History of the Bikini

What influenced its change over 50 years?
By Peter Hogg

The bikini burst on the scene officially in 1945 in France and was initially considered too erotic, exotic and risque by the public. At the time no models would show it on the runway but a nude dancer had no qualms. The bikini survived the defying moments and scandals in recent history. In some respects the bikini has been influenced by 50 years of development within society.

Specifically all of the following factors appear to have had some affect on the bikini over the years:

  • Ethical and council laws re bathing.
  • Sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies.
  • Religious and feminist opposition to briefer bikini designs and bikini contests.
  • Hollywood, their movies and the introduction of the colour TV.
  • The development of the swimwear and surf industries including better surfboard design.
  • Technological advances with fabrics and the manufacturing process.
  • Growing participation of women in sport with greater demand for specialised product.

Traditional swimsuits were made of wool in 1950’s and progressed to nylon and lycra by the 1960’s. The alternative and more fashionable fabrics of the 60’s and 70’s including velvet, leather and crochet squares provided only fashion features. Over time, women have developed greater requirement from their bikini in order to sustain the duress of action sports such as surfing.

Todays bikini demonstrates our social leaps in body consciousness, moralistic issues, sexual attitudes and practicality.

Bikini History and Relevant Timelines

(Bikini — from the Latin bi, meaning “two” and kini, meaning “square inches of lycra”)

1600BC Evidence of 2 piece swimsuit on Roman mosaics, urns and murals.
1880’s Women used voluminous bathing gowns and entered the water using a “bathing machine” to conceal their bodies being seen from the beach.
1902 William Henry rebels against Sydney council laws at Manly which restricted bathing before 8AM and after 6PM. He was arrested on his
third attempt to bath at midday but his persistence led to free bathing time in 1903.
1906 Swimwear becomes very popular.
1907 ‘Underwater Ballerina’, Annette Kellerman from Australia is arrested in USA for indecent exposure as her swimwear showed arms, legs and neck.
1915 Olympic gold medallist from 1912, Duke Kahanamoku gives an exhibition on surfing. The first Australian woman to surf was Isobel Letham who had an opportunity to tandem with the Duke.
1930 US government, through USA post offices, forbade and returned letters coming from Spain because of excessive nudity on postal stamps.
1930’s Holiday films in Germany show some women in two piece swimsuits.
Men were allowed to bare their chests in 1930 in Australia. Membership in surf clubs grows to 10 thousand.
Developments in technology with introduction of lastex and nylon (quick drying elasticised fabric) which also revealed an incredible silhouette
influenced swimwear design.
1943 Wartime rationing by the US government ordered 10% reduction in fabric used in women’s swimwear. Off went the skirt and the midriff showed.
1945 Jacques Heins (French) created the two piece bathing suit “The Atome” – The world’s smallest bathing suit.
Louis Reard (French) then showed the “bikini” in Paris and he named the “bikini” after Bikini Atoll in the Pacific where the US military tested
nuclear atomb bombs under the code name “Operations Crossroad”. A hot political topic! He shrunk the size of fabric to 30 sq inches total.
1945 Catholic countries Spain, Portugal and Italy banned the bikini.
Decency organisations pressured Hollywood to keep them out of the movies.
At the end of the World War II, barb wire was removed from the Australian beaches.
1951 The bikini is banned at beauty pageants after Miss Sweden was crowned at the “Miss World Contest” – an unfair advantage!
1956 The toothpick surfboard is replaced by the Malibu after a surf life saving carnival at Jan Juc where Americans introduce the nnovative balsa board. Australians used the hollow Okanui in 1956 to 1959 until balsa was available. A surf industry is started.
1957 Brigitte Bardot in “And God Created Woman” created a hot market for the bikini.
1959 “Gidget” movie earns grudging respect from “the guys”.
1960 Olympic swimmer Dawn Fraser is reprimanded by the Australian Swimming Union for removing the skirt off her swimwear in order to swim faster. “Its a bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini” by Brian Hyland creates a bikini buying spree in USA amongst teens.
Foam blanks are available for surfboard manufacturing. Skateboards are popular.
1962 James Bond’s “Dr No.” reveals Ursula Andress in one of the sexiest swimwear shoots in history when she emerges from the water with knife on the bikini belt.
1963 The Australian Surf Association (ASA) forms for boardriders.
1964 Swimsuit Illustrated first front cover shot features a two piece swimsuit.
1965 “Gidget” sitcom shows for a year and a half on colour TV.
1966 Raquel Welsh features in a leather bikini in “One million years BC”.
The “monokini” emerges and raises moralistic issues. Radical feminists increase their presence and opinions. Crochet also comes in.
1968 Australian councils had a three finger rule with respect to the side dimensions of the bikini. Surf life guards discontinued with the ruling in the early 70’s.
1969 Twin fin surfboard emerges but not popular until revival in late seventies.
1970’s The “thong” emerges in Rio and St Tropez (also known as “dental floss” or “tanga suit”) It makes its way onto teen posters and into car magazines. It was the start of the revolution.
Surfboards are typically single fin and under six feet long in the early seventies.
1972 Conscription for Vietnam ends under Whitlam Government.
Leg-ropes were sold in the early seventies.
1973/74/75 Michael Peterson wins all major surfing events and ’77 Stubbies and spectating surfing competitions grows in popularity.
1978/79 Twin fins are reinvented with Mark Richards who wins World Titles in ’79-’82.
1980’s Bikini sales slow down and Reard’s company in France closes down.
The “thruster” (three fin surfboard) is introduced by Simon Anderson winning at Bell’s Beach in 1981.
Movies from Hollywood spark up bikini popularity with the red bikini of Phoebe Cates in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and the gold metal bikini of Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) in “Return of the Jedi”.
1981 The movie “Puberty Blues” shows the girls making some rebellious moves against the boys in the surf.

