Did you know that the scanty, two-piece swimsuit is named for a nuclear weapons test?
On 1 July 1946, the United States conducted the first post-war test of an atomic weapon at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Bikini was the site for numerous nuclear weapons tests through 1958. Four days after this first test, fashion designer Jacques Heim exhibited a two-piece swimsuit which he dubbed the bikini in an attempt to ride the publicity wave created by the well-publicized detonation. Months earlier, Heim had marketed another two-piece swimsuit that he named the Atome, because it was so small. Heim did not invent the style of suit, however; skimpy two-piece bathing suits had been in existence since at least the 1930s.
The term had caught on by the following year. From the Syracuse Herald Journal (New York) of 22 June 1947:
First came the famous Bikini model, consisting of three small triangles of cloth.
Le Monde Illustré of August 1947 glosses bikini thusly:
Bikini, ce mot cinglant comme l’explosion même...correspondait au niveau du vêtement de plage à un anéantissement de la surface vêtue; à une minimisation extrême de la pudeur.
(Bikini, this headword as explosion...likened the level of the clothes at the beach to an annihilation of the dressed surface; an extreme minimization of modesty.)
And from the Nevada State Journal, 23 November 1947:
Nobody knows why the word Bikini has become the synonym for small and little...The French double-piece bathing suits, consisting of a G-string and another tiny piece for the upper part of the body, are called Bikini. If you want a demi-tasse of ersatz coffee you ask for a Bikini...When the piece of meat you get in a restaurant is exceptionally small you complain that it “is too Bikini.”
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton