Okay. I know this isn’t a bikini, but it’s an M-Fing MUSHROOM CLOUD SWIMSUIT. I trust you’ll forgive. It’s truly the bee’s knees. I swear I’m going to make myself an atomic blast swimsuit (and matching tiara, because, duh!) and/or a Miss Atomic Bomb getup to wear for Mardi Gras one year. Swear.
Anyway, today we’re learning about…bikinis! What’s so atomic about bikinis? Well I’m glad you asked.
If you’re interested in things atomic, even in the slightest, you probably know that the atomic testing was done at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. In total, 23 nuclear devices were detonated by the United States, at seven different test sites on (at?) the atoll between 1946 and 1958. The tests were of the atmospheric (in the air, usually on a tower) and underwater variety.
Operation Crossroads was the first test series at the Bikini Atoll, and was only the second test ever, following the Trinity Test in July of 1946, as the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were actual war-time detonations. So the second test.
Operation Crossroads wound-up with two detonations total: the Able test detonated the bomb Gilda, named for the popular Rita Hayworth film, and the Baker test which detonated the Helen of Bikini bomb. Originally a third test was planned for Operation Crossroads, but was cancelled mostly because of heavy fallout and contamination from radioactive sea spray from the Baker test. The contamination was so bad that the navy was unable to decontaminate most of the ships used in the test, and the Atomic Energy Commission even called Baker, “the world’s first nuclear disaster.” Ouch.
Anywho. The world watched as America Kool-Aid Manned its way deeper into the Atomic Age. Two watchers in particular were designer Jaques Helm and mechanical engineer Louis Réard. The story goes that both men separately decided to popularize a two-piece swimsuit, sometime around 1946. No word on why an engineer was bothering with swimsuit design, but hey.
During the early years of the Atomic Age the world became increasingly ensconced in all things space and atomic. So it was only natural that Jaques Helm would name his version of the two-piece swimsuit, atome, (atom) after the smallest chunk of matter. This name not only reflected the suit’s minimal coverage, it also carried the stamp of the Atomic Age. This is just swell.
Apparently not to be outdone, Louis Réard named his version of the two-piece bikini, after, yep, the atomic tests at the Bikini Atoll. Because “like the [atomic] bomb, the bikini is small and devastating.” Yeah. He went there.
There are many, many quotes connecting the atomic testing at the Bikini Atoll to Réard’s swimsuit. Here are some of my favorites:
Viewers of the bikini were “blown away” by the look.
The bikini swimsuit was supposed to cause the same earth-shattering reaction among those who viewed it, and was inspired by the rising mushroom clouds of the atomic bomb.
The sight of the first woman in the minimal two-piece was as explosive as the detonation of the atomic bomb by the U.S. at Bikini Island in the Marshall Isles, hence the naming of the bikini.
And with that, I’ve probably ruined bikinis for you.