Style throwback: The story behind the bikini

History of the Bikini

Before you dismiss the bikini as just another piece of clothing in your wardrobe, take a moment to consider its history. After all, it may be the only piece you own with a style that hasn't changed over the years.

The first official bathing suit appeared in the late 1800s consisting of padded bloomer pants made from wool or flannel, topped off with a knee-length dress. The fabric made it impossible for swimming. It wasn't until French model Micheline Bernardini wore a bikini poolside during a Paris fashion show in 1946 and received 50,000 fan letters that the bathing suit gained more fame. In the same year, the bikini was officially named after the islands in the Bikini Atoll, a part of the North Pacific's Marshall Islands, where the U.S. tested over 20 atomic bombs. Its first designers, Frenchmen named Louis Réard and Jacques Heim, named it the bikini because it was said to cause an explosive reaction.

Style Throwback: Bikini
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Style throwback: The story behind the bikini
American actress June Haver wears a printed, high-waist bikini in 1950. 
Marilyn Monroe lounges in a high-waisted bikini, a popular 1950s style that's starting to make it's way back into fashion. 
Actress Debbie Reynolds models a pair of mid-rise briefs in 1960. 
Girls on vacation lounge by the pool in neon high-waisted bikinis, 1965. Aside from the hairstyles, doesn't look too much different than an image you might see today! 
A good floral print never goes out of style. 
Actress Stella Stevens wears a bold, graphic print bikini. 
British actress Jill Ireland models an itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini in 1960.
Actress Vera Miles wears a metallic style in 1960. 
Actress Shelley Fabares wears a yellow bikini on the beach in 1965. 
German actress Elke Sommer plays in the surf wearing a much more racy style in 1965. 
A swimwear model tries on a white bikini in 1971. We love the lingerie inspired look! 
Priscilla Presley models a denim bikini during a photo shoot at her home in the 1970s. 
The best part of a bandeau style is no tan lines! Here it is in the 1970s. 
Actress Raquel Welch models a more revealing style in 1968. 
In 1955, ruffles were all the rage. 
The cast of Saved By the Bell hangs out by the beach in some seriously high-cut swimwear in 1992. 
The new 'Bikini' swimming costume (in a newsprint-patterned fabric), which caused a sensation at a beauty contest at the Molitor swimming pool in Paris. Designer Louis Reard was unable to find a 'respectable' model for his costume and the job of displaying it went to 19-year-old Micheline Bernardini, a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris. She is holding a small box into which the entire costume can be packed. Celebrated as the first bikini, Reard's design came a few months after a similar two-piece design was produced by French designer Jacques Heim.
Marie Chantal Miller, future wife of Prince Pavlos of Greece, wears a color-blocked style in 1992. 
The members of Destiny's Child pair their swimwear with denim in 2000. 
Victoria's Secret Angel Candice Swanepoel in 2012. 
Gwen Stefani rocks a striped bikini top in 1989. 
Kim Kardashian, the queen of bikini bodies, pairs a sarong with her black and white two-piece and oversize shades in 2012. 

The two-piece style started appearing on American beaches shortly after, and was made even more popular by Hollywood screen sirens like Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Brigitte Bardot, and Lana Turner. The women of America took note – after all, how great does Marilyn Monroe look in that photo?

While a high-waisted style remained popular throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s, the bikini brief became lower and narrower as time went on. By the 1970s, girls were experimenting with various styles we're familiar with today – from the low-rise hipster to string bikinis! This summer, we're anticipating a return to the high-waisted styles of the past. Fashion really does come full circle!

Click through the gallery to see some of our favorite vintage bikini photos – from movie stars to stylish women of the past.

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