Illustration by Jamie Jung/Point conceptionOver the past 50 years or so, the bikini has wreaked havoc upon the world, enslaving millions, demanding tribute and short-circuiting America's acceptance of the metric system. Is it any wonder that women are so drawn to it? Why men kill for it? Why children stay awake late into the night anxiously anticipating the bikini that will be left for them come Christiebrinkleymas Morning?
Yes, the bikini is why people were put on Earth, but what next?
In the years since Eleanor Roosevelt invented the first bikini as an attempt to break the Japanese High Command's war code, the bikini has gone through many incarnations. First as a snug-fitting bathing suit that exposed a good deal of skin, then today's invasive bathing suit that exposes a tremendous amount of skin. How much farther can the bikini go?
To measure its trajectory, let us look at the bikini of today.
Today's bikini is an engineering marvel. It's asked to do much more than it was 10 years ago because women are doing much more at the beach—surfing, playing volleyball, boogie boarding, spearfishing—as well as beyond the beach.
"Some of my customers sky-dive in their bikinis," said Yvette Perdue, owner of Yvette's Bikini's in Seal Beach for the past 29 years. "Women still want a tan, they still want to look good, but they want to do more, too: they want to ride a bike and get a tan. A lot of my customers wear their bikinis to the gym to work out. Others will wear it under a jacket as a top when they go out."
Despite their active lifestyles, women have demanded that bikinis remain as small and sexy as they were when they were designed primarily for lounging poolside. The suits have managed to keep up with today's modern gal thanks to such strong, flexible miracle fabrics as Lycra and because of designers such as Jamie Jung, who owns and designs swimwear for Point Conception, who are able to do more with less.
"With bikinis, we can get about five of them out of one yard of fabric," said Jung, whose company designs for other labels, including Toes on the Nose swimwear. "So there's really very little margin for error. They have to be put together just right. The fabrics have to do more. I've been making suits since I was 10, and when I first started, there wasn't any Lycra—just woven fabrics like cotton. If you tried to do something in them—I surfed—they'd give you terrible rashes. Women want suits that are more comfortable and molded to the body, and they want something that can take some jarring."
And, in the future, Jung believes that women will continue to ask more of their bikinis.
"I could see them becoming more environmental," she said. "I think the suits will have to protect you from ultra-violet rays as the ozone layer gets worse. Women are going to still want to be active outside, so they're going to want more protection."
So, in effect, Jung foresees a day when Super Fabrics will rule the body and these Super Fabrics —or SuFabus, as they will come to be known —will rule the beach with an iron fist and black helicopters while demanding that women spearfish even more efficiently, and thus will begin a time of a great gnashing of teeth and lubing of moving parts.
Jung didn't actually say any of this; we're just assuming. What she did say was that bikinis could actually become larger.
"I think bikinis tend to reflect the culture, whether it's more modest or less modest," she said. "I think here in the United States, I've seen it go a lot more modest over the years. I could see bikinis becoming a bit more conservative, unfortunately."
Relax. We're not talking the chador (see www.total.net/~shazeeda/ prayeroutfit.html). Perdue thinks bikinis will always be small, especially in California, because "women here work out, and they want to show it off."
As for a more environmentally protective suit, she thinks that given the size of the thing—and by "thing," we mean the sun—it's really useless to try and block any rays. Instead, she suggests a "kind of umbrella that women could take to the beach with them and lay under, and they would still get a tan, but the umbrella would block out all of the harmful rays. I just thought of that."
Yes. Yes, she did. She thought of it while she was talking to me. And so clearly, I was part of that process and should share in a good deal of the profits—say, 50 percent of the gross—and if any one of you so much as tries to steal our idea, I swear to God we will sue your ass until you don't have so much as a cotton bikini to cover it. Have a nice future.