This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.
Skip to main contentAccess keys helpA-Z index
BBC Learning English Launch BBC Media Player
  • Help
  • Text only
You are in:Learning English > News English > Words in the News
Learning English - Words in the News
05 July, 2006 - Published 16:05 GMT
Bikini anniversary
Women wearing bikinis
Women wearing bikinis

This week the bikini celebrates its sixtieth birthday. This tiny fashion item has had an impact way beyond its size when it emerged in Paris in 1946. Once denounced by the Vatican as immoral, these days British women spend about forty-five million pounds on bikinis every year. This report from Caroline Wyatt

Listen to the story

It's hard to believe that the bikini is now a pensioner - with France celebrating sixty years since the scandalous birth of those three small triangles, which one critic complained revealed everything about a girl apart from her mother's maiden name.

Few, though, realise that the itsy-bitsy two-piece was one of France's main gifts to the fashion world - invented by a French car engineer, Louis Reard, who clearly understood the laws both of gravity and aerodynamics. He was running his mother's underwear shop in Paris when inspiration struck. He took away half the fabric of an ordinary swimsuit - to reveal the belly button - and a superstar was born.

He named the invention after America's first nuclear test in the Pacific - presuming it would cause a similar explosion. And it did. In 1951, the Miss World competition banned it, saying any contestant wearing one would gain an unfair advantage. In 1955 the late British actress, Diana Dors, wore a mink bikini to the Venice Film festival, winning as many column inches as Brigitte Bardot frolicking in her skimpy two-piece in the film 'And God Created Woman'.

For others, the garment's seminal moment came in the Bond film, Dr No, in 1962 when Ursula Andress emerged from the waves in a soaking white bikini.

Love it or hate it, the bikini is here to stay - outliving one magazine's sniffy prediction that it was inconceivable that any girl of taste or modesty would succumb to wearing such a thing.

Caroline Wyatt, BBC, Paris

Listen to the words

a person who has reached retirement age (in Britain this is normally 60 years of age for women and 65 years of age for men)

very, very small

the force that makes objects fall to the ground

the study of how objects move through the air or water so that the object's design can be improved - here, the journalist is giving the impression that, with the bikini, Louis Reard created something that worked (looked) much better than the traditional swimming costume

the belly button
the small, round area in the centre of your stomach (where you were joined to your mother before you were born)

cause a similar explosion
create the same level of interest as the testing of the nuclear bomb did

winning as many column inches
a column inch is a description for a block of text in a newspaper - here, Diana Dors and Brigitte Bardot had a similar number of words written about them

impossible to imagine or believe

the garment's seminal moment
the point in time when the bikini began to have an important effect on society

not be able to stop yourself doing something (e.g. wearing a bikini)

Do a comprehension quiz about this story

For Teachers
Lesson planLesson plan based on this story
27 May, 2011
Destruction of smallpox virus delayed
25 May, 2011
Micro-finance 'misused and abused'
20 May, 2011
Lonely planets
18 May, 2011
Germany to invest in more electric cars
16 May, 2011
Argentina builds a tower of books
Other Stories