[lit-ideas] Re: Bombshells

  • From: David Ritchie <profdritchie@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 19 Jul 2012 11:21:38 -0700

Ah, summer.  Four years ago archeologist Beatrice Nutz unearthed, or to be more 
precise "de-vaulted" four linen bras, dating from the Middle Ages.  And now, in 
these lazy and sometimes nutty days, at least here where we have a beach named 
after Carl Jantzen (the designer of the world's first commercial two-piece 
suit) editors' thoughts turn to skimpy wear and beaches.  But do they write 
about bikinis?  They do not.  They reach for the history of bras and out comes 
four-year-old news which, though it may not shock you, causes me to re-think, 
for I have oft been a repeater in class of the cultural historians' party line: 
that the bra is but a recent invention.

Where on the web can you find a program that purports to tell you the history 
of the bra?  Why, "National Geographic" of course.


It's not very good.

Jantzen's suit came out in 1913.  Lots of two-piece designs followed.  In the 
U.S. the convention was that a woman's navel must be covered.  In France, after 
the war, a suit named "bikini" was a design response to a one piece suit by a 
rival designer, one which, because it was small, had been called the "Atome."  
What to call a split Atome, one that might be worn by "bombshells"?  Name it 
after the atoll where the French were exploding bombs.

Incidentally, if like me, you were wondering how man's imagination connects 
pieces of metal that disfigure and disembowel--bomb shells--with hot and sexy 
women, you will discover a rare stumble, a least in the OED edition I own.  
Oxford's editors date this meaning of "bombshell" after the Second World War; 
yet a film with that title, starring Jean Harlow as a sexy vamp, came out in 

Write them, is my advice, and carry on.

David Ritchie,
south of Jantzen 
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