Mosaics were found in the villa at Piazza Armernia in Sicily

the original swimsuit was the body itself. However, bathing apparel, in one shape or another, has been around for over 2000 years. As we proceed into the new Millennium, the bathing suit as we know it, has changed dramatically.

Women's swimwear has come quite a way since the first recorded use of bathing apparel in Greece around 300 B.C. Later, togas were worn when swimming and bathing reached the height of its popularity in the ancient world.

In fact, mosaics were found in the villa at Piazza Armernia in Sicily decorated with women dressed in what clearly looks like the modern-day bikini. The word bikini comes from from the Latin bi, meaning "two," and kini, meaning "square inches of Lycra".

Short swimwear history

Swimwear fashion was to experience a dry spell following the fall of the Roman Empire when water sports went out of style and Europeans regarded the sea only as a source of physical therapy instead of recreation. However, the arrest of Annette Kellerman for appearing publicly in a one piece bathing suit in 1907 began to point to the role the swimsuit would play in challenging society’s notions of morality and helped to determine the ideal body shape for women.

During the 1700’s spas where men and women engaged in public bathing began appearing in Europe, most particularly in and around France and England. Men and women still bathed infrequently however, and your typical swim was a quick dip in the water with ladies on one portion of the beach and men on the other. It appears that the earliest bathing suit may have been an old smock that kind of looked somewhat like a bathing gown. Modesty was the rule, with style not really a consideration. Initially, suits were far from practical or comfortable. If fact, ladies were known to sew metal weights into the hem of the bathing gown, which was done so the dress would not float up and expose a lady’s legs.By the mid 1800’s bathing was pretty much considered a recreational activity.

You see, previous to the 1840’s/50’s, swimming (bathing) was considered by most people as a therapeutic function. However, the very early 1800’s marked the beginning of a real change in swimwear when North Americans came to the beaches for seaside recreation. Technological innovations like railroads made public beaches much more accessible for vacations and water front activities. With increased recreation time on their hands, and improved economic conditions, the time was ripe for change in women’s swimwear. People came to the coastal regions for popular seaside activities such as swimming and surf bathing.

The need for a special garment that retained modesty, but was free enough to enable the wearer to engage in sports, had finally arrived. The first swimsuits consisted of bloomers and black stockings. Around 1860, drawers were added to prevent the problem of exposure. Women still refrained from swimming too much; the prevailing attitude of the day was that only men should swim. Still, gradual improvements were being made in the cut of the suit itself. By the end of the 1800’s, swimming had become an inter-collegiate and Olympic sport. In short, it was finally becoming acceptable for women to swim. Now women’s bathing suits really had an opportunity to take off and were becoming more and more of an item that should be part of a lady’s wardrobe. By the 1880’s the “Princess” cut (left) was introduced, consisting of a blouse and pants all in one piece. The skirts were traded in for cotton-like pants. There was also a separate skirt that fell below the knee and button at the waist to conceal the figure. A ruffled (frilly brimmed) cap generally completed the set.

The new swimwear relied heavily on the form of the fashionable body, gradually allowing for the exposure of more skin. The turn of the twentieth century marked a new and daring era in swimwear for women. In 1907, Australian Annette Kellerman caused quite a stir, when she was arrested in the United States for wearing a loose, one piece suit that became the generally accepted as the swimsuit for women by the end of the first decade. Then swimsuits began the trend of becoming briefer, lighter and somewhat more stylish. The apron disappeared by the early 1920’s, leaving a top that covered the shorts. Though matching stockings were still worn, bare legs were exposed from the bottom of the trunks to the top of the shorts. During the “The Roaring 20’s” an appreciation for recreation and leisure time was increasing dramatically. This manifested itself during the first annual “Bathing Suit Day” held in May of 1916 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Swimwear was now becoming skimpier, slimmer - and would you believe - sexier, and then very athletic.

