Sports Bikinis: An Origin Story And How It Has Changed Over The Last 60 Years

Before discussing the origin of the bikini, one must first understand where the word for bikini originated from. Similar to most words in the English language, it was derived from Latin. The word “bi” in Latin refers to two, and the word “kini” refers to a few square inches of lycra. Thus it implies two pieces of a few square inches of lycra. The traditional sports bikini swimwear used by athletes today actually originated around 1945 when Louis Reard made a first showing of the bikini to Parisian audiences, and claimed that he got the name from Bikini Atoll, a place in the Pacific Ocean where the US military tested atomic bomb explosions. But it only picked up popularity as laws grew more relaxed and Hollywood started exploiting this new fashion sensation. Simultaneously, female athletes who spent a large amount of time in the water required something streamlined and comfortable to wear to help them swim faster. This was another reason for the popularization of bathing suits and bikinis.

There were supposed evidences of women wearing 2 piece swimsuits on Roman urns and mosaics dating back to 1600 BC, but one can only speculate as to whether they were merely works of art or a virtual picture of Rome 3600 years ago. Over the 60 odd years from the 1950s to the 2010s the bikini has evolved. This started with a revolution in clothing during the 60’s and 70’s as more women started to adopt bikinis. As the years progressed bikinis started getting smaller and started show more skin. The first major change came in the 1970’s when the Brazilians coined a new word for their bikinis, namely the ‘thong’. The thong was a smaller bikini which was also known by the names ‘dental floss’ and ‘tanga suit’ due to the relative size and thickness of the area covering the glutes. Towards the end of the second millennium bikinis had started to come in all shapes and sizes, and it was mostly the influences of Hollywood that kept both men and women attracted to this piece of clothing. However, with regards to sports bikini swimwear, they stayed in nearly the same shape. This is because of the comfort it provided when used for athletic events.