The Navel Goes Mainstream
Only by the end of the 1950s does the basic premise of bikini, the navel, gain public acceptance in America. Once the belly button is out in the open, the challenge of the 1960s is to continue to lower the waistline. Emerging glamour stars like Raquel Welch work their way from maillot (RW196210) to a true bikini (RW196420); here Elizabeth Taylor avoids the small top but bares her belly (ET6401), and Natalie Woods reveals an extreme amount of pelvis (NW6210).. But the pace is not quick--bikini migrates from the pin-up to public beaches (MD6410-16, TR6410) in a very incremental way--millimeters per year (BSD8820).
Brian Hyland kicks off the Decade of the Bikini with his 1960 hit "Itsy-Bitsy, Teeny-Weenie, Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini." Hyland could have Sandra Dee in mind except her polka-dots are the wrong color (SD6310). In 1962, Sports Illustrated begins its fabled swimsuit special. The movie Dr. No launches the bikini-clad James Bond girls (UA6310), with lower and lower waistlines (MB6510). Hollywood creates the beach movie genre, with Annette Funicello & Frankie Avalon starring in movies like Bikini Beach (AP6420), Beach Blanket Bingo (AP6510), and How To Stuff A Wild Bikini (AP6520). But Hollywood is tame compared to the antics of starlets at the Cannes Film Festival (L196210), European stars like Sophia Loren (SL6310), or the beauties of the French Riviera (PB6210).
But at the same time that Life magazine is previewing the European future to America, television is not so kind to the bikini spirit. On television the navel remains banned, and on the TV program I Dream of Jeannie the genie Barbara Eden, is not permitted to bare her belly button (BE6501). The ban on belly buttons does not end until Cher bares her navel in the 1970s and the era of Laugh In.
None the less it is the bikini which wins in the end. The shrinking bikini is lead by the young and the brave, but it adopted by women of all ages, with more conservative women following years later (RS7102). Slightly older women sometimes opt for more passé styles (LM6710), and sometime they don't (LD8650).
The emergence of the bikini is also matched by more relaxed social mores. Elvis wiggles his hips. Virginity is no longer a prerequisite for marriage. The pill, psychedelic drugs, hippies, breast implants, and the singles culture all change attitudes. Bralessness and the miniskirt take exposures into the office and nightclub. Peggy Moffat is over the edge in 1964 when she models the topless maillot for Life; but by the end of the decade, Bardot is topless at Saint Tropez.
And the bikini is in Webster.
New Technology New Silhouettes
At the beginning of the decade the bikini is made out of cotton, but as the decade unwinds synthetic elastics, particularly nylon and spandex, enable a closer-fitting and less complex garment, one which also reflects sixties attitudes toward the naturalness of the body (RW196510).
The bikini of the early 1960s continues to be lined, constructed of many pieces (SS6410), and retain foundation, although the foundation derives more from stiffened construction--plastic replaces steel for a less rigid look. Although the underwired bra remains popular (PB6230) as the decade progresses natural curves gain popularity. By the end of the decade, small Twiggy-style bosoms have appeal.
During this reduction, at least before the side straps come into play, briefs tend to be lined, hemmed at the crotch and the sides, and elasticized at the waist and legholes. At the end of the 1960s only the elasticized hems will survive.
Minimalist pressures also appear in exotic materials too--particularly crochet and knits, see-through, and even plastic. Cleavage extends out to, but does not include, the nipple.
The basic bikini brief of the early 1960s has a straight, below-the-navel waistline and a slightly rising legline. This is the basic culotte nombril silhouette (SD6310, SS6410, JW6410). As the waistline lowers this will come to be called the "bikini cut," a silhouette classic that transcends the millennium and come to exist side-by-side with some of its ancestors and children.
