With Dua Lipa inaugurating 2023 in a crystal micro dress open all over the back to show a contrasting white thong, we can officially declare the return of the thong: a trend that has always fascinated fashion reaching its peak of popularity in Naughties, that glittering decade of controversial trends and ostentation that today’s fashion so likes to evoke. In the last year, many trends that have caused scandal in the past, from boomster to the naked dresshave been taken up and loaded with new meanings, which often have to do with a question of reclaiming one’s body and the power of self-definition.
The history of the thong, if you like, is as old as the world: in prehistoric times it was the forerunner of modern underwear, the first garment to cover the nakedness of the human body. However, for most of antiquity linen evolved in length and well into the 1920s i bloomers – light shorts with an elasticated waist and a lace hem – were all the rage. It is from the end of the following decade that we can start talking about the thong in the strict sense of the term: in view of the Universal Exhibition held in New York in 1939, the mayor of the city ordered that all the burlesque dancers somehow covered themselves. The atmospheres were those of boudoirs and burlesque shows: for many years, the thong was relegated to the realm of scandal and perdition, adopted as an expedient to show as much skin as possible while remaining within the limits imposed by the law on modesty. What was initially born as a mere expedient officially entered the essential clothing of every burlesque dancer.
Things began to change around the seventies, when, in the climate of sexual liberation and transgression, the designer Rudi Gerneich created the thong bikini, immediately attracting a discreet interest, consolidated in 1975 by a photo shoot by Helmut Lang featuring the models Lisa Taylor and Jerry Hall posed statuesque on a beach in black one-piece swimsuits designed by the designer. In the eighties, the thong was also adopted in the workplace by women who were looking for an invisible solution to wear under jersey skirts and dresses. The final push towards entering everyday life came about through entertainment: one of the biggest promoters of the thong was immediately Cher who, known for her daring and unconventional looks, showed off the thong between the 1980s and 1990s several times, from the music video of If I could turn back time, 1989, at the 1992 London concert in black leather leotard with goth references and fishnet stockings. The accessory took on a political note: the idea of being talked about for better or for worse became an intentional gesture, sensuality used as statement and wearing visible underwear was a way to regain possession of one’s body and the image one wants to give back to the world.
Two things happened in 1997: Alexander McQueen paved the way for the soon-to-explode ultra-low-rise jeans trend with his famous design boomster, trousers that left part of the back uncovered; in the meantime, at the creative direction of Gucci, Tom Ford faced one of his most prosperous – and iconic – phases ever and, for Spring Summer 1997, he had models in thongs parade on the catwalk complete with a metal GG logo that stands out against bare skin, an accessory renamed then G-strip and destined to remain in history and inspire numerous reinterpretations. Unhinged on stages and catwalks, the thong was ready for its debut in society and from that moment on it will dominate the aesthetics of the coming decade. There was no shortage of political connotations: at the 1998 VMAs, actress Rose McGowan wore a sort of nude dress in a wafer-thin thong for her first public outing after accusing actor Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment.
In the 2000s, the decade of the scandal, the champions of the thong abounded: for the MTV Movie Awards in 2000, Halle Berry flaunted an exposed pink thong with a fringed and beaded ensemble; Britney Spears performs at the VMAs in a crystal-encrusted sheer catsuit with exposed thong; for the after party of the Oscars in 2001 the actress Gillian Anderson shows up in slim sunglasses and a long minimal dress completely open on the lower back to allow a glimpse of the black lace thong; Paris Hilton makes it a must-have accessory for her public outings. Although for a few years, at the turn of the Ten, when the style of the previous decade enjoyed a bad reputation, it was relegated to an indicator of bad taste, the tanga has never completely gone off the radar: partly due to the nostalgic charm partly because its committed potential has always been seen.
In 2014, Rihanna wowed the CFDA Awards crowd with a naked dress signed Adam Selman, entirely covered in crystals, which hinted at a slight hint of the thong. At the Met Gala 2019, Hailey Bieber had reinterpreted the nineties of Tom Ford in key Barbiecore wearing a candy pink Alexander Wang dress, with a high neck and extremely opaque on the front, but low back to show the thong with logo Wang in silver metal. We were already preparing for a return to the scene, in the collective craze for the Y2K style.
And then there are all the icons of today, those who dictate the law in terms of fashion today mainstream they promote the thong and visible underwear in all its forms. The catwalks prove them right: for Spring Summer 2023 Jacquemus imagines maxi straw hats and micro dresses that allow a glimpse of the underwear, thongs also for Ludovic de Saint Sernin, KNWLS and Nensi Dojaka – among the emerging brands most loved by celebrities.