From More to Less: The Evolution of Bikini Panties and Two-Piece Swimwear

Louis Reard’s innovation in swimwear came with a bang. The inventor of the bikini named his creation during the nuclear tests in Bikini Atoll in the mid-1940s because he thought that bikinis packed the same amount of bang as the bombs, enough for a revolution. Reard wanted his invention to be “the world’s smallest bathing suit”, even declaring in an ad that it wasn’t a real bikini “unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring.” That’s how bikini panties and bras came into being.

If you look at bikinis today, you’ll realize that they basically returned to their ancient roots. From antiquity up to the early 1940s, swimwear for women was a far cry from the iconic two-piece set. However, similar attires were used for other purposes in ancient times.

Ancient Bikini

Roman women wore bikini-style pieces of clothing not for swimming but for sports or underwear. Early evidence of bikini fashion can be traced back to the mosaic from the Villa Romana del Casale, a Roman villa and large mosaic repository in Sicily. The mosaic portrayed women wearing two-piece sets much like the bikinis of today (although the bikini top didn’t look like a normal bra).

The trend is thought to have lasted until the Middle Ages. During that time, bikini-type clothing took the road to less exposure. However, World War II changed that.

Fabric Rations

Apart from food and water, clothing materials were strictly rationed as the war in Europe raged. Between the 1930s and 1940s, the post-Roman bikini slowly returned to its original form but because of fabric rations, hems were trimmed to divert more fabric resources into making military uniforms to meet the increasing number of recruits.

This turnaround made the arrest of Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman seem ironic. In 1907, she was arrested in Boston for “indecent exposure” due to her one-piece sleeveless swimsuit that showed too much skin.

Even with the war over, Reard believed that there was potential in the increased exposure. He bested fellow Frenchman Jacques Heim in the swimwear department with his smaller bikini, even though Heim was a clothing designer and Reard an automobile engineer. The story of bikini and plus size panties like those from Bits of Lace just shows that inspired fashion revolutions can come from anywhere, and anyone.


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