The waistline's steady march down the pelvis and back leaves the navel permanently exposed. The preening eventually reveals the tips of the pubic bone, the top of the inguinal line, and the sacral dimples and lozenge of Michaelis in the small of the back. The dimples lie on the lower back below the base of the spine, above the posterior rugae, and to the side of the lozenge of Michaelis, the diamond shaped area in the small of the back at the depression of the spine. These previously forbidden erogenous zones become revealed with the culotte nombril.
The waistline's diminution will not be fully halted until the next decade, when it collides with the legline, and shoals on the top of the pubic hair and the cleft of the buttocks (RS7501). Unable to go any lower, the fabric at the sides of the brief shrinks to a strap, fastener, knot, or string. The various styles that emerge include the sidering, sidestrap, the sidetie (e.g., PB6210), and string, with fastening becoming a fascination.
Even the maillot is not exempt from the pressures of a lowering waistline. Maillots are rare in the 1960s, yet Life magazine is able to find an unusual backless (fig. 17-11) that demonstrates the influences of the lowered waistline. The backside of the suit scallops generous butt cleavage, encircling the sacral dimples and the lozenge of Michaelis.
At the beginning of the decade the bra dominates, with cleavage an important element (SD6101). Underwire foundation and the pushup bra mold generous top and center cleavage for sex symbols like Ursula Andress, Raquel Welch and model Suzy Parker (SP6910). The foundation also encourages leanover practice (SS6520, SS6530).
Straps are usually narrow (but they are not string straps), widely spaced, detachable, and fasten either to the very outside of the cup (UA6310, RW196420).
But the trend away from foundation favors the development of the halter. At first, foundation in both of these species prevails, with molded plastic cups and linings a common feature. Raquel Welch's bikinis are custom-styled to her body (RW196520) and involve a construction with darts and seams to define breast shape and cleavage in a more natural way. The constructed cups often extend well around to the sides of the body (NW6310).
By the middle decade the construction falls away to a softer top devoid of innards (JW6410). This soft-top halter is lighter weight, thinner, and less concerned with defining an artificial silhouette. Cleavage, especially between the breasts, is opened, as fabric there and to the sides of the breasts disappears. The center ring, employed to hold the cups together, emerges as a device (fig. 16-6).
Straps play an extremely important role during the 1960s. Bra or halter, they narrow (IP6E12, SS6410) and become strings (L196210, NW6310). As the halter shrinks in size not only do the cups get smaller but the back and sides narrow (SS6510), although it is not until the 1970s that the back, or chestband becomes a string also. The final embodiment of this process is the string halter, when all construction within the halter is eliminated and it is reduced to a pair of cloth triangles, one layer thick, suspended from the neck string and connected to the chest string (RS7501).
Topless is and has been a common mode of dress throughout history and been recounted by travelers and imagers since the earliest societies emerged. It is more prevalent in tropical climates than temperate ones, and attempts by Europeans to repress the practice abroad have met with limited success. Obviously, the success of topless beaches on Europe's own shores reverses the mission to more fully cloth the tropical types.
The first foray is a broadside, fired by American fashion designer Rudi Gernreich in 1964. Gernreich begins experimenting as early as 1962--he considers the solo bikini bottom but feels it is simply evolutionary, "not a design," and creates a strapped topless maillot instead. An early prototype appears in Look magazine in 1963 as part of an article on futuristic fashions. Gernreich arranges for William Claxton to photograph his wife, Peggy Moffett, and presents the pictures to the fashion press. The first photograph of Gernreich's design, a back view, is published in Look on June 2, 1964, and the first front view is shown by Women's Wear Daily the following day. Newsweek prints a back view on June 8th.
Gernreich's topless maillot might have remained a fashion footnote but instead it is catapulted into national attention when a 19 year-old model, Toni Lee Shelley, wears Gernreich's creation on a Chicago beach in late June and is arrested and charged with indecent exposure (TL6410). That news makes the national wire services and Life Magazine.