The Modern Bikini

The 20th Century began the swimwear revolution, brought about by: the major increase in recreational sports oriented activities and the influence of the exotic cuts of French swimwear. The clumsy and uncomfortable corset was being discarded and the work of eroticising the body was replaced by exposing more and more of the skin. This particularly interesting, in that there really was nothing available to equalize or camouflage the shape of the female form. So swimwear began to shrink and more and more flesh was exposed.

The 1930’s had a new generation of designers turning out swimwear garments that were functional, sleek, and streamlined. The famous Bauhaus style was void of all decoration and left beauty up to form and function itself.

The 1934 swimsuit hugged the body and was constructed to allow shoulder straps to be lowered for tanning. By the end of the decade, moulded-fit suits were introduced, featuring the “nude look.” The “panel suit” was also popular, retaining a a small skirt.The 1940’s had bathing beauties, pin-up girls, glamour girls wearing high heels, and jewellery to accessorize their bathing attire. The most exciting was a 2-piece creation call the “bikini.”

On July 5, 1946, designers Jacques Heim and Louis Reard introduced their new creation at a fashion show in Paris. The suit was named after a few small South Pacific islands called Bikini Atoll - where the United States had established a nuclear test site. But talk about explosions - the “bikini” took the world by storm, and the swimwear world has never been the same. Reard and Heim said the suit was smaller than the world’s smallest bathing suit. How small was it? Well...Reard was quoted as saying..."It was so small that it revealed everything about the girl except her mother’s maiden name!” Also, wartime rationing had ordered a reduction of fabric in the manufacturing of garments. It appears the skimpy garment’s timing was perfect!

Bikini timeline

1946: Bikini officially invented by engineer Louis Reard in Paris, and named after the Pacific Atolls where the first H-Bomb was tested. Interestingly enough though, Reard’s idea came from the work of Jacques Heim who had 2 months earlier created the “Atome” (named for its size) and donned it the world’s “smallest bathing suit.” But Reard, ‘split the atome’ and created the world’s newest smallest bathing suit. Americans describe it as a “two-piece bathing suit that reveals everything about a girl except her mother’s maiden name.” It took another 15 years for the bikini to become a hit in America.

1947: The United States tries to compete with a suit that reveals a glimpse of the upper thighs through two circular portholes. It is not a success.

1951: Bikinis are banned from beauty pageants after the Miss World Contest.

1957: Bikini-clad Brigitte Bardot frolics in “And God Created Woman,” creating a hot market for the swimwear.

1960: Brian Hyland sings “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” triggering a bikini-buying spree among Americans. Finally, the bikini has caught on.

1963: Beach Party, starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, launches a wave of films that turn the bikini into a pop-culture symbol. That summer, Newsweek asks, “Will it be topless bathing suits in five years?”

1964: Designer Rudi Gernreich cuts out half the bikini and leaves women topless. The “bikini” sells more than 3,000 suits in less than a season in Europe. Defending his creation, Gernreich says, “Sex is in the person, not in what she puts on.”

1966: “One Million Years B.C.,” catapults cavegirl Raquel Welch to stardom as she wears her bikini made of fur.

1970s: Rio and St. Tropez produce the Tanga suit—also called the Thong, the string bikini. Later revitalized in 2000.

1979: Bo Derek, although not a bikini, parades up the beach in a beautiful swimsuit and becomes an instant sex-symbol.

1983: Carrie Fisher, as Princess Leia, wears an ornate version of the bikini in “Return of the Jedi.” This is later discussed on “Friends” as the ultimate male fantasy.

1990s: Swimwear in general is given an increased focus with the TV show Baywatch, which proved bikini or not, it’s still fun watching Pamela Anderson run.

1993: The “sports bikini” becomes big as Volleyball queen Gabrielle Reece wears it in absolute beauty.

1996: Demi Moore wears a bikini on “Late Night With David Letterman.” Program soon beats competition.

2000: Sisqo’s Thong Song brings the Thong back.