12 Great Ways Bikinis Have Evolved Over The Years

Ah, the bikini. What a wonderful invention. It basically made wearing lingerie outside of the bedroom socially acceptable. Once January hits every year, stores start selling two-pieces, women start dieting, and men start their anticipation of a long, hot summer. Looking at clothing racks, it seems that bikinis are the only sort of swimsuit sold. It’s hard to imagine, but this wasn’t true 50 years ago. Even in the 1980s, bikinis only accounted for 20 percent of swimsuit sales. The rise of the bikini is a compelling story. Fueled by sensuality, greed and changing cultural norms, the bikini made its way from a one-hit wonder to a worldwide sensation. It challenged fashion design principles and moral principles. And the debate rages today, from body shaming on the Internet to the end of an era now that Victoria’s Secret announced it would no longer be delivering its mail order catalog, which was famous for kicking off summer with its swimsuit issue.

The bikini has undergone many changes and revisions, and still has more to go. With fashion evolving and tastes changing, the bikini has mirrored societal norms. Starting in the 1900s, swimsuits were functional. By mid-century, they were breaking barriers. And today, they are still waging war between the body-blessed and the body-shamers. In many ways, bikinis are at their apex right now, thanks to the more-is-more, instant-gratification, social media-loving society that is 2016. Read on to see how the bikini has evolved from its humble beginnings to being a global swimwear staple. You’ll never look at a two-piece the same way again!

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12 The 1930s

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Carl Janzen introduced a female swimsuit in 1913 that was comprised of two-pieces. It was essentially a T-shirt and shorts, and was designed to be aqua-dynamic for female swimmers. It didn’t catch on as a fashion statement. In the 1930s and 1940s, design houses were encouraged to manufacture swimsuits that showed a sliver of skin in the mid-section in order to conserve material. That’s when the bikini was really born. The World War II era even saw a shortening of the hemline at that time. Other styles included bathing suits that were backless, and ones that had the sides cut out. Yes, Grandma showed some skin in her day! Joan Crawford and Jean Arthur were two larger than life stars that donned the scandalous swimsuits which helped them become popular with fans.

11 The 1940s

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In the late 1940s, the bikini as we know it was introduced by a French engineer named Louis Reard. He boasted that it only took 30 inches of fabric to make. The inventor called it the Bikini Atoll, which was a nod to the site where atomic bombing took place. Reard had hoped the two-piece bathing suit would make a similar impact – and it did! It was advertised as the world’s smallest bathing suit. The suit was so tiny that Reard had difficulty finding women who were willing to model it. As luck would have it, his creation was a success. The bikini gained mass popularity in the Mediterranean.

10 The 1950s

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By the 1950s, the bikini really started to gain a following. It became so popular that beaches along the Mediterranean and throughout Europe started to ban it; and of course, the Catholic church followed suit. French actress Brigitte Bardot was photographed wearing a bikini during the Cannes Film Festival, and that’s when the bikini when global. Bardot is widely credited with having popularized the bikini. The one she wore is remarkably similar to what women wear today. It exposed her entire midriff, and was strapless. The top showed off her ample chest, and she posed provocatively for cameras on the beach and in the water. Once Bardot made the bikini a Hollywood staple, stars like Marilyn Monroe were photographed wearing bikinis poolside.

9 The 1960s

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Bikinis really started to gain momentum in the swinging 60s. Bond Girl Ursula Andress was filmed wearing a bikini in Dr. No, and caused quite a stir. This was right after the release of the hit song, “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” It’s safe to say that at this point, bikinis were here to stay. Playboy even featured its first model wearing a bikini on the cover in the 50s. But due to this fact, there was a backlash against bikinis. People who were in favor of a more wholesome look wanted bikinis to be toned down. Thus, the advent of the bikini covering the navel was born. Annette Funicello brought the bikini to mainstream society with her beach movies, but her bikinis were more like grandma-panties and always covered her belly button and her tops were never very low-cut.

8 The 1960s …continued

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7 The 1970s

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By the 1970s, bikinis were here to stay. The style was more down to Earth and less glamorous. Still, bikinis weren’t for the faint of heart. The triangle-top bikinis and string bikinis were en vogue, and required only the slimmest of figures. In fact, models in the 70s had to be bodacious to wear the bikini, because implants and airbrushing weren’t widespread. Many of the photos from the 70s are jaw-dropping. It’s not until that era that people were able to ogle what a real woman looked like in swimwear. Breasts were freely out and naturally tear-dropped, hips were curvy, and bottoms were meaty.

