The bikini in Ancient Rome

The mosaic of the Villa del Casale in Piazza Armerina 
One of the most curious images from the art of Ancient Rome is certainly that of the mosaic of the Villa del Casale in Piazza Armerina, dating back to the 4th century after Christ, where you can see some women who perform physical activity wearing what seems to everyone effects a modern bikini. What makes the image unusual is that this type of women's two-piece clothing - which today is mainly used as a swimsuit and which follows women's underwear - has spread since the twentieth century. 

Beyond the two-piece women's underwear, the so composed swimwear spread from the 30s of the XX Century, and took a turn in 1946, when the French tailor Louis Reard officially launched the bikini, at the era considered very bold and entered only with time in the fashion of large female consumption. In reality, although Reard has had the opportunity to relaunch this type of clothing, the invention of two-piece women's clothing cannot be attributed to him. In Ancient Rome, in fact, two distinct items of clothing were used that women could sometimes combine: the subligacum, used by both men and women, which covered the private parts, and the strophium, used as a bra by women. 

The subligacum represented a real ancestor of the current underpants, and was composed of a rectangle of fabric with two laces that tied at the waist on the front. The strophium was different and exclusively feminine, a band used to hold and hide the breast, without compressing it (for this reason the mamillary, another accessory was used). In ancient Rome, breasts were considered something that abounded in older women or that was considered comical, and for this reason there was a tendency to hide it with clothing of this type.

This two pieces that we see in the mosaics, unlike the bikini, was not however used as a swimsuit: in the Villa del Casale, in fact, the women portrayed do different sports but not the bathroom. In the many spas of Ancient Rome, in fact, both women and men used to bathe naked.

Leggi l'articolo in Italiano

A modern bikini in a street ad

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