Sexy at 60

Happy birthday to the bikini – the coolest creation under the sun. Jayne Dawson reports

The swimwear phenomenon that is the bikini is celebrating its 60th birthday in a summer of perfect weather.

Louis Reard, a French engineer, unveiled the first two-piece swimsuit in July 1946.

He named it, rather tastelessly you might think, after the nuclear weapons testing site Bikini Atoll because of the explosive reaction he believed his outfit would cause.

This first-ever bikini consisted of 30 square inches of fabric and had to be initially modelled by a Parisian showgirl named Micheline Bernardini, as no reputable French fashion model would dare to wear such a thing.

Louis added fuel to the fire by declaring that: "a bikini cannot be called a bikini unless it can be passed through a wedding ring" so Spain, Portugal and Italy promptly banned the garment from public beaches, and decency pressure groups lobbied Hollywood directors to keep bikinis off the silver screen.

Attitudes changed in the 1950s, governments backed down and daring individuals across Europe were seen on the beaches sporting the controversial two-piece swimsuits.

Actress Brigitte Bardot is credited with increasing the bikini's popularity in the film And God Created Woman, and the pop song Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, released by Brian Hyland in 1960, saw the bikini finally accepted as a pop-culture symbol and beach fashion garment.

Bikini icons of our time include Raquel Welch in a fur bikini in One Million Years B.C, Ursula Andress as Honey Rider in the first Bond film Dr No and, in homage to Ursula as her bond girl predecessor, Halle Berry in the 2002 Bond Film Die Another Day.

Bikini trivia

l The world's most expensive bikini was designed in February 2006 by Susan Rosen. The bikini, made up of over 150 carats of flawless diamonds, was worth a massive 20 million.

l In 1951, bikinis were banned from the Miss World contest.

l Some 85 per cent of swimsuits never touch the water

l The bikini worn by Ursula Andress in the James Bond film Dr No sold for $35,000 at auction on 15th February 2001. The bikini was actually made from one of Ursula's own bras covered with ivory cotton.

l Modern Girl Magazine, a fashion magazine from the United States, was quoted in 1957 as saying: "it is hardly necessary to waste words over the so-called bikini since it is inconceivable that any girl with tact and decency would ever wear such a thing".

How to be a bikini babe

l Use dark colours to slim down problem areas, but use lighter colours to highlight your best features. For instance, the Dorothy Perkins black spotty bikini, features a black polka dot tie-side pant to slim down hips and bottoms, teamed with a white polka dot halterneck to emphasise a great cleavage.

l Any embellishments, such as ties, ruching and belts will draw attention to the area. Show off a toned midriff with the camouflage belted bikini or draw attention to your bust with the metallic bikini with key-hole detail.

l Bikini bottoms with a high cut leg will lengthen short legs, making them appear slimmer, and also flatter curvaceous hips and thighs. Opt for tie-side briefs as they can be tied loosely for comfort and a smooth silhouette.

l Horizontal stripes create curves, great for slimmer body shapes. However, avoid if nature has already provided them for you.

l If you're not brave enough to bare all this summer, try a tankini shape to cover your tummy and give you greater beach confidence. This style is also great for girls with less of a waist, as the shape gives a sharp contrast and adds definition.

l If you have broad shoulders, avoid skinny straps, no straps or halter tops, all of which only make your shoulders look wider. Instead, opt for a style with ruching around the bust to draw the eye down, or with wide straps that sit away from the neck to balance the shoulders.

l Bigger busted women should opt for halterneck bikini tops, or ones with structured cups to give support. For the smaller-chested woman, prints work well, as do triangle shapes to provide cover without adding excess bulk.

l Show off a beautiful tan with a bright tropical printed or classic white crochet bikini.

l Avoid neon brights if you are fair or have light skin. Try pastels instead, as these will have a softer effect on your skin.

l Mix and match bikini separates are great for a beach holiday, as you can create a selection of looks without spending your holiday money on lots of different bikinis.

l Tips provided by Marie Jones, head of design for Dorothy Perkins