The Bikini Breakout
The 1950s are an unusual decade that mixes liberalism with postwar prosperity and conservatism. Ironically it is post-war Europe, in particular France, that leads the way in beach exposure throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Which is fitting perhaps, since the bikini is born there.
Whatever the lure of the bikini--and many theories are suggested throughout this tome--it is not universally accepted, even in France. Its first confrontation is the Miss World competition, a beauty contest of somewhat dubious merit, where it is banned in 1952, after the hopefuls outdo each other with excess. By now bikini's media center focuses around Cannes, the French resort town on the Mediterranean and site of an international film competition. There, in front of ogling hordes of photographers, starlets begin wearing bikinis three or more inches below navel, and with extremely small tops. Benefactors of this rage include a young French actress Brigitte Bardot and a Swede, Ursula Andress.
Bardot is 12 years old when Réard packs his matchbox of explosives. In 1952 she is 18 and the scantily attired leading lass in the movie Mania, La Fille San Voiles, subsequently retitled The Girl in the Bikini (BB5201). The bikini becomes such an integral part of Brigitte Bardot's career that she acquires a label in true Hollywood tradition--she is The Bikini Girl, although in time she will champion even smaller fashion. In the following year, 1953, it is director Roger Vandim who introduces The Bikini Girl to Cannes (BB5310). Three years late he directs his now wife topless and buttaged in And God Created Woman, which explodes her audience. She spends much of the remaining 1950s bikinied or otherwise undressed, and her exploits at taking toplessness to the public beach are discussed in the next section.
Another of the new breed of bikinied pinup girls is Swedish Ursula Andress. Like Bardot, Andress in the 1950s wears less on the beach (UA5410) than most American wear 20 years later--and 20 years later, in the 1970s--Andress still remains a bikini icon. Andress has her bikinis custom-made--her strapless underwire tops are combined with very low-cut briefs that threaten to expose pubic hair and feature side straps that are under one inch wide. Like Bardot, she is not shy about posing nude, either.
The American Response
The American response is more muted. Exercise is an excuse for this pinup who barely shows her belly button (SS5120). The girlie magazines, such as Wink and Eyeful, document the European excesses and tests of vulgarity. These first bikiniites include not only the French, Italian and Swedish beauties, but the English starlet Joan Collins (JC5510) and many others who are willing to dress down to up the attention.
Mainstream media, such as Life and Vogue depict a more covered-up look (fig. 15-8) and tend to keep the navel hidden. In fact, navels are censored by Hollywood, both with high waistlines (RH5310) as well as with pasties (JY5510, TA5510, JM5540).
But none the less, the die is cast. At the end of the 1940s, the basic form of the two piece is refined to where it has to search for new zones of exposure. Fabrics become tighter-fitting and tops are fully constructed, and alternatives to the exposure of the navel and lower belly are sought. These experiments include the lattice-tie (aka, a lacing), with its exposure window of criss-crossed fastened materials. Lattice-ties date from the oughts, but the deux-pièces lattice-side emerges in the late 1930s and throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s provides an alternative to navel exposures (LA4710, AB5050, SH5210). Navels on lattice-sides tend to remain covered, and although illustrators like Peter Driben widen the side and lower the waistline (PT5340). only a few in real life match the drawn view (MM). The width of the lattice side provides a powerful exposure of previously untanned flesh, coupled with the device of closure. But during the 1950s it is the newly revealed navel and retreating waistline that capture the popular imagination, and the lattice-side looses interest.
Lattice-side tops include bandeau as well as halter styles. The use of string ties not only on the side of the brief but also on the halter of this 1946 Peter Driben beauty anticipate the string bikini (PT4610). Another lattice theme is found in the vest, worn alone as a top, which echoes the lacing theme, only with the lattice in front.
Beside the lattice-side, pin-up media after 1950 also begins to experiment with silhouettes which will become mainstays in the following decade--like this sidegather bikini that combines gathers in both the front of the bandeau as well well the sides of the nombril (US5001), or this sidetie (US5056).
In fact, younger American stars keep up with their European rivals. Marilyn Monroe, an emerging star in the 1950s, makes the switch from deux-pièces to bikinis in 1951 (MM5101, MM5102). Monroe is already a veteran at modeling nude--Tom Kelly shot her famous calendar pose in 1949--and she is prepared to match Bardot and Andress action for action, although she is less forthcoming at revealing her lower belly in extremely low-cut briefs. Monroe portrays an sexuality that is part vamp, part victim, and which thus appears equally to men and women. It is regrettable that her photographic record terminates prior to the evolution of the string bikini, although one might note that some of her 1950s bikinis are string bikinis.