Rudi Gernreich was a designer in the '60s who was well known for his love of the Space Age, the avant garde, and the shocking. He was the creator of the most scandalous looks of the era, like the monokini (a free-boobing one-piece swimsuit); the nipple bra (a brassiere with nipple points) and the no-bra bra (which was more sex than coverage.) The thing with Gernreich was that he didn't always create pieces to be functional, but to sometimes advance equality and political views forward. He wanted to help society get over its "sex hang up" and didn't think women could be emancipated until that was done. This was interesting because he was a man making headlines and comments on women's sexuality, at a time when women's own remarks over their bodies were silenced, laughed at, or villainized.
"To me, the only respect you can give to a woman is to make her a human being. A totally emancipated woman who is totally free," he was quoted as saying in Johannes Porsch's and Tanja Widdman's Rudi Gernreich: Fashion Will Go Out of Fashion.
"Every girl I knew was offended by the dirty-little-boy attitude of the American male toward the American bosom. I was aware that the great masses of the world would find the topless shocking and immoral. I couldn't help feel the implicit hypocrisy that made something in one culture immoral and in another perfectly acceptable," he told The Los Angeles Times. In his views, the scandal over boobs was completely man-made, and if one gender could show their chests without shock, then how did it make logical sense for the other not to?
When the monokini and barely-there-bras came out, women gathered around window displays and clutched at their pearls, side-eyeing those who didn't react as scandalized as they should be. Warnings were made from pulpits, and some even went as far as picketing the new trends. Dubbing Gernreich "an enemy of the church," Reverand Edward Wyatt led anti-topless pickets in Dallas in 1964, and lectured to Life Magazine, "We should not have let bathing suits come above the knees."
While there was a lot of backlash and teasing (Life cheekily called him the "Bolivar of the Bosom,") Gernreich stuck by his decision. "I'd do it again because I think the topless, by overstating and exaggerating a new freedom of the body, will make the moderate, right degree of freedom more acceptable," he shared with The New York Times. You have to shock them with something wild in order to make everyday pieces like mini skirts and bikinis seem a lot less brazen.