6 The 1980s

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A couple things propelled the bikini as a cultural mainstay in the 1980s. The first was Carrie Fisher wearing a bikini as daywear in Return of the Jedi. Men are still fantasizing about the gold bikini today. She made it a symbol of femininity in one fell swoop. Without that move, Madonna would never have debuted the coned “Madonna bra” in the music video for “Vogue” and volleyball players would never wear the bikini as a uniform. The second thing that happened in the 1980s was the versatility of the bikini. All sorts of bikinis were being designed and mass marketed in the 80s, including ones with fringe, geometric patterns, and asymmetrical tops.

5 The 1980s …continued


Another big contribution the 1980s gave to bikinis was the popularization of the G-string. What was once a trend that was native to Brazil, had now made its way up north. By this time, women were baring all when they wore bikinis. Not only did they wear bikinis that showed off a lot of cleavage, they were wearing bottoms that showed off their bottoms – and then some! G-string bikini bottoms revealed butt cheeks and they were cut high so as to show off pelvic bones in the front.

4 The 1990s


After the height of barely-there bikinis in the 1980s with G-strings, bikinis in the 1990s cooled off a little. Part of this was due to the fact that fashion tends to yo-yo – what’s out becomes in, and so forth. Another thing that is credited with the popularity of more toned down bikinis is the success of Baywatch and how its actresses wore one pieces. The 1990s saw the dawn of the boy shorts accompanying bikini tops. Suddenly, bikinis weren’t so risqué after all. It was a time when ordinary girls could feel comfortable in bikinis. Or at least they could in terms of the bottom half. That is because by the late 1990s, it was becoming more acceptable to go topless on the beach. What had been the norm in Europe and Latin America was finally making its way stateside. Women, surprisingly, were big proponents of going topless. Sure it was due to decades of women’s liberation – but it also had to do with the simple fact that women were tired of wearing constricting tops.

3 The 2000s


By the new millennium, the public saw the advent of a new kind of celebrity: the reality star. Seeking to make names for themselves, celebutantes like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian kept having to up the ante in order to make headlines. Hilton redefined the bathing suit by sporting the “mono-kini” – a marriage between a one-piece and a two piece. Kim Kardashian became insta-famous by making gadunka-dunk a household word. With her big booty and surging breasts, she made the point that a woman’s body should outshine the bathing suit. Of course, the bikini also saw revision for the everyday woman. By the turn of the century, manufacturers were making bikinis that included shape-wear to hide the average woman’s flaws.

2 Today

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So what’s left for the bikini? Leave it to Sports Illustrated to have the last word. In the last several years, the publication has set the bar for what’s in and what’s out. It drew record readership in 2012 when it featured a relatively unknown Kate Upton in a bikini that was little more than thread. But the following year it featured a more covered up Upton in a white puffer jacket with only bikini bottoms visible. That year would prove to be pivotal as it marked the year when Sports Illustrated drew a line in the sand and started to shoot covers that were more representative of the modern woman. In 2016, the magazine did something unprecedented: it featured not one but three different shots for the cover – all of which had plus-sized models. So what does this mean for the future of bikinis? Some people are excited that curvy-girls finally have their day in the sun, and are hungry for more. Others look back to the old days of Sports Illustrated, from 2015’s provocative cover showing a model pulling down her bottoms to Cheryl Tiegs’ hot 1970s covers that were wet and wild, and yearn for the time when bikinis sizzled and weren’t trying to make a politically correct statement.

1 The Future

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History is doomed to repeat itself. What’s happening today in the world of bikinis is what was happening in the 1990s, because it’s all new to Millennials. Bikinis tops have high necks. Bikini bottoms are following the trend of underwear, and are moving away from the thong to full coverage, and are also high-waisted. Popular prints are bohemian, and others are minimalistic. Pop culture experts are also predicting that the bikini of the future will be eco-friendly. One design is called “The Sponge” as it absorbs pollutants when ones swims in the ocean. Now if only scientists could design a swimsuit that decontaminated all the urine in public pools…

Sources: Smithsonian, Elle

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