The Lay of the Land
The late 1960s are a time a simultaneous contrasts. In popular American media, string halters and nombril briefs remain the norm (CP6610, RW196710, RW196810, JB6810, TD6710). Sideties resonate on the unfastening theme (MT6910) and very low waistlines uncover bellage (ME6910) and rugage (EQ6810).
Powered by California beach party movies, pinup stars like Raquel Welch and Usurla Andress gain popularity. Advertising employs bikinis and bikini styles infect lingerie styles (RW196720). In One Million Years B.C. Welch's "first bikini" is her only costume; it becomes an instant planetary icon (RW196605). By the end of the decade she is flaunting an Americana theme (RW197005) and commanding a gallery of rowers in an equally revealing costume (RW197010). Bra cups are often cut low enough to display inches of cleavage (VD7010) if not tease areola (UA6610).
In a world of topless, pasties and nipple decoration also acquire validity (EC6510, BZ6801).
As the bikini shrinks smaller and smaller it becomes obvious that if this trend is to continue that something must give. And that something is the bikini top, the soutien-gorge.
The French Go Topless
The first foray to toplessness is a broadside, fired by American fashion designer Rudi Gernreich in 1964 and described in detail in the early 1960s page.
In America, at least in the mid 1960s, topless fails to migrate from the pages of Life Magazine onto real beaches. But the story in Europe was very different. Led by the daring and the naturalist set the first topless niche is the south of France. The movement seeps up from the naturalist beaches along the Riveria and concentrates at the nouveau riche St. Tropez and Cannes. At Cannes, the site of a major international film festival, a horde of obliging movie starlets doff their tops and vie for the riotous attention of a horde of photographers snapping their pictures--and sending the message around the world (L196250, L196251). In 1965 Playboy reports on "The Girls of the Riviera," who "take eye-filling advantage of a recent French court decision allowing topless beach attire." The monokini movement gains momentum when young French actress Brigitte Bardot introduces topless sunbathing at the Byblos Hotel in St. Tropez in 1967 (BB6710). The Byblos accommodates them by building a solarium, surrounded by bushes, near the pool.
So although the French prove Rudi Gernreich right on his five year estimate, they prove him wrong on the style, for they avoid the flim-flam of straps, attempts to make the maillot topless, and coiture. The French simply shed their bikini tops altogether (MR6810).
By 1970 the movement catches the attention of French fashion magazine Elle (E197002) and begins it migration from pinup starlets at Cannes to French women of every age and description. The resort beaches at Monte Carlo, St. Tropez and Côté d'Azur become famous worldwide (EE197810).
Less uptight than the Americans, European women throughout the northern Mediterranean embrace the extra freedom of movement, more natural look, and equal exposure to the sun that males enjoy. Topless spreads to Spain, Italy, Germany, as well as to French Arab retreats in Africa, and to the French islands in the Caribbean, where the more adventurous Americans traveled too. By the 1980s, Australia is topless.
The exact source of the influences that converge at this time include the reductionist pressures of the bikini and liberating feminist tendencies. The dress of the music hall now arrives at the masses. Now, not going topless at St. Tropez is gauche.
But despite Rudi Gernreich, topless fashion is slow to spread to the American beach. It is ironic that the maximum resistance is not the Catholic countries of southern Europe, but in Protestant-dominated America, where topless is met with a strident backlash of legislative mistrust. In many places a struggle results between conservative municipalities and feminist/naturalist factions. Only the Muslim world remains more conservative.
Clearly, significant elements of American society embrace the new freedom. Hollywood doesn't miss a beat. In 1965 Thelma Oliver bares her breasts in the Pawnbroker; it is the first such exposure since the advent of the Hays Code. Playboy informs its readers about topless, the no-bra bra, the bottomless (or what we now call a maillot tanga, PB6501), and Mary Quant's newest invention, the miniskirt, in "The Nude Look." The following year actress Jane Fonda sheds her top for a pool dip (JF6610), and demonstrates that Americans can match European talent. Except that back in England Jane Birkin and Gillian Hills display full-frontal nudity in the film Blow Up in 1966. And it takes the English publication Penthouse to finally introduce pubic hair into America men's media in1969.
The new sexuality and permissiveness of the late 1960s embrace total nudity and the advocacy of free love. Feminists burn their bras at the 1968 Miss America pageant, and millions elect to go braless.
Nowhere is the new permissiveness of the late 1960s and early 1970s more freely expressed than at the counterculture art fair and large open-air rock concert, where toplessness, bottomlessness, nudity and even public sex go unchallenged. These members of the Woodstock Nation span all ages, and their tendency to endorse the sexual revolution also contributes to their naturalism. They range from the girl in the apartment next door, who doffs her top at a secluded pond Upstate, to hippies and biker chicks at rock music festivals.
But women in general are reluctant to follow their lead at the beach or the pool. Outside of nudist enclaves on Fire Island and the more secluded areas of the California coast among friends, topless or nude sunbathers are bushwhacked by police in the wild, and self-censored in family media. Sports Illustrated's Annual Swimsuit issues start featuring models that are topless after 1983, but these beauties always face away from the camera or hold their hands over their breasts. The fashion magazine Vogue does little more, although it occasionally offers a frank expression.
Meanwhile, on the beaches of France, the maillot rolldown (aka maillot de roulè), in which a maillot is rolled down to topless, emerges at a competitor to the topless bikini.
Finally, in 1992 the Topfree Seven women in New York emerge victorious in a protracted legal battle to go topless in New York, when the state Supreme Court rules women have equal rights in the matter. But even in New York, topless matures slowly, largely because men can't handle it. Those who do, like their already topless European counterparts, often opt for the most minimal bikini, the topless tanga or g-string (1995-2000).
The Dichotomy of Open-up Cover-up
Reductionism as a trend of the 1960s and 1970s invokes exposures quite varied from the flagrant stripping to expose more flesh area, the so-called string bikini vector. Reduction also includes exposures of considerable less flesh, except that the flesh that is covered is more thinly veiled. This peek-a-boo look is accomplished with a variety of new materials: fishnet, crochet, see-through, chain mail, and Spandex. "No cover, No Minimum" titles Playboy. "The No-Bra Look," says Life.
Fashion magazines like Vogue and Bazaar herald these diversions more in the vein of art-fashion than the beach, as designers Andre Correges and Paco Rabanne rush to introduce loose-fitting plastic chain-mail camisoles, bras, halters, and bandeaux that encourage glimpses of the anatomy underneath (fig. 23-6, RS69). In the movies, Fellini's costume designers for Satyricon posture the metallic cutout bra (SY6910) as a costume of Roman times.
In truth, a lot more crochet bikinis are sold than are ever worn to the beach. What does migrate from the pages of the popular press into reality is a more casual display of the breast. The 1960s evolves a propensity to bralessness and a free-moving breast inside the shirt. Skirts that are looser-fitting invite nipple peeks down armholes and shirt-tops. The fashion fringe then discovers see-through and transparent blouses. Allegedly invented by Rudi Gernreich, the inventor of the topless maillot, the more covered see-through blouse allows the full figure to be viewed through the gauze of material (fig. 23-5). The see-through is not a look for the timid. Translucency--somewhere between opaque and the Emperor's New Clothes--allows the body to be covered, yet completely exposed. Ironically, the transparent and semi-transparent blouse is a more public garment than the bikini and because it is more covered-up overall, it can be less covered.
Another manifestation of the open-up/cover-up dichotomy are swimsuits that expose the absolute maximum amount of belly, but cover up the rest of the body, including the chest, legs and arms, and which have high necks, hoods, and long sleeves (VG7110) or pantaloons (VG6710).