The Bikini Timeline

From bloomers to bikinis, the journey to modern swimwear wasn't always smooth sailing.

Swim // Johnie Gall // 03/21/12
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Illustration by Mathilde + Christine at
Illustration by Mathilde + Christine at

400 A.D. As evidenced by ancient paintings, Roman gymnasts make swimwear history in bandeaus and bikini bottoms

1700 Spa towns become popular so a more functional suit is invented out of necessity

1800 Modesty rules with giant bloomers and stockings at the beach. Women even sew weights into their hems so they never show unexpected leg

1907 Annette Kellerman (the first women to attempt to swim the English channel) is arrested for indecency for donning a form fitting one-piece

1925 Knitted one-pieces are now the norm, with tank-style torsos and mid-thigh length legs

1934 Movie stars can’t show their belly buttons on screen thanks to censorship guidelines

1940 The original tummy-tuck: girdled swimwear includes elastic panels to smooth bumps and bulges

1941 War rationing means less fabric for swimsuits, resulting in a bare midriff. Bottoms still reach about the belly button though

July 5, 1946 French engineer Louis Reard designs a suit “smaller than the world’s smallest bathing suit.” It is named after the nuclear testing site Bikini Atoll

July 11, 1946 A nude dancer becomes the first woman to ever don a bikini during a press event in Paris and the fan mail starts pouring

1951 Miss World gets the bikini banned from the competition by showing off her wares in a tiny two-piece. The bikini is prohibited in Italy and Australia and declared “sinful” by the Vatican

1960 Brian Hyland’s “Itsy Bitsey Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” hits #1 on the charts

1961 Bridget Bardot causes a buzz in the newer, skimpier string bikini (often without a top!)

1964 The first ever Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue launches, showing a model in a white bikini on the cover

1979 Bo Derek is a perfect 10 with cornrows and a nude one-piece

1983 Princess Leia rocks a studded gold bikini and the box office notices; Return of the Jedi is the most successful film in the original Star Wars series

1993 Score one for halter tops, thanks to volleyball princess Gabrielle Reece and MTV’s Spring Break special

2008 The full-body LZR Racer is a break-through in reducing drag for competitive swimwear

2011 Companies start recognizing surfers’ need for snug fitting bikinis that don’t budge during a wipeout

2012 Retro cups, color blocking and multi-strapped tops are on the forecast for swim 2012

Originally published in April/May 2012

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