Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue: The Bikini Invasion Of '64

By | January 9, 2018

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Left: Babette March on the cover of the 1964 Swimsuit Issue. Right: Christie Brinkley on the cover of the 1980 issue. Source: Sports Illustrated.

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue had its humble beginnings in 1964 as a five-page feature in the nation's pre-eminent sports magazine. Never mind that it didn't make logical sense for Sports Illustrated to report on women's recreational swimwear, the Swimsuit Issue filled a need. And many household names later -- Cheryl Tiegs, Carol Alt, Christie Brinkley, Elle Macpherson, and others -- it's fair to say that the publication contributed to the supermodel concept.

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue has been credited not just with creating supermodels, but also with popularizing the bikini as a valid -- and not scandalously European -- beach option. The year 1964 kicked off the British Invasion in music; in subscribers' mailboxes, the Bikini Invasion was underway as well.

'Sports Illustrated' Without Sports

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Left: Marilyn Tindall, 1967. Center: Yvette and Yvonne Sylvander, 1976. Right: Jamee Becker, 1969. Source: Sports Illustrated

In 1964, Andre Laguerre had a problem. He was the editor of Sports Illustrated, but there were no sports -- nothing great, anyway -- after the new year. At that time, the NFL and AFL had not yet merged, so there was no Super Bowl, nor any playoffs. Every year, by the first week of January, football -- all of it, college and pro -- was over.

That first Swimsuit Issue wasn't a whole issue, nor even a large feature -- it was a cover featuring Babette March in a bikini, and five interior pages. Laguerre had faith in the idea, though, and resolved to go all in, hiring fashion reporter Jule Campbell. The offer to Campbell was simple and appealing. Laguerre said,

How would you like to go to some beautiful place and put a pretty girl on the cover?

Campbell did more than that -- she built the Swimsuit Issue into an influential institution, turning those pretty girls into stars on an unprecedented scale.