"Obviously, the bathing suit is irrelevant to any activity in and under water. It neither keeps us dry or warm, nor is it an aid to swimming. If the purpose of bathing is to get wet, the bathing suit does not make us wetter." --Bernard Rudowsky.
The Garden of Eden
The evolution of bikini, like the evolution of things in general, is a study in false starts, partial combinations, bold experimentation, and reintegration--there is no single line of swimsuit evolution. Details from the recent past provide a plethora of facts, but a shallow understanding of the genetic heritage of this uncertain species of attire. For this, one must look into the distant past....
Swimming is most naturally done in the nude, and certainly, in the beginning (before the bikini) Adam and Eve swim nude in the Garden of Eden (AE0005).
Following an episode with a snake who induces them to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, Adam and Eve become self-aware, discover modesty, and invent the first bikini, the fig leaf (AE0010, AE0020). Unfortunately this small concession to modesty simultaneously creates an instrument of allure and desire--a clothing minimum that limits of public display of the sexual zones. and simultaniously encourages voyeurism by focusing attention upon them. Voyeurism is a condition in which a person, the voyeur, obtains gratification by looking at exhibitionistic, sensual, or sexual acts of another person, the voyeure.
Prudes and Flirts
Two groups of people emerge from this: the prudes and the flirts. Throughout history the prudes have tried to regulate nudity in order to demote sex; flirts use this regulation to draw attention to themselves. Prudes have met with varied resistance, on the one hand by naturalists, who believe nakedness is a natural state of affairs, and on the other hand by flirts who think the purpose of a bathing suit is to display the prize exhibit--the wearer--and who ensure that they are more provocative than actual naturalists. One must wear something to play that most competitive game, flirting. Because being nude loses the vice.
Swimsuits can also have fetishwear appeal, including special attention to fabrics (materials, see-through, crochet, shells and metals), fasteners (rings, straps, zippers, and ties), foundation, and layering. The prude reactionaries are appalled by all of its base and lustful attributes, which of course is what makes bikinis so much fun. Unfortunately, the reactionaries think that the solution to lust is to try to expunge it. Sex, of course, is their ultimate evil--a unfortunate and ultimately masochistic position because sex is what brought them into the world in the first place.
The prudent, in attempting to regulate exposures, fail to understand that prurient interests have their own supply and demand. Like most fashion, the bikini has always had an edge, a line of permissibility that has separated the risqué from the swift (JL4510). These fashion lines are in constant motion, changing not only over time and from season to season, but according to a person's station, the social function, physical locality, time of day, age and sex. It's not a bikini that's sexy, it's the change in its size, shape, color, and fittings, and its context.
Shifting Erogenous Zones
Psychologist J. C. Flugel theorizes attraction between sexes is increased with these "shifting erogenous zones," a region of the body that, due to social history, arouses the other sex, often because the exposure of this region has been recently suppressed. There are many erogenous zones on the body including the face, hair, neck, breasts, arms, midriff, navel, buttocks, pubis, and legs, but the focus is on what is in motion, for example the lowering of waistline during the 1950s and 1960s (BSD8820), or the movement of belly exposures (BSD8830).
Flugel suggests that factors which contribute to what is uncovered and covered may include boredom and over-familiarity with exposed parts, as well as social factors, for example a correlation between see-through braless tops and a renewed interest in breast feeding, or between hemlines and economic certainty. These vectors of exposure/cover-up are also influenced by general trends, mores, morals, psychology and the evolving physical materials of clothing. The evolution of the swimsuit provides an excellent example of this theory.
The swimsuit is a changing barometer of modesty and a meaningful reading must take into account the time and the place. A person today might stroll in a beach town wearing less than an immodest stripper in a burlesque show fifty years ago. It is the change that is so erotic--what is coming and going--more so than the steady state. Nowhere is this better illustrated than the exposure of last season's tan lines--and this season's yet untanned regions. Following and documenting that change recaptures the excitement of not only today's edge, but its movement a year ago and a generation ago. Although we may be very good at reading tan lines, we may not read the provocation of our grandparents' costumes; but once identified, they too become alive, sexy, and erotic. Tracking those changes in coverage is one of our central themes.
Erogenous zones move across the body at measurable rates of speed and migrate from personalities to the public. For at least the last hundred years they are first communicated by media. In the late 19th century the new exposures of swimwear are communicated by European and American silent film, lithography, and theater. A swimsuit depicted in certain media might be respectable to wear at the seaport, while swimsuits depicted in other media might be considered whorish. In general, erogenous zones will be exposed in adult media before they are exposed in family media, and in family media before actually worn on the beach. Trends break regionally and nationally before they break worldwide (BSD8818). This exfoliation factor is called the Preen Rate.
These patterns of exfoliation appear to maintain momentum as they move across the body and create a kind of evolution of a species of swimwear. The reduction in the size of the bikini occurs by raising the legline, opening the armhole, deepening cleavage, lowering the waistline, and baring the back. Once set into motion a fashion line tends to keep moving unless obstructed by another fashion line or an true impermissible part of the body. Catastrophic evolution occurs when the fashion lines collide. Constraints in the game require that the sex organs, and sometimes the nipples, remain covered. The evolution of the bikini is just close enough to the present to see its developments with clarity.
Context--activity and purpose--are also important erotic variables. What you wear where is an issue of many dimensions, including location, time of day, and moment in history. It is not completely honest or fair to take a swimsuit out of context and rephotograph it, e.g., to wear a 1940 swimsuit in 1984, as in this restage (CB87A1). Doing so captures its own set of residences and context. Indeed, even the shape of the body itself is a creature of style and subject to changes. In the 1940s and 1950s the idealized woman is somewhat heavier and fleshier than the thinner styles of the 1960s and 1970s, especially in the thighs, hips and upper legs. Oftentimes, that which is most hidden is most pronounced by reinforced by artificial means; for example, the bustle, designed to reinforce the buttocks and popular before 1900, or the cone-shaped bra of the 1950s, which imply large mammary glands. The flat-chested look works well in the braless 1970s, whereas the 1980s trend is a more muscular look.
Public vs. Private Exposures
The swimsuit, by definition, is a public garment and not to be confused with underwear, which has similar coverage yet is worn privately. Expanding the context of the garment, like Madonna clad in underwear on stage, or wearing underwear on the beach, creates a new context of arousal, without any new diminution of coverage. Coverage-wise, underwear equals a swimsuit, but rule-wise it does not. It is thus both naughty yet not obscene.
Open Up Cover Up
People should learn to enjoy their own shock, embarrassment, and arousal during this molting process. They do not need to worry that the Lord has run out of titillations. After all, when miniskirts finally got microed, women just added hose.
In the post-string minimalist era of the 1970s the bikini shrinks to its tiniest: when this point is reached if the bikini is to uncover something, it must cover something else up. This process may go on for a long time. The ultimate threat to the bikini is not so much the one-piece, as a growing world-wide trend toward nudity. And when bikini bottoms are sold alone for topless sunbathing the bikini already faces halfway extinction.