When was the bikini invented?

The modern bikini was invented in 1946, but swimsuits resembling the bikini appeared much earlier.

A Sicilian mosaic dating from the fourth century A.D. called Coronation of the Winner shows women wearing garments remarkably similar to the modern bikini. The women appear to be exercising, and they’re receiving crowns of flowers—which likely indicates that they’ve recently won sporting events.

While we can’t date the artwork definitively, it clearly predates the modern bikini by over a thousand years. If you’re looking for the first archeological evidence of clothes resembling the popular swimwear, this is it.

In the modern world, the bikini is a relatively recent invention, and it created substantial controversy as soon as it was introduced.

In 1946, Louis Réard, the son of a lingerie shop owner, noticed swimmers rolling down the waists of their two-piece swimsuits in order to tan (the popular style was a halter top and high-waisted shorts). Soon after, he introduced the “bikini,” named for the atoll where the United States government tested the atomic bomb. Almost simultaneously, sportswear designer Jacques Heim introduced a similar swimsuit called the “atome,” named after the atom (the garment was marketed as the “smallest bathing suit in the world").

Although Heim introduced his microscopic swimwear first, Réard’s was considerably smaller, and the name stuck. The latter inventor also marketed his bikini aggressively, selling it with the compelling slogan, “A bikini is not a bikini unless it can be pulled through a wedding ring.”

American fashionistas weren’t amused.

“It is hardly necessary to waste words on the so-called bikini, since it is inconceivable that any girl with tact and decency would ever wear such a thing,” Modern Girl magazine wrote in 1957.

As such, the bikini didn’t catch on in the United States until the 1960s. Eventually, as models like Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot embraced the bikini, it lost its taboo; when Sports Illustrated published its first swimsuit issue in 1964—featuring a bikini-clad Babette March on its cover—the bikini became commonplace.