Summer fashion staples: The legendary bikini

During the summer vacation season, Relaxnews is looking at the origin, history and evolution of iconic seasonal apparel that men and/or women will be packing into their suitcases before heading off to seaside destinations The bikini is one of these essentials. From scandalous to iconic, the bikini has left its mark on the history of fashion and is now a womenswear must-have.

We thought we were liberated before, when bikinis first surged to popularity in the 1960s. Covering up was needless and oppressive. Be free, belly buttons, be free! Yes, the tiny strings of the bikini were a net for the bombshell beauties to drag in their male prey, but merely a snare for the 98ish percent of American women who do not, in fact, look hawt in what equates to poorly constructed underwear.
The freedom to expose by the pool as much as few besides a stripper would be comfortable with is actually a drag, not least because it objectifies women. But it’s also a drag because most of the female kind don’t wear it well. No matter what the body positivity advocates tell females, they know that millions of women will just be wrapping themselves in beach sarongs and stocking up on SlimFast shakes when the first heat wave hits.

For years, you’ve suffered through wedgie picks and boobage adjustments in swimwear seemingly designed from the scraps left over from making the real swimsuits. Where you could actually find those, you had no idea. You fidgeted, tied, and re-tied your little pizza-shaped boob holders out of fear—nay, knowledge—that you’re more likely to spill out of a bikini than pull it off.

Yet even the petite have had tremendous difficulty finding one-piece suits until recently. As Jessica Rey notes in her lecture on the evolution of the swimsuit. “I was particularly frustrated when shopping for a swimsuit when I decided not to wear bikinis anymore,” she said, “because all I could find were things that my grandmother would actually wear.”

Throughout history, artists have seen the nude figure as a beautiful expression of womanhood, in all its glorious shapes and sizes. But ask the average female how she views her own bod in the buff and it gets a lot more complicated. Nakedness reveals everything we usually get to hide: vulnerabilities that date back to high school, parts you struggle to love (or just outright hate), scars, stretch marks, etc., etc., etc. Women’s Health conducted a reader survey in 2013 to chart that complex relationship we have with our stripped-down selves. Now, though it’s just four years later, a lifetime of change has occurred on the body front. The body-positivity movement exploded, strong replaced skinny as social media’s favorite adjective, and #loveyourcurves campaigns abound—making us wonder, is there more love? More peace? How do women really feel about their bodies in 2017?

For years, the two-piece swimsuit met with lukewarm success. While highly practical for tanning, its revealing design shocked some circles of society. It was even banned on some beaches in Europe in the late 1940s. Two things finally helped make this iconic creation a summer must-have. Celebrities ― in particular Brigitte Bardot ― were seen stepping out in bikinis on the beach, and paid holidays for workers in Europe saw the rapid development of mass tourism to seaside destinations.

From the mid-1950s, fashion designers and brands got creative with the bikini, making it an even more attractive and desirable swimwear option. From high-waist bottoms, Brazilian briefs, frilly skirt bottoms, tangas, and shaping and controlling models, to balconnet, triangle, strapless and push-up tops, the bikini has been reinterpreted in all manner of shapes and sizes over the last 70 years. Trendy spinoff styles have also arrived, like the tankini and trikini.

A little over 70 years since its first showing at Piscine Molitor, the bikini is now as popular as ever. It’s a fashion must-have for women heading to the beach, on vacation, as well as for day-to-day trips to the pool. That said, the one-piece swimsuit has made a big comeback in recent years, rocking new fabrics and cuts.

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