Two weeks later, Life compliments this coverage with a fashion feature on the broader subject. Life tells photographer Bill Claxton that "this is a family magazine, and naked breasts are only allowed if the woman is an aborigine." But they agree to run a photograph of Moffett wearing the suit but with her crisscrossed arms diplomatically blocking her nipples (PM6410).
Besides resolving a hands-covering-bare-breasts shot, Life handles the topless in other ways too. Life does display the full-figured costume underwater (L196410), in what is perhaps one of the most interesting censorships of all time. They also provide a back view a la a fitting room (L196420). These treatments of Gernreich's maillot reflect Life's uncertainty about dealing with the topless issue directly. What Life elects not to show is Peggy Moffitt without her arms blocking her nipples (again, PM6410).
Life assures its readers that toplessness is not a new phenomenon, and briefs them on the Minoans (C1600BC) and Greeks (G600BC01). They could also have reminded their readers about "primitive" costumes; all of a sudden primitive costumes are no longer primitive, they are simply simultaneous with the topless. Bikini Atol redoute.
The social reaction, in America at least, is one of shock. Gernreich quickly invents the see-through, the no-bra bra, and eventually claims tanga; he becomes famous. Toplessness might be permitted for young prepubescent girls, like a seven year old Natalie Wood in Life (NW4550) and to tots running around on the beach, but no such exception is made for developed adults. None the less, Gernreich predicts that women will shed their tops within five years.
Besides Toni Lee Shelley, few women wear the topless maillot in public. In France Elle features it but with a banner of text across the breasts (EL6401), and in America the upscale men's journal Esquire catches it from the side (ES6410). Playboy documents the topless maillot as part of a series on "The Nude Look" in late 1965 (PB6505). Other topless maillot variations also emerge during this burst of energy, including the suspender maillot (PB6510). But all will fade for something more simple: the topless bikini (PM6405).
The Carol Doda Swim Girl Story
The maillot topless also plays a role in the mythology of the topless bar a.k.a. the strip club. Legend has it that the origin point of the topless bar in the United States is June 19, 1964 when Carol Doda dances topless. The details that surround the legend, including the performer, the location, and the costume are particularly link rich in Bikini Science. This legend combines a go-go "swim girl" dance club named the Condor, Rudi Gernreich's topless maillot, and Carol Doda, a swim girl who introduces the latest swimsuit fashion onto the dance stage. Playboy later explains that this "costume gimick" provide the "final fillip" to turn the swim clubs into "bare-bosom bistros." By the way, Doda is also also getting silicone breast injections, which enrich the story.
The swim girls thing is important here. Swim girls follow on a trajectory of developments that extends from the discotheque to the Barbary Coast swim clubs. This being California and rock and roll, Doda and others dance to the Swim, a dance popularized by a rock 'n' roll combo headed by Bobby Freeman. The Condor Club in North Beach, San Francisco is one such establishment; it decides that its go-go dancers shall perform their "swim girl" routines wearing a maillot t-front and thus topless. Carol Doda, headliner and getting silicone implants, takes on the assignment, and her performances at the club break the topless bar (CD6460). Doda's repertoire of the swims (as these dances are called) includes gyrating hips, and from the waist up, emulating aquatic movements like the Australian crawl and dances like the Twist, the Frug, and the Watusi. If before Doda was dancing in a see-through fishnet and g-string; now her breasts are fully bared even though she is still wearing a maillot swimsuit (CD6470). A somewhere in-between space has been created and Doda slips through on the slight of hand. All of the factors converge: the sexual revolution, the bringing more forward the topless, breast augmentation, the go-go dancing, the fashion authentication of the swimsuit costume (CD6540).
Claims that Doda is "the first topless dancer in the United States" (found in Wikipedia) are only true if history begins after the 1940s. Topless dancers abounded during the early decades of the 20th century. What the writer implies more correctly is a certain form-factor of the performance: topless go-go in a bar; a one-on-one sexual display. This is a right of passage and a new relationship. A new kind of topless dancer.