July 5, 1946, marks a major step in women’s liberation—one few people are familiar with. On this day, 71 years ago, the first-ever bikini was unveiled to the masses.
French automotive engineer Louis Réard (a man—shocking!) debuted his sartorial invention in Paris with the help of 19-year-old Micheline Bernardini.
The concept of a tiny women’s swim garment was so unbelievably risqué at the time that Réard had trouble finding a model willing to wear it. Eventually, he recruited Bernardini, who actually worked as a nude dancer in a Parisian casino.
Réard named the two-piece suit after Bikini Atoll, where the U.S. had just began testing nuclear bombs—the idea being that his bold design would be comparably explosive.
Well, its reception certainly took the public by surprise. Upping the shock factor, Bernardini held a matchbox in her hand when she modeled the suit (below), reminding onlookers of Réard’s claim that both pieces could fit inside it.
Can you imagine where we’d be today without the now ubiquitous swim style? Talk about making a splash!