This week in 1946, in the aftermath of America’s detonation of an atomic bomb over the Bikini Atoll islands in the South Pacific, the world expressed shock, outrage and near universal condemnation. Oh, and the bomb blast and atomic radiation that subsequently leaked into the atmosphere caused some concern as well.
For it was on July 5th of 1946 that French clothing designer Louis Reard sent a Parisian “model” (actually a nude dancer) down a Paris runway wearing a bathing suit so skimpy that, as he would later boast, “it could be pulled through a wedding ring.” Pressed to name his shocking fashion creation, he recalled the day’s headlines, which announced the aforementioned atomic bomb’s detonation over the Bikini Atolls. The bikini was born.
It was an instant success and an instant scandal. While Reard got rich and his “model” got famous, the governments of many nations, especially in predominantly Catholic countries such as Spain and Italy, got busy condemning the bikini and banning its sale. Which, of course, only intensified interest in the tiny two-piece swath of cloth.
Here in America the reaction was mixed, with many so-called “Decency” organizations pressuring stores not to sell it and demanding that Hollywood refuse to showcase it in films (a quixotic hope, that). Fashion magazines sneered at it as “tacky” and claimed that any woman who wore it was lacking in taste.
America would soon discover just how tasteless its female population was, for bikini-clad women began showing up on beaches from California to the Florida Keys, and while America’s churches were soon in high dudgeon, America’s male population didn’t seem to mind at all.
Interestingly, the bikini — like the bomb that helped name it — was in part the result of the Second World War, which had prompted our federal government to institute nationwide rationing on a number of products necessary for the war effort. One such product, a certain type of cloth fabric, was also used in swimwear, and a government-ordered 10 percent reduction of its use for women’s bathing suits resulted in the switch from one-piece suits with skirts to two-piece suits that exposed the midriff. This two-piece bathing suit soon caught the attention of the French who, being French, made the bikini the inevitable next step.
Today, of course, the bikini is a fixture at the world’s beaches and swimming pools, and to those narrow-minded prudes and overly judgmental throwbacks to the Victorian Age who still have a problem with it, or with women wearing it, I say, lighten up, and remember that the human form is among God’s greatest creations.
Not that I ever let my teenage daughters out of the house wearing one.