The History of the Bikini - The World's Skimpiest Invention
About two hundred years ago, women pranced around on beaches wearing flannel dresses and three-quarter length trousers. In that period in history when showing one's knees was considered scandalous, it might have come as a shock to these women that their descendants would be sporting the skimpiest invention of all - the bikini.
History's first modern swimsuits were inventions that covered as much as regular clothing. In early Victorian times, they were typically made from flannel or wool and consisted of a jacket-like top and three-quarter-length pants. As societal attitudes towards "being proper" changed, increasingly smaller swimsuits were invented, revealing ankles, elbows and shoulders.
By the 1930s, women's swimsuits in Europe took the form of a halter top and shorts. However, it wasn't as racy as it sounds - the navel was still covered and only a tiny portion of skin showed between the two parts. It took a bit longer for the style to reach North America. In World War II, fabric rationing saw the removal of all unnecessary fabric. In fact, it was the uplifted mood at the end of the war that inspired the invention of the bikini.
Two different versions of the bikini were invented by Jacques Heim and Louis Reard, both from France. Heim said that his invention was "the world's smallest bathing suit." However, Reard's version used only 30 inches of fabric and was much smaller than the alleged world's smallest bathing suit. Reard's invention was named after the Bikini Atoll, the site of a nuclear test in July of 1946, one week before history's skimpiest bathing suit was introduced to the world.
The first bikini that its inventor introduced was printed with type similar to that found in a newspaper, almost foreshadowing the publicity it would receive. Reard's invention was, naturally, a big hit. Soon after its invention, the bikini was making waves among beachgoers all across Europe. It took a bit longer to catch on in the United States, not really gaining popularity until the '60s. The bikini is now a common sight on beaches around the world, leaving the full-length wool suits of our great-grandmothers to the history books.
Here's a cute video on how the one piece became a two piece.