Geek Trivia

The Bikini Derives Its Name From What Unlikely Source?

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Micheline Bernardini modeling the first modern bikini
Hulton Archive/Wikimedia

Answer: The Atomic Bomb

In 1946, two distinct events overlapped in such a fashion as to forever link a swimsuit design with an island via a nuclear test. The island in question is Bikini Atoll, a ring-shaped coral reef island located in the Pacific Ocean within the Republic of the Marshall Islands. It was there that the United States tested 23 nuclear devices between 1946 and 1958.

When the tests started on the atoll, it made the news the world over and it was through the news that the designer of the modern two-piece swimsuit, French automotive engineer Louis Réard, heard about Bikini Atoll. Réard was so confident his design—which revealed more of the midriff and chest than previous two-piece swimsuits had—would be as explosive in popularity as an atomic bomb that he named it the bikini in a nod to the location of the nuclear tests.

Réard was right, from a long-term perspective. Short-term, however, the design was considered scandalous. In fact, he couldn’t even find a regular model in Paris to model the design for him. The woman seen here, Micheline Bernardini, was a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris who was more than happy to take the assignment in the summer of 1946 to promote the new swimsuit style. Part of the advertisement was the box she is holding in the photo above: Réard’s design was so small that the entire two-piece swimsuit could be packed into the tiny box in her left hand.