When Robin uttered the words “Holy Bikini” on the Batman television series the look was still rather scandalous, especially for more conservative parts of the country such as the Midwest. Banned by the Catholic church, wearing a bikini was almost as much an anti-establishment political statement as it was a fashion movement. Today, though, it is a sure sign that spring is on its way.
When puberty finally hit it suddenly seemed that bikinis were everywhere. I noticed them in the store. I noticed them on television. I noticed them in the magazines at the doctor’s office. I especially noticed them in the Sears & Roebuck Spring catalog. I didn’t have any complaints, but my mother certainly did. “Anything you can’t wear to church probably shouldn’t be worn in the first place,” she said more than once.
As bikinis became more popular, and more acceptable in society, so did the concept of tanning. In fact, it was tanning that led to bikinis in the first place. Louis Réard was, of all things, a mechanical engineer running his mother’s lingerie shop in Paris when he noticed women on the beaches of St. Tropez rolling up the edges of their swimsuits, much more modest two-piece ensembles, to get better tans. Being the ever-so-helpful person, Réard went back to his mom’s shop, got out the scissors, and started cutting, introducing the first bikini on July 5, 1945.
There’s an apocryphal story how that none of the fashion models in Paris would wear the outfit, so Réard had to hire a stripper to don the two-piece for its initial debut. The response was underwhelming. Tanning is what made the bikini popular among young women; well, that and the attention it drew from admiring young men. Had bronze-colored skin not become a symbol of the leisurely lifestyle of the rich and famous, Réard’s fashion might not have taken off the way it did.
Over the years, bikinis have gotten micro-small at times only to come back with the larger belted look later. One thing retailers can count on, though, is that bikinis will sell starting no later than mid-March. Wait until April and one is dramatically behind the curve. College spring breaks demand the sexiest of beachwear and heaven forbid one show up wearing the same suit as last year.
Most recent numbers, released this past February, show that the average woman owns four bikinis and that the average price is around $24.26. Understand, though, that’s industry-wide and includes discounters who no one ever admits to actually shopping. Most American women will own more (though they’re not likely to wear more than three or four in a season) and are more often likely to spend more for a suit that actually fits. The ability to mix and match tops and bottoms is an especially popular feature.
I don’t shoot a lot of bikini photos simply because so many other photographers make it the focal point of their work. I certainly don’t have anything against them, though, and to the extent they offer us an opportunity to get out and shoot in places we might not otherwise consider, such as this waterfall, I’m happy to oblige. The only down side is anxiously waiting for weather warm enough to accommodate such pleasures.
Today is the last day of March, though, so Holy Bikini, Batman, pass the tanning lotion and let’s get this swimwear season underway. This is one sign of Spring sure to make almost everyone smile, except my mom.