Norton of Morton

Read a new instalment of Norton of Morton every Saturday at 4 o'clock

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Small and devastating

In which G.M. Norton links a 1990's pop cover song to a 1946 press conference.

I found out yesterday that it was National Bikini Day.

Alas, this gave me no time to purloin a two-piece in my size and pose for some photographs in time to publish them today.

Awfully sorry to let you down, dear reader.

You may not believe this, but I’ve never given the bikini much thought. Although come to think of it, I do remember singing along to the 1990 Timmy Mallett pop song, ‘Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’, a cover of the 1960 original.

Anyway, I digress.

The modern two-piece swimsuit only appeared in the aftermath of the World War Two. While swimming costumes for women had gradually become less conservative through the first half of the twentieth century, war time fabric rationing had forced designers to remove excess material which resulted in more form-fitting garments that had less panels covering the wearer’s body.

A minimalist two-piece swimsuit was introduced by French fashion designer, Jacques Heim in May 1946, called the Atom, which the designer named after the smallest known particle of matter. However, the bottom half was still relatively modest, with no midriff on display.


That’s where rival designer Louis Réard stepped in, with a design that would cause even more shock and scandal. Réard’s own design used even less material to cover one’s unmentionables, becoming the first two-piece to reveal that final inch of belly button (and some extra cheek, I believe). Apparently, Réard had enormous difficulty finding a model that was willing to wear his creation, that was so miniscule that he claimed it could fit into a matchbox. Eventually, he hired exotic dancer Micheline Bernardini from the Casino de Paris to model his design, which featured a newspaper pattern.

Réard called a press conference at the Piscine Molitor in Paris on the 5th July 1946, four days after a test at the Bikini Atoll, which inspired the swimsuit’s name. At the press conference, Réard stated that “like the Atom bomb, the bikini is small and devastating.” Despite receiving lots of press attention, the public reaction to the bikini was one of shock, although Europeans were more open to it than the more conservative Americans. Even in the late 1950s, some publications were still writing disapprovingly of the fashion.

Of course, just like today, the public soon wanted to copy their favourite celebrities like Jayne Mansfield and Ursula Andress, bringing mainstream acceptance to the bikini.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why 5th July marks National Bikini Day.

G.M. Norton
Protagonist of 'Norton of Morton'

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