A swimming pool, Bikini Story
Art,  English

Sun, Sand, and Style: The Evolution of the Bikini

– Introduction video credit: Friends wearing Bikini walking at the beach video of RODNAE Productions from Pexels.

– Ending video credit: Model walking at the beach video of u_ti9zy4gcrc from Pixabay.

The text below is the excerpt of the book Bikini Story (ISBN: 9781783107261), written by Patrik Alac, published by Parkstone International.

On the large screen, bathers with all the allure of semi-divine nymphs gambol across beaches of white sand. Seductive sirens, with oh-so-flat stomachs, lie languidly, stretched out on inflatable mattresses, or alternatively sit with crossed bare legs on wickerwork chairs. Faintly feline beings, in extremely brief costumes, catch the sun on their comfortable camp beds in the galley of a powerful motorboat. A beauty with long slender legs leans coyly against the mast of a luxury yacht, or makes her way to the edge of the shallow end of a swimming pool and paddles her legs in the water with a carefree air.

In some paradise in the Southern Seas, some dreamy insomniacs looking like mannequins wait at the bar counter while their cocktails are shaken. Under the palm trees and the coconut trees, a female swimmer just out of the water raises her arms towards the sky in order to catch and meet the willing eye of the hero of the movie, at whose side she suddenly appears, receiving from him a striped towel. These are bodies perfect in form, lightly tanned, the mere sight of which evokes the scents of bath oils, sun cream, and vacation – and they flash in front of our eyes on the screen for such a brief moment of time. Yet those instants are enough to fix the poses as they are, half innocent and half lascivious, in our minds.

Letchika Chorrau at the Cannes Film Festival, Bikini Story
Letchika Chorrau at the Cannes Film Festival, April 20, 1953.

Even if we see the film again immediately afterwards, the young women in bikinis remain no less blinding visions of loveliness, like classical Greek statues, like goddesses – Marilyn Monroe, Ursula Andress, Jayne Mansfield, Brigitte Bardot, Bo Derek, not to mention the countless Bond-girls and other screen starlets and nymphets dressed in bikinis, who may or may not have any real role in the story but who nevertheless participate in and contribute to the atmosphere of the film.

Since the 1950s the girl in a bikini played an intricate role in the movie industry. She was something to attract the audience’s attention, she was an accessory in the story, or she was the provoker of scandal. Following World War II, this industry seemed to very quickly latch onto the notion that a symbol for seduction was required. Films, which, after all, have always evolved more as art than as pure entertainment (which is not in any way to suggest anything derogatory), had, at this point, to accommodate the wishes of a population weary of warfare. A symbol of femininity was therefore created. It had nothing to do with notions of the “traditional” woman who toiled all day in the kitchen and who then welcomed her husband and his work colleagues into her home, clothed in an evening dress not entirely dissimilar from a bathrobe, or who waited with chaste heart and mind for her soul mate to return from the war.

Jayne Mansfield wearing a bright red bikini
Jayne Mansfield wearing a bright red bikini.

No, the “new” woman who came to dominate the screen, without completely eclipsing her predecessors, was very different. She was a woman entirely conscious of her ability to seduce – a woman who, disguised by innocent actions and toneless volubility, pursued her own goals and made her own way in life without scruples. An inkling of female emancipation was visible on her face, and if at first she did not specifically demand that emancipation, well, for the time being, she could at least dance the night away at jazz dives with hips bumping and grinding, she could take part in intellectual discussions with a cigarette in her hand, or could lean casually up against a bar. She wasted no time on shiftless men, who were there only to light the cigarette she took from her pocket. Such a woman of course had no problem at all with the idea of lounging in the sun in a bikini.

If this is the way she behaved, it was not solely because times had changed and former barriers were being broken down, but also because she had seen examples of a new lifestyle on the cinema screen.

In Stanley Kubrick’s movie Lolita, Sue Lyon stretches out on the lawn in the garden and, in her bikini, displays her adolescent charms on a stiflingly hot and tiring summer afternoon. The film’s hero, Humbert Humbert (James Mason), is not the only one to have changed outlooks on the world, as he remains living at the house of the widowed Mrs Haze (Shelley Winters), with whom he had at one stage wanted to elope.

Britt Ekland in the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Bikini Story
Britt Ekland in the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).

It was a time when countless girls decided to try to be as seductive as those they had seen in the movies. So when Brigitte Bardot, in Roger Vadim’s movie And God Created Woman, slid down a steep slope towards the sea dressed in a Vichy bikini, her progress was followed not only by the camera but also by the attentive eyes of thousands of female moviegoers who intended the following summer to be wearing an identical costume.

The bikini undoubtedly owed a large part of its success to the cinema – which actually featured it at first only because it was scandalous, and scandal filled seats. But it was quite right that there should have been some hesitation over it, for Hollywood had to be careful: initially it banned the bikini from the screen as “too corrupting and immoral.”

Raquel Welch in an orange bikini in front of fishing-nets
Raquel Welch in an orange bikini in front of fishing-nets.

To get a better insight into the Bikini Story, continue this exciting adventure by clicking on: 

Ebook: Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon AustraliaAmazon FrenchAmazon GermanAmazon MexicoAmazon ItalyAmazon SpainAmazon CanadaAmazon BrazilAmazon JapanAmazon India, Amazon Netherlands,  Parkstone InternationalEbook GalleryKoboBarnes & NobleGoogleAppleOverdriveEllibs
ScribdBookbeat, Ellibs24symbolsRedShelf, YouScribe

Hardcover: The Great British Book Shop, AbeBooks

Explore more on our Summertime reads:

Parkstone International is an international publishing house specializing in art books. Our books are published in 23 languages and distributed worldwide. In addition to printed material, Parkstone has started distributing its titles in digital format through e-book platforms all over the world as well as through applications for iOS and Android. Our titles include a large range of subjects such as: Religion in Art, Architecture, Asian Art, Fine Arts, Erotic Art, Famous Artists, Fashion, Photography, Art Movements, Art for Children.

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