Did you know that July 5th is the International Bikini Day, the 75th anniversary of the invention of the two-piece bathing suit in 1946 by the French designer Louis Réard. And do you know what bikini swimwear and atomic explosions have in common? The name, as the two-piece bathing suit made its debut in Paris just four days after the United States conducted atomic tests at the Bikini Atoll. The effect on the general public from those two was quite similar.
The French Riviera and Monaco beaches are certainly the right place to spot a wide selection of bikinis and swimsuits. The variety of their models, colours and designs is truly amazing. HelloMonaco has undertaken to spot changes in swimming wear trends on the French Riviera over the years. What kind of beach and pool clothes did young ladies use to wear in the chic Principality hotels in the olden days..?
Trend towards a full-covered body
If you were to arrive on the French Riviera in the early 20th century, you would see quite a different picture. Tanning was not at all in vogue back in that day. Young ladies were therefore favouring swimsuit designs covering their bodies. There was not much of a summer fashion trend in 2020 at all, given that we were all living through the coronavirus pandemic in that very unusual season. However, if we do go back to the 2019 beach season, we see that the one-piece swimsuit was then quite a hit. Old fashion trends thus seemed to have returned! But if you think about it, there is quite a huge design gap between the early 20th century and swim-suit models nowadays. A modern one-piece swimsuit, that has recently gained popularity, has an open back and a selection of cutouts and translucent inserts. With this kind of swimwear, the designers are opting for more intrigue.
First swimwear in Monaco
Looking for new financial opportunities, Prince Charles III had designed Monaco as a winter gambling resort, popular with the European aristocracy. That’s when the first Monte-Carlo Casinos and spa establishments saw the light of day.
In the 1830s, the first swimsuit also made it to the fashionistas’ wardrobes. Its central piece was a corset. On top of it, women wore a wide shirt, baggy pants or a skirt, a pair of woolly stockings, shoes and a cap. The fashion was to have all your body parts properly covered. For a long time, this kind of a swimsuit remained synonymous with good taste.
1880 marked the era of recreational beach time. The mayor of Monaco, Count Félix Gastaldi, undertook to regulate the new bathers’ dress code in the following way: “Anyone sunbathing on the coastline from the Monte-Carlo station to the Tenao and Canton beach, to the west of the Palace and villa Noghès, should wear a swimsuit or other appropriate clothing”. A part of a seashore from villa Noghès up to Fontaine Vieille belonged to women only.
The summer season of 1895 saw the arrival of a wealthy European clientele to Monaco. Aristocrats started coming to the Principality not only in winter, but were also enjoying the hot summer days in Monaco.
The woollen clothing gradually gave way to a new, more “stretching” type of material such as jersey and latex. Tanning was still not in fashion. Pale skin remained a synonym of good manners among the wealthy. The swimsuit, however, was now getting tighter and shorter.
Haute couture designer, Jean Patou, then came up with the first luxury swimwear, presented in French Deauville, in 1925. Since then, the swimwear has kept “shrinking”. High society eventually abandons swimming shorts, fully exposing their hips. Tanning becomes more chic. In 1930 the one-piece swimsuit comes into fashion, revealing a tanned body. Girls are wearing open back models. A one-piece swimsuit is now omnipresent on the summer beaches and marinas.
The beach lifestyle — water skiing, swimming pools, badminton — comes in vogue… Lady’s swimwear is not the only one to be affected by the changing trends. Instead of traditional T-shirt and shorts concealing their chest and hips, the men are now parading with iconic swimming trunks, still in vogue to this day.
With the First World War and the 1930 economic crisis, winter resorts experienced a decline. Monaco then opened up for summer tourism, beautifying its coastline. The Monte-Carlo Beach Club and the Country Club were constructed. Monaco becomes the centre of luxury summer life on the French Riviera.
An ever going spiral
A natural fashion evolution leads to the gradual exposure of the female body. In 1946, Louis Réard revolutionized swimwear, introducing a “bikini”, dethroning the one-piece suit. Young working girls, nicknamed midinettes, first set the trend, followed by emancipated women who sometimes even went topless …
Ever since its inception in 1964, the monokini has revolutionized the coastline. Back in the day, its bodice and panties were connected by a wide strip of fabric or an intricate webbing of fine ribbons. The most conservative version is a one-piece suit with deep side cutouts. An Austrian-born American fashion designer, Rudy Gernreich, was one of the most notable supporters of female liberation and nudity. It was Rudy who also designed a dress with an open upper body, a transparent No Bra and a thong bikini. These were the times of feminism, sharply questioning relations between men and women in society.
For a while, a topless woman on the French Riviera beach remained quite a common sight. These days, however, this trend seems to be out of fashion. Over the last 2–3 years, the most popular swimwear models are increasingly one-piece suits or high-waisted panties, with flounces or polka dots, reminiscent of the 1950s.
Another proof that fashion is but an ever continuing spiral.