the estimated revenue for worldwide swimsuit sales this year will be $17.6 billion.