Bell’s Beach won by Cheyne Horan on winged-keel surfboard over Tom Carroll. Tom Carroll wins ’83 and ’84 World Surfing Titles.
1991 Roxy enters the surfing market and makes surfing shorts in 1993.
1993 Sports bikini with hugging halter top design becomes all the rage. Big wave surfer Laird Hamilton’s wife and model, Gabriella Reece, catches plenty of press. The “wonder bra” also makes a mark in the mid 90’s.
1996 Miss World contest in Bangalore – Indian groups oppose the event claiming the event with swimsuits degraded women.
2001 Women’s surfing participation calculated at 19% of all surfers and rises to 33% of all surfers by 2005 (Boardtrac research co.).
2002 Halle Barry recreated the exotic scene from James Bond’s “Dr No” in her orange bikini and knife in “Die Another Day”.
2005 Jessica Alba in “Deep Blue” caught eyes by wearing “the blue bikini”.
Sports Illustrated 25th edition with Kathy Ireland on the cover, carried $35 million in advertising.
2006 Layne Beachley wins her 7th World Title and pushes Australian women’s surfing. She later goes on to push equal pay for women in surfing as per ruling in 2007 with respect to Wimbeldon tennis championships equal gender payment. Professional women surfers get signed up with big contracts. Women’s participation in action sports increases.


The Modern Bikini – HIVE Swimwear creates “swimwear that sticks”!

The bikini has now evolved to meet the demands of the modern woman who is no longer just a spectator but a participant in surfing. Hive Swimwear represents a label that takes women into the 21st century with function and fashion. There are a number of features from the Hive collection that are beneficial to the active girl and female surfer;

  • Strap configurations that are designed to avoid tying around the neck and thus avoid susceptible neck joints.
  • Adjustable straps and tie sides for a customised personalised fit.
  • Under-bust bands that provide extra support and confidence.
  • Multi-stretch lycra for movement, comfort and security.
  • Lining of lycra for durability and comfort.
  • D, DD cups and tankinis for the body conscious person.

Gone are the days where the gals have to compromise to either look good or play hard. Hive has the swimsuit to fit you and make you look great!

To view the Hive Swimwear History of the Bikini video please click here.

References are available on request.


1950’s Velvet number holding a 1956 replica hollow Toothpick Surfboard made by Bill Wallace. The American team showcased their balsa surfboards in Nov 1956 at Jan Juc in Victoria. The toothpick then lost popularity to the Malibu style boards and the Okanui was born.

In the late 1960’s crochet swimsuits were popular. Hive team rider Ae-Ran (above) is wearing a hot 1960’s one piece number from the same circa and with a Gordon Woods Greenough Spoon board circa 1969.

Mid 1960’s swede bikini similar to that worn by Raquel Welsh in “One million years BC” (1966). The bikini scene with a diving knife is now famous following James Bond movies “Dr No” with Ursula Andress (1962) and “Die Another Day” with Halle Berry (2002). The surfboard was shaped by Michael Peterson who won every major Australian surfing competition between 1973 and 1976.

Late 70’s swimsuits were full of fluorescent fish colours and printed on cotton fabrics. Fun times! The Hive team-rider girls parade with three iconic short boards from Mark Richards (twin fin), Simon Anderson (thruster innovation) and Cheyne Horan-McCoy (winged-keel innovation).

Modern Day Hive swimwear from 2009.This swimwear incorporates new technology lycra fabric and has strap configurations for a customised and secure fit. The Hive team-rider is holding Layne Beachley’s 2002 competition board.

References are available on request.


1. Alac,Patrik 2001 Bikini : A Cultural History, Parkstone Press USA

2. Evad.2001 – The Colourful History of the Bikini.

3. Life Magazine,1957

4. Young,N,1983 – History of Surfing DVD