The first modern bikini, 1946
The co-eds showed up in bathing suits, some flaunting a daring new fashion “fad”—the bikini. That fabled 1960s baby boomer sexual revolution was budding. The combination of beer, bare skin and balmy weather energized the coming-of-lust boomer males.
Ancient Roman bikini, circa 46
It was an unseasonably warm day for the opening football Pep Rally.
After the event, students took the usual route home passing by sorority row and the six-story woman’s dorm. Co-eds poked their heads out the windows, waving and blowing kisses at the boys. Suddenly, from a penthouse dorm window, a pair of frilly red panties came lofting down, buoyed by the warm, gentle breezes. It was like waving a red flag in front of bulls. A group quickly formed waiting for the prize to fall. A scrabble ensued; the winner emerged with a bloody nose to match his trophy. He placed it on his head and did a triumphant victory lap to cheers.
It set off a wild chain reaction. Panties came pouring out the dorm like confetti. Normally rational young men jostled and shoved to get a piece of the action. Who knows, a phone number might be inside. The mini-riot lasted about 20 minutes before campus police moved in with paddy wagons and turned on the dorm sprinkler system to cool off the crowd. The co-conspirators enjoyed the show from the safety of their front row balcony seats.
This represented the end, not the start, of the pop culture phenomenon known as the “panty raid.” It was the fathers and older brothers of baby boomers who invented the game.
By most accounts, it began at the University of Michigan in 1952 and spread like wildfire across college campuses, typically resulting in arrests. A 1956 panty raid at the University of California at Berkeley resulted in “significant property damage” as hundreds of young men invaded sororities in search of undergarments. The Great Raid of 1961 at the University of Austin campus involved 2500 males attacking dorms and scaling walls, the chaos continuing for hours amid “wholesale” arrests. The fad gradually lost steam as the sexual revolution continued. Why raid for panties when you could get them in private simply by asking?
I didn’t snag any prizes that afternoon but a fraternity brother retrieved a see-through pink pair which he has to this day. No phone number. He tried in vain to the find the owner.
The campuses that represented the eye of the panty raid tornado—University of Texas at Austin, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and University of California at Berkeley—were also among the most politically radical centers of the 1960s.