The Race For The First Bikini & The Belly Button Seen Around The World

May 13, 2022

FRANCE - NOVEMBER 02/ Michele BERNARDINI, who has just won the prize for the prettiest 1946 swimmer of the Molitor swimming pool, showing off on July 5, 1946, the first bikini, created by the fashion designer Louis REARD. (Getty Images)

The Space Race, the Race to Fly, and the Race for the 4-minute mile, all pale in aesthetic comparison to the race for the first bikini. Actually, the term bikini did not exist prior to the summer of 1946. It took a French designer and former engineer named Louis Réard to unlock the previously forbidden territory of the woman’s belly button.

While many people might know of Réard, fewer know of his rival Jacques Heim who also sought to introduce the woman’s bathing suit of scandalous proportions. Coming out of World War II, the pair raced amidst a global shortage of material to go down in the annals of women’s swimwear. Here’s the history of the Bikini and the uncovering of the belly button heard around the world.

Bernardini and Réard made history on a summer day in Paris.

A Very Brief History Of Women’s Swimwear

Before Heim and Réard locked horns in the race for skin-revealing swimwear, the history of women’s swimsuits reads positively medieval. Victorians mostly classified tanning as bohemian, below them, and only dipped their toes by enshrouding themselves in “bathing machines” that allowed them to take in the sun in complete privacy.

In the early part of the 20th-century, swimsuit police would patrol beaches armed with rulers to measure decency in inches above the knee. Freedom of expression received a swift squelching, especially if it involved the baring of a woman’s skin.