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1955-1960: Strapless and Cleavage
The Bikini Pinup
   One gets a very different view of the development of the bikini if one compares pinup media vs. the mainstream. Without question by the late 1950s the bikini has become de rigeur for all starlets (e.g., MA5810), and increasingly a requirement for movie stars as well. The Bikini Girl, Brigitte Bardot continues to introduce increasingly lower-waistline bikinis (BB5635, BB5810, BB5950), but few of her American counterparts are able to play catch-up.
   The standard pinup costume features waistlines dancing three inches (and sometimes more) below the belly button, and tops that display abundant cleavage, uplift (DO5810), and reduced lining. Harem silhouettes rediscover the late 1800s (GL5910-20). Only the rarest birds discover the string halter and the vector to the future (SA5810). Indeed, in the hands of illustrators like Peter Driben and magazines like Wink and Flirt, the bikini is sometimes little more than two handkerchiefs tied on the body. Nor is the fashion world immune to these developments; in Europe especially the waistline is plummeting (EL5701, CR5710) and the soutien-gorge shrinking. Underwear styles also reflect the reduction (JL5701).
   Foundations dominate much of the 1950s, and large breasts and foundation tops play a major role, both in halter, bra, and bandeau (MA5830) silhouettes. Belly buttons and bandeaux are more a theme of the 1950s (KG6030) and will wane with the new decade. The space age is never far from the bathing suit, especially the pointed nose cone bra cups that often dominate both the sweater-girl look and the soutien-gorge. Sometimes the cone cup is melded into the overall foundation of the bra; sometimes they are free-standing constructions, made with a ring of steel around the cup connecting to a center ring, the back strap, and an optional shoulder or neck strap. But still, foundation is headed for extinction.

The Mainstream Position
   Despite Brigitte Bardot and the American pinup magazine, the mainstream swimsuit in the late 1950s often remains very conservative. Sandra Dee, in anticipation of the 1960s beach movie, barely displays her belly button in Gidget (SD5901), while Mitzi Gaynor (SP5801) and a United Artists movie starlet doesn't even reveal their umbilicus (UA5910). Many suits completely cover the navel, and require fasteners to secure (JM5610). Perry Mason, Earl Stanley's Gardner's fictional defense attorney, finds photos of a lady in a "Bikini" (not caps) scandalous; in keeping with the times (RC5710). Swimsuit manufacture Cole finally introduces its first mass-produced bikini at the end of the decade, a concoction that combines a slightly stiffened constructed bra that balances tension between bandeau and halter ties, and which contains an inner lining (C195910). It is not as rigid as the pointy torpedoes of earlier 1950s, but it does display the navel, a big step forward for mainstream. Lining is the norm, and a slightly lengthened legline can compensates for the little bit of belly-down (LR86AB).

Maillot Developments
   In America, attention in the 1950s focuses on the bosom and the possibilities of the strapless maillot (TJ58B0). Bustline is well-defined, indeed often generous. Boning, wire, and elastic help to hold up the tops, and should nature not provide adequate size, padding does.
   Lining remains, elasticized fabrics shape to body, and foundations, especially in the 1950s, play a big role, in only because the maillot's larger structure and corset shape invite shaping the body with boning, wiring, girdling, shirring, cording, elasticized side panels, and separated bra cups (VS5610). The cantilever is the tool of the architect, the rocket scientist, and the bikini scientist.
   As the 1950s progress the erogenous zones shift from the leg to an obsession with bosom and cleavage; foundations enable the straps to be reduced to halter strings (BO5610), and even discarded as the lure of the maillot strapless emerges to combat bikini.
   The new maillot also dramatizes the back, and forces strapping to be re-examined (JC5620). Between the 1920s and 1950s, backing has evolved from the sleeveless tank (Kellerman), to narrow bra-like straps, to backless (Harlow-style), to halter tie, and now to strapless.
   The mid-1950s maillot, cast against the steady revelations of bikini, also encapsulates truly regressive elements: Sportswhirl's high necklines and pantaloon-length legline (LE5430), long sleeves made of tight-fitting elasticized wool jersey (LE5440), and Claire McCardell's hooded beachwear (LE5450) all show maillot cover-up reactions to the bikini. Sometimes the maillot is more incisive: this model doffs her jacket off a strapless, but the baggy bottoms are beyond retro (EL5702)
   Although the more covered up maillots are a liability for tanning, as they begin to shed linings, boned bustlines, and corseting the freer fitting and unlined garments become easier to swim in. All that said, maillot's variations, covering up or tossing foundation, fail to capture popular appeal. It is an era of midriff...and for the bikini to shrink in size the gain in popularity.
Breasts are very much in play.
   1956--American surfers in Malibu introduce the fiberglass covered balsa-wood surfboard.
   1956--Fellatio is suggested in the movie Baby Doll, an adoption of Tennessee Willams's play. The movie is condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency and becomes a huge box office success.
   1956--The movie, The Man With the Golden Arm, graphically depicts drug addicts, another no-no from the Hayes Code.
   1956--Capitol records recording star Gene Vincent is convicted for obscenity in Virginia for his sexual innuendos on the pop tune "Woman Love."
   1956--Jane Mansfield, star of the film The Girl Can't Help It, opens the movie sauntering down a street clenching a milk bottle to her breasts.
   1956--Congress replaces the national official motto, "E Pluribus Unum," with a new one, "In God We Trust."
   1957--Brigitte Bardot stars in ...And God Created Woman, and causes a sensations at the Cannes Film Festival, perhaps because Bardot flashes a breast (BB5701). St. Tropez is put on the map.
   1957--Starlet Janet Leigh reveals herself in only a bra and bikini underwear in the film Jet Pilot, advancing the cause of underwear in the movies.
