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Articles on Vintage Swimwear > The Evolution of theTwo Piece Swimsuit

1 Dec 2008

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The Two Piece Swimsuit Evolution

First Sports Illustrated CoverAlthough the bikini became popular in Europe in the 1940's, it didn't make a real splash in the United States until the 1960's. A couple of significant regulations in the United States kept the two piece or the bikini from gaining momentum.

The Motion Picture Production Code of 1930, known as the Hays Code or Hays Production Code, prohibited stars from "indecent or undue exposure." Exposure of the breasts, navel, and inner thighs and all undue depiction of flesh was prohibited in an effort to present only a correct standard of life on film. The first actual bathing suits that exposed the midriff would not be seen until the mid 1930’s.

This style change in swimwear was first accomplished by providing the traditional maillot with creatively shaped cutouts. To expose even more skin, X shaped straps were adapted to open the suit’s back. This innovation was subsequently followed by the maillot being divided into two distinct pieces. The waistline however remained high, always above the navel.

Then in 1942, the US government made the L-85 order, issued by the War Production Board, requiring the amount of fabric in clothing be reduced. Wool, silk, rubber, leather, nylon were all needed for the war effort. One requirement was that the amount of fabric in female swimsuits be reduced 10%, and the fabric covering the midriff increasingly became a wartime casualty.  Two-piece swimsuits had been fashionable in Europe throughout the 1930's, the L-85 order helped that trend to become fashionable in the states.

The two-piece would evolve into a just handful of designs without a single one of them dominating. Tops took on the form of bras, string halters, and bandeau's, while bottoms were typically in the form of skirted panties, shorts, or sarongs. Another adaptation was a new skirt less panty bottom but it would not find much of an audience outside of Europe at this time.

At the War’s end while Americans were still trying to accept the high waisted two-piece, a swimsuit that exposed the stomach was introduced in Cannes under the name L’atome. Two weeks later on July 18, 1946 the French designer Louis Reard introduced an even skimpier swimsuit. He also took a clue from the new age ushered in by the atomic bomb blast at a Marshal Island atoll called Bikini and named his creation after it.

By the late 1950’s American movie stars began posing off screen for magazines and postcards in bikinis they could not wear in films. The movie industry began suffering from low film attendance as their products grew more out of sync with cultural demands. Eventually they they replaced the Hayes code with a movie rating code system which had popular support. Stars like Brigitte Bardot in "…And God Created Woman" (1956) helped kick off the trend, while Annette Funicello movies like "Bikini Beach" (1964) and "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini" (1965) helped make the bikini more popular to the masses. In 1967 Racquel Welch appeared in "One Million Years B.C." clad entirely in what would pass for a bikini. The first Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition in 1964 sealed the deal with Babette March in a white bikini. With more exposure in movies and a general shifting of morals during the 1960’s the bikini would finally make its way onto public beaches in the United States. The Hayes commission however still had a hold over television and they would prevent the first woman’s navel from being seen on screen until 1975.

1940s Two piece satin floral swimsuit

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