By Esther Stone
Tuesday December 23, 2008 - 10:38:00 AM

I confess. Guilty as charged. I’m an inveterate and unrepentant pack rat.  

Periodically I determine to weed out some of my excess possessions, but these efforts are, for the most part, singularly unsuccessful 

An example is a skimpy red-, yellow- and blue-striped bikini I purchased in a little shop on a side street in the resort town of Cascais, Portugal in 1976.  


Portugal was the final destination of a six-week trip to Europe my husband and I took that year. We had started in London, continued to Paris, and then on to the Riviera. We spent three nights in a very undistinguished hotel in Nice. It was a cheap, dingy hole-in-the-wall, but it was in a prime location: just a block from the beach, and around the corner from the legendary Negresco Hotel, a splendid fin de siecle edifice with its distinctive onion-shaped dome. 

After sightseeing in the area for two days, we decided to spend a relaxing day at the beach. We walked down to the Negresco’s swim club, paid a small entrance fee for chairs and towels, and were soon settled in our little place in the sun. 

We looked around. The sunbathers who surrounded us were quite a chic and elegant assemblage. The women had sleek, shapely bodies, onto which they frequently applied suntan lotion, in a kind of ritual dance. They seemed preoccupied with this task, and seemed, too, to be fully aware that they were on display. They were all wearing bikinis, of course, and nearly all were also wearing thin gold chains which rested seductively on their hipbones. Their male companions, meanwhile, sat nonchalantly by. 

Further down the beach were other sunbathers, not nearly so sleek and shiny. There were old women, fat women, dumpy women, women with other women, women with their grandchildren, women by themselves—all wearing bikinis. Unlike here at home, no one seemed self-conscious about any real or imagined bodily imperfections. 

As I sat there, taking in the scene, I soon noticed that there seemed to be a certain etiquette which applied to the proper wearing of the bikini. When a woman was seated, apparently, it was not inappropriate for her to remove the top of her bikini and go topless. But if she were to get up to swim in the sea, the top went back on. 

There was one instance in which this took on a particularly humorous dimension. A woman sitting near me was, unsurprisingly, topless. She was throwing a ball for her pet poodle to retrieve. She would throw the ball; the dog would retrieve it. She’d throw the ball again, and again the dog would retrieve it. It was pure theatre!—particularly so when three Japanese tourists came strolling down the beach, and trained the telephoto lenses of their cameras on her! 

After a while I realized that I, too, was part of this little tableau. I started to feel conspicuous in my one-piece American bathing suit, and I decided to remedy the situation.  

My first step was to discretely unhook the strap from the top of my bathing suit, rendering me strapless. 

This sufficed for a while, but did not sufficiently deal with the situation. Indeed, I felt like a Hemingway hero, asking myself, “Do I dare?” I did.  

As the afternoon wore on, in very teeny increments, I lowered the top of my suit, at the rate of about a quarter-inch per half-hour, until, by afternoon’s end, I achieved a state of total toplessness! I have a picture at home to prove the veracity of this statement, but that shall remain privileged property, if you please! 


This little tale of my adventure on the beach at Nice is all preamble for the purchase of my bikini in Cascais a few days later. 

After leaving Nice we proceeded to Avignon and Barcelona by train. I bought a spectacular wide-brimmed straw hat in a little shop near the cathedral in Barcelona, and by the time I arrived in Cascais I was primed to get a bikini to go with it!  

The Revolution of 1975 in Portugal had just barely ended, and we were among the very few tourists in that country at that time, and prices were very low. We stayed in a charming small hotel, the former home of a duke, and spent 11 blissful days in this unspoiled town just north of Lisbon.  

Most mornings we wandered around the area on foot, and spent most afternoons by the magnificent pool of the Estoril Sol Hotel, just down the road from where we were staying. I still remember the absolute luxury of it all—lying on a lounge chair, attired in my bikini and my big straw hat, cigarette in hand. At our beckoning, attentive waiters would bring our lunch—trays of sandwiches and “vino verde,” the light local wine— and all for little more than pennies. It was all paradisiacal. 


I was never daring enough to wear the bikini here at home after I left Portugal. I never even tried it on. However, when, in one of my recent efforts to clean house I came across it, I decided to do so. 

As I had anticipated, the top barely covered the additional expanse of flesh I have accumulated since that earlier period. And the bottom had entirely given up the ghost: the elastic had completely disintegrated, and the material sagged in my hand. I chose not to inflect the additional indignity upon myself of actually trying it on!  

But neither did I cast it aside. Because it still has the power to evoke memories in me of that delightful interlude in my life, my ancient bikini continues to reside among my possessions!