One of the earliest pieces of art depicting "bikinis" is a mosaic from the Diocletian period (286-305 AD) on tiles at the Villa Romana Del Casale in Sicily, Italy. The painting features women — nicknamed the "Bikini Girls" — participating in athletic competitions in what look like two-piece swimsuits.
The mother of modern swimwear is Australian athlete, synchronized swimmer, and film star Annette Kellerman. She paved — or swam, rather — the way to the bikini by advocating that women should be able to wear a one-piece swimsuit, which was controversial in those days of dresses and pantaloons. In 1907, Annette broke ground by wearing one of her one-piece vaudeville costumes (like the one pictured) out on a public beach and was promptly arrested for indecency.
Thanks to Annette and the introduction of women into Olympic swimming, Carl Jantzen designed the first functional "two-piece" swimsuit in 1913, a one-piece with shorts and short sleeves.
While bikinis may seem like no biggie these days, when they first hit the modern world, there was quite a stir. When French engineer Louis Réard and fashion designer Jacques Heim revealed the first bikini designs in 1946, the only model willing to wear the string suit was nude dancer Micheline Bernardini. They even named it after the islands where the atomic bomb was tested because they believed it would be so shocking.
Thanks to the celebrities and pinup stars of the '40s, by the early '50s, two-piece swimsuits were becoming more and more popular on American beaches.
Perhaps the most famous onscreen bikini is the white bikini of Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder in the 1962 James Bond film, Dr. No. The sultry two-piece — complete with a British Army belt, brass buckles, and a scabbard to hold her dagger — may not be your everyday beach bikini, but the iconic suit skyrocketed sales of two-piece swimwear.
Sports Illustrated magazine's "swimsuit issue" is famous, especially with men, but it began tame enough with this sweet cover of bikini-clad model Babette March in 1964 (at least compared to Kate Upton's busty 2013 cover). This issue is even credited as legitimizing the two-piece, which was considered quite scandalous up until that point. It was invented to boost readership during the sporting industry's slow Winter months, and it's taken off from there.
The bikinis of the '80s were known for their high-waisted string bottoms that seemed to get as close to the rib cage as possible! And neon colors were a must.
The tankini is a swimsuit combining a tank top and a bikini bottom. While they seem so commonplace now, the first tankinis were only introduced in the late 1990s.
In 2003, Miss Afghanistan Vida Samadzai was the first Afghan woman to participate in an international beauty pageant since 1974 when she competed at Miss Earth 2003. But the Afghan Supreme Court publicly chided her for wearing a bikini and showing off her body, something they said goes against Islamic law and the country's culture. She may not have been crowned Miss Earth, but she was awarded a Beauty For a Cause award at that year's competition.
Made famous in the US by Sacha Baron Cohen's appearance on a Cannes beach to promote his 2006 film, Borat, the slingshot or sling bikini is a a one-piece suit that provides as little coverage (or as much exposure) as a bikini. These bikinis first hit the stores in the early 1990s, after Lycra was invented, and I probably don't have to tell you that they're far more popular on European beaches.
While Dame Helen Mirren isn't rocking her red two-piece in this pic, it's clear to see why she's been making headlines with her beautiful bod. After Helen Mirren posed naked in a bathtub and her bikini shots were all over the Web in 2010, there was a huge rise in women over 50 who were buying something a little skimpier.
In Esquire earlier this year, Sofia Vergara made us privy to her thoughts on American-style bikinis versus the "dental-floss bikini," aka g-string bikini, of her native Colombia:
I was like, What is that? It's like a diaper. It's terrible . . . There's nothing slutty about a dental-floss bikini. You don't even think about it. The first bathing suit your mother buys you is in the shape of a triangle.
Sporty swimwear has had its fair share of controversy. With sports like beach volleyball, there's a double standard of men being able to wear comfortable athletic clothing while women are often expected to wear skimpy, revealing outfits.
In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, beach volleyball cheerleaders caused a stir by gyrating at the games in tiny bikinis. And there was a new rule for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London that allowed female beach volleyball players to wear more modest uniforms.
We've come a long way since the days of the first bikini, with all kinds of bikini styles accepted at our pools and beaches. And you don't even have to be wet nowadays to warrant wearing a teeny-tiny crop top or bustier. Take a cue from pop stars like Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga, who have worn modern twists on retro bikini styles during their performances.
The 2013 Miss World pageant will be bikini-less to prevent offending the largely Muslim country of Indonesia, where it will take place this year. The contestants will wear one-piece swimsuits, and some will even wear sarongs. This is especially ironic considering Miss World began as the "Festival Bikini Contest" in 1951.