Seventy years ago this summer, a fashion craze took hold in France. It was called the bikini, created by engineer-turned-clothier Louis Réard and named after a South Pacific atoll made famous by the testing of the atomic bomb. He reckoned his micro-suit would generate just as much fallout.
The argument over what constitutes appropriate swimwear hasn't abated in the intervening years, but where moralists once railed against revealing attire, now the opposite is happening.
These days the Riviera is abuzz over the "burkini," a kind of full-body swimwear favoured by a small number of Muslim women. Several French cities have banned the garment, which is variously denounced as a vector for cultural imperialism, a symbol of Islam's "enslavement of women", as Prime Minister Manuel Valls put it, or a threat to public security. Some French women have been fined for burkini-wearing.
What complete bunk.
The controversy has even lapped at these shores, with a Quebec opposition party, and some of the province's political commentators, demanding a ban. The Coalition Avenir Québec soon reversed course, perhaps recognizing the absurdity of its position.
To their credit, Premier Philippe Couillard and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered the correct response: We have real problems to worry about, and an alleged excess of clothing while swimming is not one of them.
No one should be forced to wear a niqab, chador, burqa or burkini – but neither should head-to-toe pool attire be misconstrued as a threat to democracy, Western values or public safety. To wit: Photos emerged this week of Catholic nuns in full habits strolling on French beaches, to the consternation of approximately no one.
The world may be struggling to understand how to prevent future Aaron Drivers, but crafting an international code of correct bathing attire isn't going to be part of the solution.
Seventy years ago, a movement sprang up to ban the bikini. It wasn't a threat then, and it isn't some kind of protection from threats now. Feel free to wear one. Or not.