   1957--The United State Supreme Court, writing in Roth vs. the US, narrows the definition of obscenity as something that "taken on the whole, appeals to prurient interests," and upholds the conviction of Manhattan bookseller Samuel Roth.
   1957--Gossip columnist Dorothy Kilgallen publishes a rumour of an affair between Kim Novak and Sammy Davis Jr., the first black-white coupling in the movie business. When Harry Cohn, the powerful senior executive of Columbia hears the news, he suffers a heart attack and dies eight weeks later.
   1957--Harry Belafonte and Joan Fontaine, and Dorothy Dandridge and James Manson perform the first interracial kisses in the movie Island in the Sun.
   1957--President Eisenhower orders Federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas in order to enforce school desegregation.
   1957--Martine Carol takes a nude silhouette shower in the film Nathalie.
   1957--Brigitte Bardot lifts her skirt to tempt Jean Gabin in the French film Love in My Profession. She becomes the most condemned actress by the Legion of Decency.
   1957--Dance costumes in Las Vegas shrink until the first topless acts appear this year.
   1957--In England photographer and publisher George Harrison Marks launches Kamera magazine as a showcase for voluptuous nudes. Mark's subsequent publications include Solo and In Focus and his discoveries include Paula Page, June Palmer, Lorraine Burnett and Rosa Dolmai.
   1957--In America, Arv Miller launches Fling, a big-bust magazine that features the photography of Russ Meyer
   1958 --Russ Meyer begins a career making nudie movies with The Immoral Mr. Teas. It is confiscated by San Diego police at its premiere in1959, but reopens in Los Angeles in1960 for a successful three-year long run. It grosses over $1 million dollars.
   1958--Burlesque star Honey Bee becomes the first burlesque star to get breast enlargements.
   1958--Joe Shivers, working at DuPont, perfects spandex, a synthetic elastic fibre which has the ability to stretch and return to its original shape. DuPont markets the product under the brand name Lycra and it becomes immensely successful for swimwear, foundationwear, hosiery, bras, pantyhose, dresses, sportswear, slacks, jeans, and activewear.
   1958--The United State Supreme Court unanimously strikes the post office ban on mailing naturalist magazines. The decision is based on Roth vs. US.
   1958--Elizabeth Taylor saunters about in a slip in the movie Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
   1958--Mamie Van Doren popularizes the pointed bra in the movie High School Confidential.
   1958--The movie A Farewell to Arms uses the word "whore," to much public outcry.
   1958--Hula hoop is invented. The craze that follows is related to the rock 'n' roll and surf beat.
The Royal Teens' pop song "Who Wears Short Shorts" popularizes the smaller, tighter short, one worn not on the beach but on the street.   1958--In California, Dick Dale, the "King of the Surf Guitar," originates surf music.
   1959--Hawaii becomes a state; Hawaiian music, hula lessons and surfing become hot.
   1959--Sandra Dee plays Gidget, a young beach bunny and sets the stage for the beach party film genre (see SD5901).
   1959--Pantyhose evolves as short skirts demand hosiery that runs the full length of the leg. It is first introduced by Glen Raven Mills, of Altamahaw, NC. The original prototype is prepared by Margaret Minor, a seamstress, who sews panties onto a pair of hose, at the request of then president Allan Gant. Goodbye to garters and hose.
   1959--Jean Seberg wears a Herald Tribune T-shirt in Breathless, extending the range of the T-shirt to the female sex.
   1959--Jean-Marc Bory and Jeanne Moreau demonstrate missionary position sex in The Lovers.
   1959--Homosexuality is implied to the movie Suddenly, Last Summer.
   1959--Matel introduces the Barbie doll at the New York Toy Fair. She comes complete with swimsuits.
   1958-- The Royal Teens' pop song "Who Wears Short Shorts" popularizes the smaller, tighter short, one worn not on the beach but on the street.
   1960--Connie Francis makes a movie debut in Where the Boys Are, and along with Paula Prentiss, Yvette Mimieux and Dolores Hart, head south to help to establish Ft. Lauderdale as a college spring break colony.
   1960--Brian Hyland rides to the top of the music charts with the song "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini."
   1960--Sophia Loren and her on-screen daughter are ganged raped by Moroccan soldiers in the Italian film Two Women, ushering in a new era of violence in cinema. Elsewhere this year she strips down to her bra and panties in the movie The Millionairess.
   1960--The birth control pill is approved by the FDA.
   1960--Producer Ray Stark "forces" actress Nancy Kwan to wear a bra and panties instead of a slip in The World of Suzie Wong.
Marisa Allasio Bikini
Brigitte Bardot bandeau sidetie bikini 1956
Sacha Distel Brigitte Bardot bandeau sidetie bikini 1958
Brigitte Bardot bandeau sidetie string bikini 1959
Dawn Oney shelf bra and sidetie bikini 1958
Gina Lollobrigida Solomon and Sheba harum 1959
Simone Auger string halter nombril bikini 1958
French bandeau nombril bikini 1957
Halter nombril bikini 1957
Janet Leigh underwear Jet Pilot 1957
Marisa Allasio bandeau bikini 1958
Kruger postcard bandeau nombril bikini 1960
Sandra Dee Gidget bra and nombril bikini 1959
Mitzi Gaynor & Rossano Brazzi South Pacific bra and shorts 1958
halter shorts deux-pièces 1959
Jean McCallen halter panties deux-pièces 1956
Perry Mason looks at a bikini girl 1957
Cole halter sidegather bikini 1959
Zipper culotte 1950s bikini
Terry Jean Cover Vue November 1958 strapless maillot
Venetia Stevenson srapless maillot Focus August 1956
Barbara Osterman string strap maillot Focus August 1956
Joan Collins strapped maillot Focus August 1956
Strapless maillot with bloomer 1957