March 16, 2020

Show Us Some Skin

Before “in the buff” meant naked, it meant wearing a buff coat. This leather tunic worn by English soldiers through the 17th century was a beige color known as buff. Since this was a similar color to the skin of many English folks, “in the buff” came to mean nude.

Before it was the name of the skimpy swimsuit, the coral islands known as Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific were the target of several 1946 atomic bomb tests by the US military. Four days later, French swimsuit designer Louis Réard also dubbed his new scant piece of ladies’ swimwear the “bikini,” declaring that it would be just as explosive as those nuclear tests. To distinguish it from a competitor’s slightly more modest design, Réard said only a real bikini could be pulled through a wedding ring. Réard initially had trouble finding women willing to model the swimsuit, and it was forbidden in many places after its introduction.

“Mooning,” as the act of deliberately showing your bare butt, entered the lexicon in the 1960’s when it became popular in American universities, though a bare bottom had been called a “moon” by at least the 18th century. Whatever you call it, the practice has roots much further back. Among the older moons, Byzantines mooned fleeing European foes in 1203 during the Fourth Crusade, Brits mooned Scots on 13th century battlefields, and Native Americans mooned Italian explorers in the 1500s. Across all these times and places, though, the gesture remained an insult and mockery.