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. Designer Louis Reard was unable to find a 'respectable' model for his costume and the job of displaying it went to 19-year-old Micheline Bernardini, a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris. She is holding a small box into which the entire costume can be packed. Celebrated as the first bikini, Luard's design came a few months after a similar two-piece design was produced by French designer Jacques Heim. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
23rd July 1955: Models Jean and Jackie wearing the latest bikini fashion at a beach on the Riviera, France. Original Publication: Picture Post - 7850 - Five Girls On A Yacht - pub. 1955 (Photo by Bert Hardy/Picture Post/Getty Images)
Jane Russell Wearing a Bikini (Photo by Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images)
Ursula Andress, Swedish actress, wearing a white bikini and holding a conch shell in a publicity still issued for the film, 'Dr No', 1962. The James Bond film, directed by Terence Young (1915-1994), starred Andress as 'Honey Ryder'. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images) (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
On the set of the American International Pictures feature film 'Bikini Beach' starring Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Harvey Lembeck, Keenan Wynn, Don Rickles, John Ashley, Martha Hyer. A millionaire tries to make a persuasive argument that American teenagers are not as intelligent has his pet chimpanzee. Here, actor and motorcycle enthusiast Keenan Wynn sits astride of his Triumph Thunderbird with actress Patti Chandler exiting the sidecar rig. (Photo by Eric Rickman/The Enthusiast Network/Getty Images)
Sonia Grandjean, MISS SWITZERLAND 1999, gives us a Sneak Peek of the Oscar de la Renta ''fun'' swimsuit, the Official Swimwear Sponsor of the 1999 MISS UNIVERSE Pageant. The Delegates had their choice of three trendy ''fun'' suits; a one piece, a bikini or a tankini. Oscar de la Renta has provided each Delegate with swimwear worn in the delegate's swimsuit video which will air during the 1999 MISS UNIVERSE Pageant May 26, 1999. (Photo by ho/Miss Universe Organization)
BAR bikini clad girls have a laugh during their beach wear photo shoot (Photo by Jed Leicester/EMPICS via Getty Images)
Misty May (USA) and teammate Kerri Walsh celebrate after winning the women's semi-finals of the 2004 Huntington Beach Open. (Photo by Tim Tadder/Corbis via Getty Images)
Spectators (L-R) Megan Smyth, Jenni Drey and Michelle Davies wear tennis ball bikini tops as they wait for day tickets on day nine of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Wimbledon on July 3, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Daniela Melchor (C) of Gold Team is tackled by Nury Ximello (L) of Diamond Team during the game of the All Stars from Iberoamerican Bikini Football League, in Mexico city, on March 29, 2014. AFP PHOTO/RONALDO SCHEMIDT (Photo credit should read RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)
Bikini Contest contestants wait backstage in the infield prior to the 140th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 16, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Competitors in Bikini First Timers division pose during the Victoria State Bodybuiding Championships on October 4, 2015 at the Kingston Arts Centre in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
Although we don’t know which fashion designer was first to invent it, we do know the most iconic two-piece swimsuit in history was first unveiled on July 5, 1946, at the Piscine Molitor swimming pool in Paris.
Worn by 19-year-old showgirl Micheline Bernardini, French automobile engineer and clothing designer Louis Réard called his swimsuit the “bikini” after an atomic test by the United States that was held off the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean earlier that week. In a similar atom-inspired vein, French fashion designer Heim called his skimpy suit the “atome” (as in as small as the particle). Sadly for him, that name didn’t blow up in quite the same way that Réard’s did.
But, Réard’s 30-square-inches-of-cloth suit was not an immediate hit.
Called “four triangles of nothing” by some newspapers at the time, the bikini was banned on some beaches including Spain, Italy, and Portugal, and was prohibited from being used in Hollywood films thanks to the United States Motion Picture Production Code which did not allow for the display of navels.
Viewed as indecent by many, a 1957 issue of 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.”
However, as beachgoers in areas that allowed the skimpy suit continued to wear it, Hollywood stars like Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Elizabeth Taylor, and Jane Russell started to pose for photographs wearing the bikini, further raising its profile.
By 1960, the bikini was beginning to be embraced in prudish America and was even immortalized in song by pop singer Brian Hyland when he recorded “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini.”
Two years later, Swiss actress Ursula Andress brought the bikini even further into the spotlight of popular culture when she wore a white one while playing Honey Rider in the James Bond film Dr. No.
Around the same time, Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon appeared in a string of movies including How To Stuff a Wild Bikini and Bikini Beach that centered on beach culture and, as their titles suggest, prominently featured Réard’s (or Heim’s) creation.
For Americans who found the bikini objectionable, it was all downhill from there.
Sports Illustrated introduced its annual “Swimsuit Issue” in 1964 with a bikini-clad model on the cover. From there, it wasn’t long before we began seeing the bikini anywhere and everywhere.
During beauty contests …
At Formula One races …
During beach volleyball matches …
At Wimbledon …
During football games …
At the Preakness …
During bodybuilding contests …
And in the mud …
“In 1946, France had just come out of the war and people had a need to live again,” Réard said during a 1974 interview about his creation. “I felt I had to design something that would make people understand that life can start over and be beautiful.”
Now, 72 years later, we can safely say mission accomplished.