On this day in July 5th, 1946, French designer Louis Reard, unveils a daring two-piece swimsuit at the Piscine Molitor, a popular swimming pool in Paris.
Parisian showgirl Micheline Bernardini modeled the new fashion, which Reard dubbed “bikini,”.
Reard, said the fashion item was inspired by a news-making U.S. atomic test, that took place off the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean earlier that week.
European women first began wearing two-piece bathing suits that consisted of a halter top and shorts in the 1930s, but only a sliver of the midriff was revealed and the navel was vigilantly covered.
In the United States, the modest two-piece made its appearance during World War II, when wartime rationing of fabric saw the removal of the skirt panel and other superfluous material.
Meanwhile, in Europe, fortified coastlines and Allied invasions curtailed beach life during the war, and swimsuit development, like everything else non-military, came to a standstill.
However, in 1946, Western Europeans joyously greeted the first war-free summer in years, and French designers came up with fashions to match the liberated mood of the people.
Two French designers, Jacques Heim and Louis Reard, developed competing prototypes of the bikini.
Heim called his the “atom” and advertised it as “the world’s smallest bathing suit.”
Reard’s swimsuit, which was basically a bra top and two inverted triangles of cloth connected by string, was in fact significantly smaller. Made out of a scant 30 inches of fabric, Reard promoted his creation as “smaller than the world’s smallest bathing suit.”