SI Vault
Liz Smith
January 18, 1965
Six months after the topless-swimsuit brouhaha, bare skin—or styling that gives the illusion thereof—is the thing to wear under the sun. Where do we go from here?
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January 18, 1965

The Nudity Cult

Six months after the topless-swimsuit brouhaha, bare skin—or styling that gives the illusion thereof—is the thing to wear under the sun. Where do we go from here?

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"In olden days a glimpse of stocking/ Was looked on as something shocking,/ Now heaven knows,—Anything goes."*

Cole Porter's merry commentary on the "Gosh-all hemlock, what's the world coming to?" point of view was written 30 years ago. Yet its philosophy echoed around the world again last summer with the advent of the topless bathing suit, a fashion pfft that caused more' talk and less action than anything since the Magi-not Line. (Did you ever see anyone in the topless suit? Do you even know anyone who bought one? A relatively small number were sold, and those mostly as gag gifts to brides.)

The fact is, however, that the Rudi Gernreich bare-bosom brainchild, which had more meaning as an idea than as a reality, seems to have forecast the shape of things to come. And its publicity shook the fashion world, just as it juiced up cocktail conversation in your home town and mine.

The Soviet Union denounced the suit as an indication of "capitalistic decay," though it was obvious that no one in any state of decay could wear one. The Vatican was displeased with it. The "industrial-erotic adventure" of the topless bathing suit "negates moral sense," said L'Osservatore Romano. Many of Rudi's own design contemporaries turned to rend him fang and claw. A minority of Republicans tried to hang it on the Democrats' line as a moral issue.

Then there was the case for the defense—other designers who hailed the innovation and wished they had thought of it. Henri Bendel's dynamic lady president, Geraldine Stutz, said, "I only wish I were young enough to be one of the pioneers myself." Women's Wear-Daily's pretty reporter Carol Bjorkman wrote, "What's the matter with the front? After all, it is here to stay, and it is awfully nice being a girl."

All this is typical of an era in which we are being jet-propelled into the acceptance of more extremely bare fashions than at any previous time in American life. Other changes in the evolution toward bareness have been gradual.

Take the bikini. Fashion savants now regard it as a classic, but it had an uphill fight all the way after its creation during World War II. An enterprising photographer fashioned the 20th century version from some scraps of polka-dot material while seeking something new in which to snap the pinup charm of Chili Williams. I say the 20th century version because the fashion itself is ancient. Bikinis graced the Sicilian ladies portrayed on tile mosaics from the diggings of the Piazza Armerina, proving that 1,550 years ago Mediterranean beaches looked much the same as they do today.

With the determined help of Madame Vachon, whose bazaar on the St. Tropez waterfront catered to Brigitte Bardot and her imitators, the sunbathing girls on the French Riviera of the '50s and '60s made the bikini irresistible. Every time it was pronounced dead by fashion editors, Madame Vachon would mutter, "Zut alors," and run up a new batch of suits made of two or three bandannas. The public did not seem to care much what the fashion editors said.

Though the bikini arrived only after a 20-year struggle, the nudity now so prevalent in the marketplace is being rushed into acceptance. It is as if the furor over the topless suit lowered the final barrier. As Eugenia Sheppard, Women's Feature Editor of the New York Herald Tribune , wrote of Gernreich, "Sometimes a designer has to make a great big over-statement to put a good point across."

Since last summer we have had the ultra-expensive silvery Courr�ges hip-hugger evening pants, which tie in a small bow just under the navel; Cole's swimsuit called Trapped, a filmy lace over flesh-colored nylon knit; an Italian white organdy top with real "breast" pockets, two linen patches covering just the bosom; the clear white plastic bra from Lovable with yellow daisies to pin on when modesty decrees; Brigance's own description of his d�coupage clothes as "suggestive cutouts that are still polite"; Gernreich's Shadow Shirt, a transparent lacquered chiffon dinner blouse over nothing but girl; a transparent skin-colored dress over a bra in skin-colored stocking fabric; Crahay's sheer dress with a flesh leotard underneath; Mary Quant's bare-bosom dress cut to the navel, with a rose to cover that; New York society girl Jane Holzer, posing in a black-lace jump suit cut down to the timberline in back.

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