The Science of deux-pièces
America's conversion to the deux-pièces takes about ten years--1936-1946. The deux-pièces, pioneered in Europe in the mid-1930s, meets resistance in America, but in time the tend toward a slimmer, barer body prevails
One factor is a US government dictum which defines standards for reducing the amount of fabric in clothes. The War Production Board Limitation Order L-85 creates what might be called "a wartime cheesecake policy," and invites shorter skirts and midriff baring, and which insures that smaller swimsuits are de patriote rigeur.
Movie stars headline the conversion process as Hollywood ensures that the servicemen's leading pin-ups--including Betty Grable, Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth--comply--and bare their bellies. By the end of the war, bare-midriff is standard equipment for all, only unlike hemlines, the skin continues to stay exposed after the war is over, despite vogue movements to the contrary.
The newer garments more tightly mold the figure (SS4110, fig. 13-1), a look made possible by widespread integration of elastics, synthetic stretch fabrics (particularly nylon), and foundation in general. Legs and the midriff are newly exploited exposures.
As the decade matures a cornucopia of top and bottom combinations parade the beach, after all the deux-pièces allows for a wide variety of top-bottom combinations. The Bikini Scientist observes that the combinatorial possibilities far exceed the number of elements--in fact the variety of two piece silhouettes is the product of the different types of top and the types of bottoms. Bult multiplication aside, there do appear to be certain combinations that resonate with certain moments in history. And these silhouettes will receive the special mention they deserve.
Once fully freed of the bottoms, the top quickly establishes basic styles: the halter, the bra and, by the mid-1940s, the bandeau. Basic bottom styles emerge too, particularly shorts (SS4140, fig. 13-1.1), the high-waisted skirted panty (fig. 13-1.2), the sheath (BM4110, SS4120, SS4130, MS4310), the sarong (also called the diaper), and the panty. These are all discussed in detail shortly.
Legs are a critical erogenous zone in the early 1940s and leggage is driven by multiple forces. In mainline fashion, nylon hose encourage women to adopt high hemlines for dresses--remember that the leg is covered with something--so exposures are compromised. But hose with the swimsuit has now been abandoned for over a decade and leglines since the late 1930s have been inching upward until they now shoal on the bottom of the buttocks. Leg art is compatible with the maillot--one must look no father than Betty Grable's famous picture--furthermore, legs are compatible with the emerging deux-pièces as well.
Leglines vary from well below crotch (PG4110) to about level with it (VK4110), and legs, even with competition from stomach, remain an erogenous zone. So is cleavage, which remain very much in play. Hayworth's soutien-gorge counters this general trend, being looser fitting and with deeper cleavage.
The uncovering of midriff is a story told in detail throughout Bikini Science. Both before and after the early 1940s belly exposures are framed in the maillot cutout, and even after the deux-pièces is introduced bare midriff exposures are slow and deliberate, averaging about one inch per year. After 1935, the bare midriff exposure first widens upward. The first circumferences of belly flesh are narrow bands--often one inch or possibly only a tantalizing incremental flash. This story is told in detail in bellage. At the beginning of the 1940s Hollywood's leading ladies, like Paulette Goddard, are prepared to display only a narrow ring of belly (PG4110), but as the decade progresses the belly opens up inch (SS4110, BM4110, SS4140) by inch (SS4120, SS4130). This is accomplished largely by reduction of the distinctive shelf below the cups of the halter (SS4120) and by a lowering of the waistline, which starts the decade will above the natural waistline and navel. Early 1940s waistlines tend to remain high, and often have drawstrings, deep waistbands, or belts. Waistlines always cover the belly button and lie above it.
Many early 1940s swimsuits incorporated a constructed called the shelf bra or shelf halter (SS4110, SS4130, SS4140, BM4110, MS4310), depending upon the strap arrangement. Because of the similarity of construction and purpose, both constructions are herein treated together. The defining characteristics of the shelf is a layered construction with a shelf, or ring, of fabric around the chest which both deepens the soutien-gorge, extending coverage downward, and also aids foundation.
Only in the late 1940s do these frames disappear and a slimmer brassière evolve, with cleavage remaining a major draw (LT4610). One breakthrough occurs in 1943, when airplane designer Howard Hughes designs the steel underwire bra for sweater girl Jane Russell to wear in The Outlaw (JR4310). The curved steel support enables Ms. Russell to lean over, display abundant cleavage, yet remain contained. Hays Code censors work overtime to delay the release of the picture, but in the end the score is Jane Russell 2, Mr. Hays 0.
The early 1940s also witness the introduction of the bandeau into swimwear. Hardly a new invention and a stable of the theater for centuries, the new bandeau is thinner, highly elastic, and presents the more risky strapless alternative. In a true Bikini Science moment, the bandeau is catapulted into national attention in 1943, when Life Magazine publishes a photo spread featuring Chili Williams, the Polka Dot Girl (CW4310), and receives 100,000 letters in response. After Chili, polka dots and bandeau are mandatory (YK4X10).
Strongly horizontal, and always in jeopardy of falling off, the bandeau also becomes a favorite of the Goddess of Love, Rita Hayworth (RH4401). Hayworth is second only to Clark Grable as America's favorite pin-up in the mid-1940s, and her sultry bare-midriff strapless poses evoke heat. One of these pictures may have been attached to the atomic bomb detonated at Hiroshima, sort of a pre-Bikini Atoll connection to the Atomic Age.
In the early 1940s the shelf bra and halter are popularly combined with the sheath culotte (BM4110, SS4120, SS4130, MS4310). The sheath is morphogenicized when the skirt in the rear is shed, and it allows a more discriminating view of the elasticly shaped hips (AS3710) and crotch (MM4501).
But more is happening besides the bottom tightening in. By mid-decade, a new variant has evolved; one which allows a more intimate visual inspection of the crotch. And this is the sarong culotte (aka the diaper). This design, which takes several forms, abandons the last vestiges of the skirt--namely the front panel of the sheath--and instead wraps fabric around the waist and between the legs, knotting it on the side (YK4X20, fig. 13-4). Sarong was so popular that there is even a Sarong Girl--Dorothy Lamour (fig. 13-4a).
The sarong tightens the bottom into the shape of the pubis, and eliminates a second layer of cloth over the crotch as the front skirt of the sheath is lost. The sarong is more suggestive too because it overtly provides the method to removal--the knot on the side. Toward the end of the decade, the sarong is simplified further and becomes the panty culotte. By 1950, the sarong is largely forgotten and will not be rediscovered until the post-string era (fig. 13-5), when it will be structured slightly differently because it is bare-naveled. Once again, knots go together.
A product of synthetic elastics, the panty culotte initially has a boxy look, with a triangular-like assembly in the crotch (fig. 13-6). But after a time, this tightens, eliminating the superfluous horizontal line and gloving the shape of the body completely inside it (fig. 13-7). Manufactured from two or more pieces of fabric sewn together at the sides and between the legs, and lined, the panty tightens itself into the crotch, clearly revealing its form. By 1950 panty's legline pitches up slightly from the crotch and, depending on how scandalous one wants to be, molds into the negative contour of the buttocks, yet keeps them completely covered. It is this simpler cut that will evolve to true bikini, although at first the high waistline keeps the navel latent.
The panty brief combines easily with the bandeau (fig. 13-8) and forms one of the perennial silhouettes. The arced legline echoes the two arches of the breasts as the thinner elastics grip tightly to the body.
Thus the die is cast. The deux-pièces is getting smaller, thinner, tighter, and more colorful. But a shock wave is in the making too....