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Brigitte Bardot, The Girl in the Bikini (1952; shown in the U.S. in 1958)
Bikini Style: Kind of Just Like a Bra and Panties?
What It Means: Have you ever been to a party that wasn’t supposed to be a pool party, but you got there and the house had a pool in the backyard? After a couple drinks, people started swimming with just their underwear on, because who cares if we all don’t have real bathing suits — how fun are we? And you were too embarrassed to go in, because your bra didn’t match your underwear and you actually wore your period panties that day since you didn’t have time to do laundry and weren’t anticipating having to undress?
Well, Bardot’s character, Manina, is basically the girl who wore matching underthings to the party. My imagined premise has nothing to do with the plot of the film, in which Manina (Brigitte Bardot), a lighthouse-keeper’s daughter, is romanced by a college student searching for treasure nearby. But the pool party scenario is a good way of explaining to you that she’s that girl — a fact you can glean just by looking at her bikini, which looks a hell of a lot like an undies set purchased at a nice department store. (Side note: If you start to feel incredibly annoyed by this faux portrayal of feminine perfection, take solace in knowing that The New York Times really didn’t care for this film very much.)
Pictured: Brigitte Bardot in The Girl in the Bikini
Ursula Andress, Dr. No (1962)
Bikini Style: Professional Shell Saleswoman
What It Means: Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) is a local shell-diver in Jamaica. She’s also the first-ever Bond girl. What do you get when you combine those two things? A sexy, all-white bikini that’s also incredibly practical: You can store a knife on the side.
On one hand, the bikini did good; Andress later said her iconic swimwear scene is what made her a successful actress, giving her “the freedom to take my pick of future roles and to become financially independent.” But in terms of Honey Ryder, the bikini is really just there for Bond (Sean Connery) to comment on. “Honey...she clung to me like a wet bathing suit, but business as usual came first,” he quips. And while her character is self-sufficient at the start, making her own money selling shells and claiming to be able to defend herself, she’s inevitably captured by the villainous Dr. No, making her sound kind of naive for believing she could be so independent in the first place. Bond saves her, and they bump uglies in their getaway boat.
Pictured: Ursula Andress in Dr. No
Anette Funicello, Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)
Bikini Style: Teenage Dream
What It Means: Before Grease, there was a very different musical about teenagers. And it has a mermaid in it! And skydiving! And people who pretend to skydive when they are not, in fact, skydiving! The bikinis in this film are more prop than purpose. They signify, to me, that carefree attitude you have in high school when you think you are immortal and your friendships will never change. Fun!
Pictured: Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in Beach Blanket Bingo
Raquel Welch, One Million Years, B.C. (1966)
Bikini Style: Literally Animal Skin Wrapped Around Your Lady Parts
What It Means: Let me ask you a question. If you were part of a tribe of really rad Fisherwomen of the Shell, would you leave that tribe to be with some jerk named Tumak of the Rock People? Of course not, because every woman’s life dream is to eventually retire among a community of other cool women, and own a collection of interesting, low-maintenance pets.
Alas, Loana the Fair One (Raquel Welch), a Fisherwoman of the Shell, meets Tumak (John Richardson) and leaves her lady tribe to follow him. A boy! And nothing good comes of it. She gets scooped up by a pterodactyl — an event that probably wouldn’t have happened if she had stuck with her girlfriends. And she even has to fight Tumak’s former lover Nupondi the Wild One over him. (The virgin/whore complex runs rampant in this film.) Animal-skin bikini equals barbarism. And barbarism is abandoning the Shell women.
Pictured: Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C.
Jill St. John, Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Bikini Style: Perfect for Chilly Beach Days With a Touch of Home Decor
What It Means: Bond girl Tiffany Case is a diamond smuggler. But when she’s not hawking jewels, one of her favorite activities is dressing in sexy clothes for James Bond (Sean Connery). At one point in the film, Bond even comments on how much he likes her next-to-nothing outfits. And what does she say? “I don’t dress for the hired help.” Well.
That’s why her bikini is interesting. First, it’s perfect for days when it’s kind of cold at the beach. Second, it’s all about duality. It’s sensual, but also serves Tiffany in a practical sense. It’s representative of Case's lover-and-thief combo. But then there’s that silly tie around the middle of her waist. It looks like that thing you use to tie back a curtain, except dangling on her torso, it appears to serve no purpose at all. Kind of like that moment in the film when she has to shoot a gun in response to enemy fire and hasn’t a clue how a firearm works. What kind of diamond smuggler can’t shoot a gun? What kind of bikini has one of those tassel things down the center?
Pictured: Jill St. John in Diamonds Are Forever