Although sea bathing was fashionable in the 18th century, it was considered proper to keep the skin white and untouched by the sun. Ladies were protected by face-shading bonnets, shawls and gloves (for some, weights were sewn into the hem of their bathing gowns to prevent the garment from floating up and showing their legs.) (Victoriana)
In the mid-19th century bathing dresses covered most of the female figure. The ”turkish” pants (bloomers) and “paletot” dresses are made from a heavy flannel fabric which would surely weigh down the swimmer. (Victoriana)
At ocean resorts where the water was very shallow near the beach, people undressed in ‘bathing machines’ (little houses on wheels, which were drawn out into deep water by horses and hauled back to the shore when the bath was finished.)
The bathing machine allowed a modest Victorian woman to spend the day at the beach in complete privacy. After the horse would haul the cabana into the ocean, the 19th century woman would change from her layers of petticoats and dress into another layer of swimwear.
In the late-1800s and early-1900s, bathing suits were typically accessorized with long black stockings, lace-up bathing slippers, and fancy caps. Beach shoes were made of soles of twisted straw or felt with embroidered serge or crash tops and laces.
During the early 1900s, people flocked to oceanside beaches for popular seaside activities as swimming, surf bathing, and diving. The only activity for women in the ocean involved jumping through the waves while holding onto a rope attached to an off-shore buoy.
Women typically dressed in black, knee-length, puffed-sleeve wool dresses, often featuring a sailor collar, and worn over bloomers trimmed with ribbons and bows. The bathing suit was accessorized with long black stockings, lace-up bathing slippers, and fancy caps. (Victoriana)
In 1905 a lady’s bathing suit was made of ten yards of material; in 1945 it is made from one. Between these times a social revolution had taken place. (Life)
But the next year changed everything.
In 1946, two French designers, Jacques Heim and Louis Reard, developed competing prototypes of new female swimwear. Heim called his the “atom” and advertised it as “the world’s smallest bathing suit.
On July 5, 1946, French engineer Louis Réard designed a garment ‘smaller than the world’s smallest bathing suit.’ Four days earlier, the U.S. military had conducted nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll. (Time)
Réard hoped that his invention would be as explosive as that test and so called his new creation the ‘bikini.’ But at first none of the Parisian models would dare to wear his design. (Time)
Micheline Bernardini, a nude dancer, was the first woman ever to wear a bikini, during a July 11, 1946, showing for the press at the fashionable Piscine Molitor in Paris. The bikini was so small it could fit into a matchbox. (Time)
Bikinis were banned from worldwide beauty pageants after the first Miss World Contest in London in 1951. As the tasteful one-piece continued to reign supreme, the bikini was later also banned in Belgium, Italy, Spain and Australia, and it was even declared sinful by the Vatican. (Time)
Sports Illustrated, Time’s sister publication published its first ever swimsuit issue in 1964. Apparently, editor Andre Laguerre could not find compelling sporting events to write about.
Fashion reporter Jule Campbell to help fill some space, including the cover, with a model. She found Babette March, and the rest is history.