A fashionable step back in history

elegant woman in red vintage bikini, sunglasses and silk scarf posing with rotary telephone, cloudy sky on background

In celebration of summer, Kirsty Davis takes a look back in time at the extravagant history of the bikini

Paula Stafford started creating the two-piece in the 1930s for her own use, until more and more women began asking to buy one off her. This was just the start to Paula’s bikini-career success.

In celebration of Paula turning 100-years-old in June this year, let us take you on a trip down bikini memory lane…

Paula in her shop, displaying fabric for bikinis – photo taken in the 1970s, sourced from the QLD Archives

1913 — Carl Jantzen debuts a two-piece bathing suit at the Olympics, 13 years after women are admitted to compete. The two-piece consisted of shorts on the bottom and a t-shirt on the top, but it was tight enough to cause a bit of a scandal.

Micheline Bernadini modelling Louis Réard’s two-piece swimsuit on 5 July 1946

1936 — Paula Stafford starts turning her one-piece swimwear into the well-known bikini. Women start asking Paula to make some for them, and Paula begins selling her new phenomenon from The Tog Shop.

1946 — French fashion designer, Jacques Heim, introduces a minimalist two-piece design into his beach shop in May. The design is named the ‘Atome’, after the smallest known particle of matter, which suited the design as it was the smallest swimsuit of its time.

One month later, French Engineer, Louis Réard, introduces his design for an even smaller bikini. Using four triangles of fabric, making up just 30 inches of fabric, Louis created the next controversial bikini. Showgirl Micheline Bernardini debuts the swimsuit at a popular swimming pool in the centre of Paris. Louis describes the two-piece as a suit which “reveals everything about a girl except for her mother’s maiden name”.

With the bikini war intensifying, both Jacques and Louis were at the centre of it all, receiving ten thousand letters of hate. But, both designers took that as an opportunity to gain more exposure, seeing both head to the skies to advertise by recruiting skywriters to fly around the Mediterranean and the French Riviera.

1951 — Australian, Mediterranean and European beaches close their doors to bikinis, introducing a ban following the first Miss World contestant in London and the Vatican declaring the skimpy two-piece swimsuit as ‘sinful’. But shockingly, this causes more love towards Louis and Jacques, with Louis receiving 50,000 fan letters, leading him to launch an aggressive ad campaign saying it’s not a real bikini “unless it could be pulled through a wedding ring”.

American actress, Jean Parker, is also making headlines after she’s escorted off Sydney’s Bondi Beach because her bikini was too skimpy.

French actress Brigitte Bardot at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953 wearing a floral bikini bathing suit

1953 — Brigitte Bardot caught everyone’s eye at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival, where she is photographed wearing a floral bikini on the beach in the south of France. The photographs stunned everyone, but Modern Girl magazine is not impressed, writing, “it is hardly necessary to waste words over the so called bikini since it is inconceivable that any girl with tact and decency would ever wear such a thing”.

1955 — Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Esther Williams follow in Brigitte’s footsteps shortly after, using the bikinis as paparazzi bait. Diana Dors wears a mink bikini during the 1955 Venice Film Festival whilst riding a gondola down Venice’s Grand Canal.

Marilyn Monroe in one of her last photo shoots, taken by George Barris for Cosmopolitan in July 1962

1960 — Bryan Hyland releases the super infectious hit single ‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’, sparking a demand for bikinis.

Ursula Andress in a white bikini for her role as Honey Ryder in the 1962 James Bond film, Dr No

1962 — Ursula Andress emerges from the surf wearing a white, belted bikini for her role as Honey Ryder in the James Bond movie Dr No. Andress says she owes her career to the skimpy outfit, commenting “this bikini made me into the success”.

Playboy follows suit, putting a bikini on its cover for the first time this year.

1963 — Annette Funicello is seen in hot, skimpy two-pieces, in movies such as Beach Party, filled with teenage girls in bikinis, the films take the bikini into the mainstream. Annette has started filming for the next movies in the sequel, Bikini Beach, Muscle Beach Party and Beach Blanket Bingo.

1966 — Raquel Welch is photographed in a deerskin bikini for the movie One Million Years BC, making the tattered swimsuit/loincloth more famous than the film itself.

1983 — The bikini takes on outer space as Carrie Fisher’s character, Princess Leia from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, rocks a gold bikini made of brass.

1988 — While the bikini phenomenon is becoming more popular than ever, the bikini itself is becoming smaller than ever. G-strings emerge from Brazil and suits are cut higher at the thigh.

1997 — The first-ever Australian Fashion Week sees Sydney label Zimmermann making its debut with a spider-web inspired collection of one-pieces and bikinis.

2001 — Supermodel Kristy Hinze causes a huge commotion when she struts down the runway at Australian Fashion Week in a $5 million diamond-encrusted Tigerlily bikini. But, that wasn’t the only thing turning heads, the live diamond python wrapped around her neck also caused quite a stir.

2003 — Going back to basics, Demi Moore made a splash when she walked out of the ocean in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and Blue Crush, in a black two-piece that was described by The New York Times as “the millennial equivalent of the power suit”.

Kathy Ford posed with a Chrysler Valiant racing vehicle at the Surfers Paradise International Raceway, Carrara, Queensland, 1972. Alexander McRobbie, photographer

2006 —Think the $5 million bikini was extravagant? Wait until you see the bikini designed by Susan Rosen. Made up of over 150 carats of diamonds and worth a reported $40 million, this two-piece makes up the world’s most expensive bikini and debuted in the 2006 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

2010 — Animal rights organisation PETA works with celebrities, including Pamela Anderson, who wears a bikini made from iceberg-lettuce to help promote vegetarianism in a PETA campaign.

Eva Herzigova brings in a retro-looking leather bikini to the mix, which shockingly, can also double as an outfit!

2018 — The size of the bikini is taken to a whole other level, with both the top and the bottom becoming almost non-existent. Tammy Hembrow takes the term risque up a notch after she posts photos in a thin strapped bikini with only a small slither of fabric covering herself.

2019 — Say goodbye to cleavage and hello to underboob! This new hot trend is becoming more and more prevalent, with Instagram and runways full of it. Miami Swim Week 2019 is underboob galore as the models strut their stuff in the bold design.

Ladies, if this hasn’t forced you into that summer feeling, I don’t know what will. So, grab your girlfriends and your bikinis (or those gorgeous one-pieces) and enjoy what Gold Coast beaches have to offer!



“To me, bikinis represent freedom, summer, and confidence. After having four children and feeling very self-conscious about my body, I have learned over time that I need to be proud of my body. I carried four beautiful children, and each mark on my body represents a story. As women in our ever-changing society, we need to be proud and confident in our skin. Bring on a bikini summer!”



“Being young and carefree, playing backyard cricket, in my polka dot bikini, at my grandparent’s holiday house and lazing in our pool at home with friends and brothers.”





“Going to the beach after work, during summer daylight savings. It was fabulous to go for a swim and have dinner in the evenings when it was daylight until about 8.30pm!”




“The bikini reminds me of my childhood, it reminds me of surf, of just being free, running around, jumping in the pool, jumping in the ocean and having a good time. But, I do remember the Meter Maids at Surfers Paradise — they always had these gold bikinis on. And I always thought, what a job, how cool!”

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