Style throwback: The story behind the bikini

History of 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.

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.