On July 5, 1946 car engineer turned boutique manager Louis Réard and fashion designer Jacques Heim introduced the bikini in Paris. Although two-piece bathing suits have been documented as far back as the Greco-Roman world, a century ago the form-fitting one-pice worn by Australian sport celebrity Annette Kellerman was enough to get her arrested in Boston, Massachusetts. Ironically, by 1913 tight one-pieces had become the norm, and designers were already creating functional two-piece suits, partially due to the addition of women’s swimming to the Olympic games. As women’s swimwear evolved sleeves disappeared, new form-hugging materials were introduced, and back and necklines became progressively lower. By the 1940′s Heim had started work on his new “bikini”, named after the Bikini Atoll islnands. Presumably, with his campaign championing “the world’s smallest bathing suit,” he anticipated that his design would create a reaction as nuclear as that of the atomic testing that took place on the islands during that same year. And perhaps he was right — unable to find a model to sport the new suit, Réard hired a nude dancers to debut the design. Later, with the endorsements of celebrites like Brigitte Bardo, and women’s increasing independence (as French historian Olivier Saillard explains, “the emancipation of swimwear has always been linked to the emancipation of women”), the bikini became the unrivaled, preferred form of women’s swimwear.
I’ve never been one of those beach babes that lives to prance around in a bikini. I love swimming and being in the water but for me a swimsuit has always been more of a practicality than a fashion statement. I’m not sure if this outlook is due to my tom-boyish disposition, or if it’s something subconscious since I not-so-secretly think I have the biggest, whitest legs in Virginia. Either way, I’ve always kind of dreaded bathing suit shopping, and the extra fifteen pounds I’ve packed on since our honeymoon isn’t helping either. Still, I’m not one to show up to the hot summer ocean in jeans and a sweatshirt, and with a trip to Virginia Beach only four days away, I knew it was time to go shopping. So last Sunday Chris accompanied to me our local Target where I found a beautiful and shapely one-piece swimsuit, as well as an awesome turquoise bikini top. The bikini top is very retro, complete with a little bling in the middle, and something even more precious that has become increasingly difficult to find in the world of women’s beachwear — underwire! Needless to say, determining whether or not to purchase this garment was one of my easier decisions of 2011!