Swimsuit Series, Part 3: Is Today Truly the 66th Anniversary of the First Bikini? | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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Swimsuit Series, Part 3: Is Today Truly the 66th Anniversary of the First Bikini?

The two-piece bathing suit got skimpier and more scandalous in 1946 Paris

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Micheline Bernardini modeling Louis Réard’s bikini.

It’s widely regarded that on this day 66 years ago, the bikini was first introduced to the public by French engineer Louis Réard at the Piscine Molitor swimming pool complex in Paris. The two-piece was coined the “bikini” by Réard because he believed the new itty-bitty suit would wield the same explosive effect as recent atomic tests at the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. And it did.

In planning the debut of his new swimsuit, Réard had trouble finding a professional model who would deign to wear the scandalously skimpy two-piece. So he turned to Micheline Bernardini, an exotic dancer at the Casino de Paris, who had no qualms about appearing nearly nude in public. As an allusion to the headlines that he knew his swimsuit would generate, he printed newspaper type across the suit that Bernardini modeled on July 5 at the Piscine Molitor. The bikini was a hit, especially among men, and Bernardini received some 50,000 fan letters.” — History.com

“Bikini girls” mosaic found by archaeological excavation of an ancient Roman villa near Piazza Armerina in Sicily.

But I beg to differ that today is, in fact, the anniversary of the bikini. Yes, it’s true that Réard unveiled his skimpy two-piece on July 5, 1946. But as I detailed in a recent post on Threaded about the history of swimsuits, the first iteration of a bathing suit was depicted around the fourth century A.D. in an Italian mosaic at the Villa Roma de Casale in Sicily. Sicilian women appear to be exercising, lifting weights and tossing a ball, clad in nothing more than a two-piece . . . bikini?

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