Underwear is no longer hidden. The bra can be seen without complexes and even panties have replaced pants in some cases, as Bottega Veneta and Loewe have made clear in their spring-summer 2023 collections. Even socks enjoy unusual popularity as an accessory. But the garment that perfectly exemplifies the visible underwear trend is the thong, in the foreground when it peeks out of low-waisted pants or when it adorns the neckline at the back of the most sensual dresses. An emblem of 2000s fashion, its return coincides with the return of the aesthetics of the beginning of the millennium. Added to her success is the glorification of the ass in the era of screens, where censorship prevents showing a female nipple but does not put barriers to this part of the body, key in the new beauty canon popularized by pop icons like the ubiquitous Kardashian. But to talk about the true origin of the thong, you have to go back much further than two decades ago.
The thong in 2023: new icons and diversity of bodies
In 2023, the return of the prevailing aesthetic two decades ago has returned to the thong the prominence lost for years. Velasco Molpeceres points out a nuance to understand the success of the thong today, regardless of the cyclical nature of the trends. In the opinion of the journalist and writer, “in recent decades there has been a renaissance of the ass. The chest is prohibited but the ass is not, and that also happens on the beach, there is an absence of taboo around the ass and that has favored the thong as a garment”, adding that “it is curious that, for example in Europe, in many countries are allowed topless, but in Brazil it is not allowed and yet that is where the thong has its greatest role or representation”. In this sense, there are big differences in the way to wear the thong: before we saw it in standard bodies and slim silhouettes, now you don’t have to be a size 36 to wear the thong with pride.
The examples of his return have been happening over time, first in an anecdotal way and then in a cascade. Since Hailey Baldwin gave one of the first clues to the return of the trend at the 2019 MET Gala, when she wore a dress-thong signed by Alexander Wang, the proposals have multiplied. Facing spring-summer 2023, the thong appears over skirts, dresses and pants. The labels that have made the Y2K style their hallmark – from Blumarine to GCDS through Dominnico, Jacquemus or Coperni – make the most obvious nods to the trend.
Dua Lipa (with a white thong and dress open at the back), Kylie Jenner (with a microskirt and built-in thong) or Rita Ora (in a see-through dress by Nensi Dojaka with a matching thong) take the reins of the trend and demonstrate the unstoppable success of this tiny garment that promises to continue growing in a big way in 2023.
“The thong is a very old garment, we can actually find the first version of the thong in the first loincloths, it is not an unknown garment but its contemporary origin is the seventies,” explains Ana Velasco Molpeceres, author of the book History of fashion in Spain: from the mantilla to the bikini (Ed. La Catarata, 2021) and journalism delegate at the Faculty of Information Sciences of the Complutense University of Madrid.
As with the nose ring, now deeply rooted in the West, the original thong has its roots in ancient civilizations. There is no consensus on the exact origin of the thong, but the original designs – crude, worn by men and outside the category of underwear since they were worn without anything over it – were used in different parts of South America, Africa and Asia. Years ago, the German journalist Anja Bergelson, developed a theory, based on a laborious study, which pointed out the first and early attempt to introduce the thong in Spain. Everything happened in the middle of the 17th century, as reflected in the news from the newspaper library of THE COUNTRY. The couple formed by Yáñez Iglesias and Yolanda Luccara were traveling on a sailboat when they shipwrecked on the Chilean island of Santa d’Or. The local women wore a kind of thong made of shells. The couple was fascinated with the invention and dedicated themselves to marketing fabrics for making the thong in its primitive version. They settled in Salvador (Brazil) and continued with the business. Soon after, they decided to export the exotic garment to Spain, a daring idea in the days of the Inquisition. When the fearsome religious court learned of their intentions, both were sentenced to hang, the sentence being carried out in April 1660.
It took centuries for the thong to become important as a piece of Western clothing. The modern thong, as we know it today, began to spread from the decade of the seventies. Its creation is attributed to the Austrian designer Rudi Gernreich, also the creator of the monokini, the first topless swimsuit. The designer and activist broke into the swimwear market with the thong. In the same decade, photographer Helmut Newton photographed supermodels Jerry Hall and Lisa Taylor wearing the design in an editorial published in Vogue in 1975.
The “whale tail”, between objectification and empowerment
In Europe, the conservative mentality was beginning to crack and the way of dressing reflected these incipient changes. The thong came as a breath of fresh air, but its reception was not immediate. During the 1980s, the garment was seen especially as part of the sportswear promoted by aerobics videos in a decade of body worship, where the fitness business began to build muscle. Little by little, the thong managed to cross this field and establish itself as a powerful alternative to conventional underwear. Icons like Madonna already amused themselves by subverting the meaning of underwear, for example by stripping the corset of its oppressive symbolism and making this element a provocative design of a woman who owns her body. The singer herself, like Cher, wore the thong on stage shamelessly.
The hypersexualized fashion of the late 1990s and early 2000s, personified by Gianni Versace or Tom Ford during his time as creative director of Gucci, was the ideal context to develop the full potential of the thong beyond its use as an undergarment. . The irruption of the low waist also determined the success of the garment. The person responsible for the trend was none other than Alexander McQueen. The visionary designer revolutionized fashion when in 1994 he presented his unprecedented bumster pants, pants with a waist so low that they exposed the beginning of the ass. The Briton marked a milestone and kicked off an aesthetic that would reign for more than a decade.
Before young people around the world jumped on the bandwagon, recurring celebrities on the covers of magazines and tabloids had already made clear the power of the trend. From Paris Hilton to Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez or Christina Aguilera, the thong lived its golden age before the progressive arrival of high-waisted designs literally hid the garment. The thong rose as a pop symbol to which the R&B singer Sisqó dedicated a song, thong song, which in 2000 topped the top of half the world’s music charts and achieved four Grammy nominations. In Spain, teenage millennials at the time may remember the 2003 campaign promoted by Evax with the Thong Girlssome superheroines with whom the use of one of their panty liners, launched as a result of the success of this undergarment.
Showing the elastic of the thong (or the entire triangle, what was known as the “whale tail”) became a powerful trend in the streets, not without controversy. The debate around wearing the thong visibly pivoted between two concepts: objectification or empowerment when dressing according to the will of each one. Two decades later, feminism has become strong and one of the lessons learned from Gen Z, inheritors of the trend, is that dressing sexy does not make you less committed to gender equality. Also, let’s not forget that before the thong became controversial, 90s hip hop had already popularized wearing the elastic band of the briefs outside the pants, placed below the hips. A gesture that is also back in the present, as endorsed by Dior, Miu Miu or Balenciaga in their men’s collections.
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