By Livia Caroline Neves
Nothing against scientific geniuses, but if there’s one person humanity should be grateful to, this person is Louis Reard. He was the French stylist that in July 3rd, 1946, had the brilliant idea to create a swimming suit with several centimeters less than the usual. Revealing to the world all those delicious details of the female body that, until then, were only seen in the privacy of one’s quarters.
The Bikini Atoll, where Americans conducted nuclear tests in the South Pacific, inspired the name. Indeed, the bikini had the effect of an atomic bomb, in those conservative post-war times. The puritans tried to ban it, and the press foresaw the death of that fashion in no more than fifteen days. Big mistake! The bikini, in 2017 turns 70 years old and has revolutionized swimwear all over the planet. And the fashion world has never again been able to launch a trend so powerful, using so little fabric.
Bikinis appeared in the movies as the packaging of famous stars. In 1956, Brigitte Bardot caused furor in the film “And God Created Woman”. Eight years later, wearing a bikini, the French muse changed the peaceful fishermen village of Buzios, just south of Rio de Janeiro, into a worldly known place. In 1965, she was photographed wearing a checked bikini with small ruffles. Women all over the world decided to copy her.
The bikini became popular in the 1960s, with the emergence of a variety of formulas, never seen before, to reveal the female body. One of them was related to sports, with no esthetics concern. It was not only a wear style, but also a way of life publicized in those light and sweet Hawaiian movies, which showed the marvels of surfing. They promised a more natural world, dedicated to praising the ocean and the sun. There were bicolor dresses with prehistoric patterns, Tahiti hibiscus, rubber sandals, and long wild straight hair with definitely no spray. But there were still some people who insisted on wearing a more traditional fashion, who did not pay attention to the lighter and more colorful style of the surfers “riding the tubes,” on top of their wooden boards.
Little by little, with the advent of the birth control pill and the sexual liberation, the bikini conquered its place in Brazil and in the world. Its presence was so disturbing that, just to have an idea, former Brazilian president, the controversial Janio Quadros, tried to ban it. But the naive “two-piece-with-yellowdots,” subject of a song by Ronnie Cord, kept developing into even more daring models and, consequently, more audacious attitudes.
The 1970s were a time of polemic and audacity, when the rupture with moral standards was such that shocked the world. The sole objective of the coastal population was to spend the day on the beach. Anything too tight or artificial was banned, women’s bras for example. Riding the success wave, new models could be seen walking the world sands: tops without wiring or filling, and string tie-side bottoms.
And Brazil had Leila Diniz… She found her place in the world and her name became recognized in songs and poems. She died at the age 27 in a plane crash in 1972, but her image left in the memory of everyone who knew and admired her. Lelia will be remembered as the free spirit and a woman at peace with the world. The bikini fashion kept evolving and in the 1980s required perfect bodies, which were shaped in health clubs to show off during the summer.
The arrival of a new material called “lycra”, created by Dupont chemical industries, and the fitness fashion brought in by the gyms, influenced the stylists in the creation of new bikinis and maillots. Bikinis got wider than the tiny triangles of the 70s, but with higher cut bottoms, a design that resembled a hang glider. The famous hang glider bikini was then born both in the USA and Brazil as “Brazil Bottom”.
The 80’s also had floral, abstract, animal prints, and the handmade pieces sold in local shops and markets. Wraps imported from Bali, Indonesia changed the beach scene, replacing the large t-shirts and men’s shirts that until then were used to cover women’s bodies to and from the beach. Men started using larger suits; the authentic surfers adopted black neoprene with colored details, copying the divers’ suits. Women reached the end of the decade with topmost nudity, when the “hang glider” was reduced to the “dental floss.” A huge success was seen throughout the world by thousands of postcards showing tanned bottoms lying on the sand or areas in Rio like Corcovado or the Sugar Loaf Mountain.
The 1990s brought revitalization to the beach fashion. It went from the “hang glider” and “dental floss” bikini to a lower cut called “Saint-Tropez”. Crochet bikinis, a hit in the 70s, were back. Bottom sides became narrower with a larger back. The low-cut underwire tops and the adjustable slide triangle tops were also fashionable. It was the health conscious generation with a sporty new athletic style. The sands still demanded toned bodies, but more athletic than in the 80s. Fashion became even more functional.
In the following years, the textile industry bet on the success of smaller bikinis with low waist and sides tied with a ring. The beach fashion also brought a mixture of solid and pattern prints, as well as many different vibrant colors in the same production. And so the fashion goes on, following the wave of the times.
The bikini, which was once a mere map detail, became synonymous of beach audacity. Besides its age and several transformations it has undergone, it is now more fashionable than ever. It still conquers and seduces the eyes of those who see it, modifies the bodies of those who wear it, fills beaches with colors, and leaves the rest of the world surprised with “Brazilian creativity and audacity”. The history of the bikini mixes up with the history of the feminine revolution.