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Celebrating 70 years of the bikini and the fashion sensation's colourful history


In a game of word association, atomic and bomb don’t tend to conjure up bikini .

But now it's almost the 70th birthday of the itsy bitsy two-piece – here’s a teenie weenie piece of trivia.

Those mushroom clouds rising over the South Pacific after the Second World War not only transformed the landscape of modern warfare, but also of beaches.

When French engineer turned lingerie designer Louis Reard saw atomic weapons being trialled by the US on Bikini Atoll, a name was born for his latest invention: Le Bikini.

While fellow Frenchman Jacques Heim – also in the race to design the smallest swimwear – named his version the Atome.

Louis Reard draped two tiny strips of cloth across a Paris showgirl and thus invented the bikini.

photos:prom dresses manchester

Louis Reard draped two tiny strips of cloth across a Paris showgirl and thus invented the bikini.

"Twopence Coloured" at Etam for Spring and Summer 1967

Reard won, as his version was the smallest; four triangles made from 30 inches of fabric – so small, he struggled to find a willing model.

Four factory girls from Sutton in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, playing a game of football on the sands at Blackpool beach

Reard settled on erotic dancer Micheline Bernardini, and in 1946 the bikini exploded into an aghast world.

His debut had newspaper type printed all over it, so sure was Reard it would hit headlines. He wasn’t wrong.

The new 'Bikini' swimming costume (in a newsprint-patterned fabric), which caused a sensation at a beauty contest at the Molitor swimming pool in Paris

US magazine Modern Girl wrote: “It is hardly necessary to waste words over the so-called bikini since it is inconceivable that any girl with tact and decency would ever wear such a thing.”

Legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland said it “revealed everything about the girl but her mother’s maiden name”.

Marlene Honor modelling latest bikini design in 1965

The Pope wasn’t impressed, either.

Though ancient wall paintings of female athletes, later discovered, revealed Italy was the two-piece’s original birthplace as early as 1400 BC.

Kicki Hakansson (centre), Miss Sweden, crowned first Miss World at the Festival of Britain Miss World beauty content

The bikini was banned in Belgium, Italy, Spain and Australia. It was also outlawed in many US cities.

But two-pieces appeared on beaches there in the 1940s due to the government’s 10% wartime reduction in fabric used for women’s swimwear.

Hot weather scenes in Margate, Kent

The uproar was hardly surprising considering attitudes to women’s swimwear until then.

Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman was arrested for indecent exposure in 1907, after wearing an all-in-one sleeveless tank suit.

Elizabeth Taylor rocking a white bikini

In 1951 bikinis were introduced at the first Miss World contest , in London. Such was the horror, they were banned from pageants globally.

And in 1961 more than 50 bikini-clad women were ordered off Bondi Beach, Sydney.

Ida Lupino, English film actress and director

It took the stars of the mid-1950s to make the bikini commercially popular.

A 19-year-old Brigitte Bardot was snapped in one on the beach during the Cannes Film Festival, then wore one in her 1956 film And God Created Woman.

American film actor and sex symbol Jayne Mansfield in a green bikini

Other actresses followed (swim)suit, including Ava Gardner and Jayne Mansfield.

When Brian Hyland released Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini in 1960, their sales soared.

His and Hers beach wear made from Lancashire cotton

Two years on, in Bond film Dr. No, Ursula Andress created one of the bikini’s most iconic moments as she emerged from the sea wearing a white belted number.

By the 1970s we were all over them, and by the 1980s the thong had arrived.

Ursula Andress in James Bond

This bikini helped to establish Ursula Andress as the most famous Bond Girl of all time

Actress Jayne Mansfield wearing a leopard print bikini, sitting on the shoulder of her husband Mickey Hargitay

Designers claimed it was inspired by the clothing of Amazonian tribes.

Andress admitted her Bond two-piece was her golden ticket. “This bikini made me into a success,” she later conceded. In 2001 it sold for £41,000.

Four factory girls from Sutton in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, playing a game of football on the sands at Blackpool beach in the summer holidays. Left to right are: Jean Formon, aged 15, Jenny Lee,17, Monica Wardle,16 and Mary Gent,15. 6th August 1961.

Five decades on and Myleene Klass , fresh from the waterfall on I’m A Celebrity, said. “If it wasn’t for that bikini, I’d have probably retrained as a midwife.”

Yet Raquel Welch admitted she felt exposed in her fur-lined two-piece in One Million Years BC in 1966.

Myleene Klass

Myleene Klass in the shower on I'm a Celeb

Carrie Fisher was far from comfortable too in her gold Princess Leia bikini in 1983 hit Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

She quipped: “When I laid down, it stayed up. Boba Fett could see all the way to Florida.”

Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher in the iconic bikini

Whether the bikini was part of an explosion in women’s freedom or blew it to smithereens is a point argued until this day.

But whatever your view, 70 years on, we’re still wearing them.

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