Monday 16 September 2019

Would you flash your thong again? The questionable history of visible underwear

As showing off your thong comes back in style, Prudence Wade takes a look at the trend's complicated reputation

Bella Hadid walks the runway at the Versace fashion show during the Milan Men's Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2020 on June 15, 2019 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Victor Boyko/Getty Images)
Bella Hadid walks the runway at the Versace fashion show during the Milan Men's Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2020 on June 15, 2019 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Victor Boyko/Getty Images)
Christina Aguilera at the 2000 MTV VMAs
Bella Hadid wearing a visible thong for Versace
Hailey Bieber attends The 2019 Met Gala Celebrating Camp: Notes on Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 06, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue)
Kim Kardashian West wearing a Gucci thong. Picture: Kim Kardashian West/Instagram

Prudence Wade

Few things can inspire such a visceral reaction as the visible G-string. For many of us, it evokes thoughts of Britney Spears going through a tough period in the early-Noughties, with her thong peeping above her low-rise jeans - which is not exactly a good look.

Back then there was nothing racier than showing off a fluorescent thong, but it wasn't just rebellious teenagers who loved it. High fashion just couldn't shake its obsession with a visible G-string in the late-Nineties and early-Noughties, and the trend often popped up on the catwalks of Dior and Gucci.

It's been over a decade since the visible G-string was everywhere, from catwalks to nightclubs - but, as unlikely as it might sound, it would seem the look is making a comeback.

Fashion houses like Versace and Alexander Wang are making a case for showing a bit more of your underwear, framing it as self-referential and irreverent.

The question is: Will us mere mortals follow where high fashion bravely goes? If you're still unsure whether it's time to hitch your thong above your waistband, maybe it's time to take a look back at the sartorial history of the visible G-string...

Then...

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Christina Aguilera at the 2000 MTV VMAs
 

Visible G-strings became a fashion accessory in their own right in the late-Nineties and early-Noughties. It was in 1999, after all, that Sisqo released his iconic ode to the thong. Before this decade, thongs were largely seen as only for strippers (they were originally developed as a way for strippers to navigate no-nudity laws while still baring lots of flesh).

In the mid-Nineties, showing off your G-string gained a certain level of notoriety, thanks in part to Monica Lewinsky. When The Starr Report was released, it described an incident where the then 22-year-old intern 'raised her jacket in the back and showed him [President Bill Clinton] the straps of her thong underwear, which extended above her pants'.

In this pre-Time's Up and #MeToo era, Lewinsky was painted a harlot by the media, with even famous feminists like Gloria Steinem taking Bill Clinton's side at the time. Perhaps due to its historical associations with strippers, the thong couldn't quite shake its reputation for being over-sexualised and 'slutty', and this seemingly confirmed what many people already thought about Lewinsky at the height of the scandal.

Even though it was seen as tacky and sleazy, fashion houses were still attracted to it. Maybe it was because of this reputation, and designers - as they so often do - wanted to capitalise on this scandal and drama.

Visible thong straps made their way into the collections of Jean Paul Gaultier, Gucci and Dior. The look went well with the toxic trend of the time for 'heroin chic', when fashion was obsessed with ultra-skinny models. Ultra-low rise 'bumster' pants and thongs gave designers an opportunity to show off the protruding hip bones of the waifish models.

The combo even made its way onto the red carpet, in a weirdly stylish way. If Twitter was around in 2001, we're sure it would've gone into a full-blown meltdown when actor Gillian Anderson wore a navy Eduardo Lucero gown to an Oscars after-party, with a scooped back showing off her matching G-string. You can't help but respect how the tag of her underwear is brazenly peeping through.

Now...

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Hailey Bieber attends The 2019 Met Gala Celebrating Camp: Notes on Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 06, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue)
 

Even the substantial power of Gillian Anderson couldn't quite save the visible thong, though. For the latter part of the Noughties, it was banished to fashion purgatory, where it has firmly remained - until the last year or so, that is.

Now, the G-string is slowly creeping back into our lives and Instagram feeds. In June, Bella Hadid walked the Versace runway in sparkly black trousers with a matching G-string in full view.

It has also popped up in other high fashion collections from designers like Bevza, and been proudly shown off on Instagram by Kim Kardashian (although this post wasn't without its controversy, as she was wearing vintage Gucci underwear causing some of her 144m followers to question whether it was acceptable to wear a second-hand thong).

So why is the look coming back into popularity? It's hard to tell, but there are a range of possible reasons.

The tides are slowly turning against the faithful high-waisted style, and we're seeing more low-rise jeans and bumsters back on the catwalks and high street than ever before.

Plus, we seem to be re-embracing the thong style - just look at the bikinis worn on Love Island, where the women almost exclusively sport G-string swimwear.

We knew the visible thong was well and truly back at May's Met Gala, when model Hailey Bieber wore a pale pink Alexander Wang gown with the matching straps built in - complete with the 'Wang' logo. Considering the theme of the event was all about campness, it was perfect. There's nothing more kitsch or throwback than a visible thong, after all.

Fashion works in cycles, so soon it might become more than a sartorial homage and actually a trend in its own right.

Bieber must have been doing something right, because she even got Anderson's attention with her Met Gala get-up. The actor posted a picture of her 2001 outfit and Bieber's side-by-side, with the caption: "Another example of necessity being the mother of invention", to which Bieber replied "our inspo all the way".

What's perhaps best about this resurgence of the G-string is what it represents. You could say it shows how far society has come in 20 years: Now, there's no shade around it - it's just a fun, camp and silly trend. There's no longer any place in fashion for slut-shaming.

PA Media

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