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Slip into itsy-bitsy bikinis

Sixty years ago the bikini exploded onto the world, and a trip to the beach has never been the same since.

india Updated: Jun 30, 2006 18:25 IST

Sixty years ago the bikini exploded onto the world, and a trip to the beach has never been the same since. Once banned in several countries as indecent, today few women's wardrobes are complete without it.

And if women today are covering up more, it's more out of fears over the dangers of long-term exposure to the sun rather than out of any lingering coyness, with the last itsy bitsy shreds having been discarded long ago.

One week after the first US post-war nuclear tests on the South Pacific Bikini atoll, French designer Louis Reard launched his two-piece swimming costume on the public on July 5, 1946.

Made of three triangles of material held together with ties, the bikini was considered so shocking that Reard had to use a nude dancer from Paris' famous Lido nightclub to model it, French fashion historian Olivier Saillard told AFP.

"It was banned in a lot of places at the time by countries and by several mayors in regions in France before imposing itself due to the power of women, and not the the power of fashion.

"The emancipation of swimwear has always been linked to the emancipation of women," he said.

Two-piece costumes existed before Reard's creation. Early Greek mosaics appear to show women wearing two-piece costumes, but they were probably designed for sports not swimming. And US Olympic swimmer and actress Esther Williams also appeared in two pieces in her 1930s films.

But to a bikini, size makes all the difference.

Reard's version was smaller and lighter (small enough to be passed through a wedding ring) and most controversially stopped below the navel.

The first costume, which was made of cotton printed with images of newspaper headlines was named after the Bikini atoll, because Reard "knew it would cause a bombshell in the fashion world."

Although Reard's costume caused a sensation, it was not an immediate hit in a world struggling to recover from World War II with little time or available money for frivolous visits to the beach.