July 5, 1946 – Skimpy two-piece outfits have been around for thousands of years, but today was the day the modern “bikini” made its debut.
A French car engineer named Louis Réard was working in his mother’s lingerie boutique. Fashion designer Jacques Heim had just introduced what he called the world’s “smallest bathing suit.” The bottom of the outfit was big enough to cover the woman’s navel, so Réard simply sliced a bit off so that the belly button could be revealed. He advertised his alteration as “smaller than the world’s smallest swimsuit.” Réard was also the one who gave the bikini its name. The Bikini Atoll had been in the news that summer as the location of atomic testing in the South Pacific. The idea was that this new fashion statement would make an equally dramatic impact.
One problem Réard had was finding a model who was willing to wear the controversial suit. He wound up using a stripper named Micheline Bernadini. She proudly modeled the outfit at Piscine Molitor, a public pool in Paris. Her tiny bikini made a giant splash and Bernardini received over 50,000 letters from appreciative fans.