Power of Petites, And the Reduction of Fabric!
As the 1920’s rolled around and the emancipation movement of women grew larger, the swimsuit (one-piece) got smaller, tighter…flirtier, and much barer! It at least, now, resembled a short party dress, which was light years away (no pun intended) from the heavy, lead-weighted, woolen bodysuits. Fashion designers jumped on this concept, and through the 1930’s, we started seeing deeper necklines and a tank style top, paired with tight short-shorts and a belt – another step towards women’s liberation!
In fact, during the mid ‘30’s swimsuits received a new “feel.” California swimsuit designer, “Mabs of Hollywood,” created the first swimsuit made from Lastex (a women satin finish elastic with silk material – this was first used for girdle manufacturing). Her success came by making these swimsuits for legendary actresses, such as: Joan Crawford (who was a petite 5’1”), Loretta Young (Just under 5’4”), and Jean Harlow (who was a very petite beauty at only 5’2”). What really sealed the deal for “Mabs of Hollywood,” swimwear, was when petite Film-star, stage and Cabaret Legend, Marlene Dietrich (just barely 5’3”) wanted one too, and walked into “Bullocks Department Store” and ordered 12 of these swimsuits in every color – that’s the day the “knitted wool suits” came to a halt! I find it very interesting that this fashion designer basically sought out the “petite” beauties to showcase her beautiful swimwear.
Petite Pin-up Beauties of the Past
During the late ‘30’s through mid ‘40’s, as a result of WWII and the United States government ordering wartime rationing, which included a 10% reduction in women’s beachwear, we saw the original two-piece bathing suit come to life.
The swimsuit had a special cut designed not to show the navel, although it did show-off a woman’s midriff. The top continued to modestly cover and firmly hold the “girls” in tight, which gave a perky look to even those who may have belonged to the “Itty-Bitty-Titty-Committee,” (wow, do people still use that term? Yeah…I was the “president” <wink>). Easier said, there was more skin showing from these bathing suits since Roman times! Carole Lombard (5’0”) and Mae West (5’1”) of the 30’s, and Lana Turner (5’2”) and Betty Grable (5’2”) of the 40’s, demonstrated quite well just how sexy petite-models/actresses can be! They are listed among the top ten of favorite “pin-up” beauties of the past!
You say, “Atome,” I say, “Atoll” – Rival Bathing Suit Designers: Cutting it “Small!”
Post-war calamity slowed everything down, including the sale of swimwear. But in 1946, as France was recovering from the effects of war, a fashion designer by the name of Jacque Heim revealed the creation of his two-piece bathing suit called the “Atome” (named after the newly discovered “atom”). Heim sent out skywriters over a beach resort in Cannes letting the public know that he dubbed his creation “the world’s smallest bathing suit” and that it was now available for purchase. However, just three weeks later, and to Heim’s dismay, Louis Réard unveiled his bravura masterpiece – the “Bikini.” He cleverly titled this two-piece wonder after the island “Bikini Atoll,” located in the South Pacific and where the testing of the new atomic bomb had taken place earlier that month. Réard, a French Mechanical Engineer and lingerie shop owner, believed that his elaborate, two-piece-spectacle would manifest reactions from the public as the atomic bomb had – and boy, did it ever! His quick wit and smarts led him to study women on the beach, which showed him how women would, often, tug at their cumbersome swimsuits, “upturning” a part her and “tucking” it there, just to get a better tan – this played a huge factor in creating his, now, historical, “Bikini.” As a brilliant marketing strategy, Réard hired skywriters as well, to fly over the French Riviera, scripting, “Bikini – smaller than the world’s smallest swimsuit!” Unbeknownst to the world, the Bikini would take shape, literally, for decades to come!
Although the antecedence of the “bikini” can be established from the Minoan wall paintings from 1600 B.C., as well as Roman mosaics from 300 A.D, our prim and pedantic America dragged its feet and “had a cow” by the scantly-clothed, risqué two-piece swimsuit that hit the U.S. markets in 1947. Americans were curious about this new costume, but shocked by the meager amount of fabric; thus outlawing the bikini in several cities and declaring that this was not appropriate “public attire.” It blows my mind to even think about that, given what we do, say and wear in today’s time.
However, America wasn’t the only nation in prudery – Rome, Italy, Portugal and Spain proscribed the Bikini as well, citing modesty and morality differences, or the lack thereof.
Even Fashion Magazines followed suit and condemned the bikini from the books. It wasn’t until the sexual revolution erupted in the ‘60’s when America finally “got a clue” and realized the sexy two-piece “Bikini” was here to stay! It’s apropo hot petite amazon Raquel Welch ushered in the bikini! Written by: Tana Corporon
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