Swimsuits became more revealing in the 1930s. From backless designs with narrow shoulder straps, women’s attire quickly progressed to the two-piece halter-neck top and panties. The bikini was the next step. And through its name, the fashion is forever linked with the start of the nuclear age.
On July 1, 1946, the United States began peacetime nuclear testing by dropping an atom bomb on the chain of Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean known as Bikini Atoll. The bomb, similar to the type that a year earlier devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, commanded worldwide media attention.
In Paris, designer Louis Reard was preparing to introduce a daringly skimpy two-piece swimsuit, still unnamed. Newspapers were filled with details of the bomb blast. Reard, wishing his suit to command media attention, and believing the design was itself explosive, selected a name then on the public’s lips.
Only July 5, four days after the bomb was dropped, Reard’s top model, Micheline Bernardi, paraded down a Paris runway in history’s first bikini. In 1946, the swimsuit seemed to stir more debate, concern, and condemnation than the bomb.
From Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things by Charles Panati