Viewed from the front, the thong typically resembles a bikini bottom, but at the back the material is reduced to a minimum. Thongs are almost always designed to cover the genitals, anus and perineum and leave part or most of the buttocks uncovered. The back of the garment typically consists of a thin waistband and a thin strip of material, designed to be worn between the buttocks, that connects the middle of the waistband with the bottom front of the garment. It is also used as a descriptive term in other types of garment, such as a bodysuit, bodystocking, leotard or one-piece swimsuit in the context "thong backed".
One type of thong is the G-string, the back of which consists only of a (typically elasticized) string. The two terms G-string and thong are often used interchangeably; however, they can refer to distinct pieces of clothing. Thongs come in a variety of styles depending on the thickness, material or type of the rear portion of fabric and are available for both men and women throughout most of the world.
A tanga is a pair of briefs consisting of small panels connected by strings at the sides. There are tanga briefs both for men and for women. The style and the word come from Brazil.
Many languages borrow the English word string to refer to this type of underwear, usually without the G. Another common name is tanga (or sometimes string tanga), especially in the German Tanga. A frequent metaphor, especially in Brazil, is dental floss; in Brazil a thong is called fio dental (Portuguese for dental floss); in English, the term "Butt floss" is sometimes used. In Lithuanian it is "siaurikės" ("narrows"), in Italian "perizoma" or "tanga", in Turkish "ipli külot" ("stringed underpants"), and in Bulgarian as "prashka" (прашка), which means a slingshot. In Israel the thong, mostly the G-string, is called Khutini (חוטיני), from the word Khut, which means String. Similarly, in Iran, it is called "Shortbandi" (شورت بندی) in which "short" (from English: Shorts) means "briefs" and "bandi" means "with a string". A Puerto Rican Spanish slang term, used by Reggaeton artists, is gistro. Australians often colloquially refer to the G-string as a g-banger or simply banger.
Some names for the thong reference the bareness of the buttocks, as seen in the Spanish word colaless (the origin is probably connected to the term topless but in reference to cola, colloquial term for butt in South American Spanish), and in other names the "T"-like shape of the back is highlighted. In Chinese, the T-back is commonly called dingziku (丁字褲/丁字裤) which literally means 丁 character pants (or roughly, T-letter pants). In Korean, it is called 티팬티 (T panty). However, there are several usages of the term T-back in English as well (e.g., children's literature author E. L. Konigsburg's T-backs, T-shirts, Coat and Suit).
Thong vs. G-string
According to the Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion, "The G-string, or thong, [is] a panty front with a half- to one-inch strip of fabric at the back that sits between the buttocks", and Knickers: a Brief History says: "Minor tweaks to the cut earned these skimpy panties different titles—from the thong, which has a one-inch strip of fabric down the back, to a G-string, which, as the name equivalent of Spanish suggests (hilo dental), is more like a string of fabric akin between the teeth." Striptease: the Untold History of the Girlie Show says: "The thong [is] an undergarment derived from the stripper's G-string", and according to Americanisms: the Illustrated Book of Words Made in the USA a G-string is "a thong panty consisting of a small triangular piece of fabric supported by two elastic straps. Attributed to strippers circa 1936". The Heinemann English Dictionary defines "thong" as "a pair of underpants or swimming costume in a very skimpy style like a G-string".
The thong, like its probable predecessor the loincloth, is believed to be one of the earliest forms of human clothing and is also thought to have been worn mostly or exclusively by men. It is thought the thong was probably originally developed to protect, support, or hide the male genitals. The loincloth is probably the earliest form of clothing used by mankind, having originated in the warmer climates of sub-Saharan Africa where clothing was first worn nearly 75,000 years ago. Many tribal peoples, such as some of the Khoisan people of southern Africa, wore thongs for many centuries. Much like the Japanese fundoshi, these early garments were made with the male genitalia in mind.
According to some fashion historians, the first public appearance of the thong in the United States was at the 1939 New York World's Fair. This resulted from Fiorello LaGuardia, the Mayor of New York City, ordering the city's nude dancers to cover themselves. Jacques Heim's and Louis Réard's original bikini from 1946 (that introduced the term bikini) had a culotte with a thong back.
Fashion designer Rudi Gernreich, who in the mid-1960s created the first topless swimsuit, which he called the monokini, is credited with introducing the modern thong in 1974 when he designed a thong bikini in response to a ban on nude sunbathing by the Los Angeles City Council.
Attitudes toward the wearing of g-strings vary geographically and across societies, as is usual with highly revealing clothing. Prior to its entrance into mainstream fashion, g-strings were primarily worn by exotic dancers. In the modern Western world, g-strings are more commonly marketed towards females but are worn by both sexes. During the 1980s, thongs were worn on stage by pop stars such as Cher and Madonna. By the late-1980s, the style (for females) had made its way into most of the Western world; thong underwear became more popular through the 1990s due to TV shows such as: Baywatch, where numerous females were recorded wearing thong swimsuits.
In the 1990s, the thong began to gain wider acceptance and popularity in the United States as underwear (and, to a lesser extent, as swimwear), especially with women, but also men. In the USA and Europe, the wearing of thongs by men was once mainly limited to the dance belt, the posing pouch for bodybuilders and the realm of male strippers. Men's thongs are now more widely available and commonly worn as day-to-day underwear or swimwear. While some major retailers such as Kmart sell men's thongs, they are not marketed as strongly to men as they are to women. In Europe, thongs have been commonplace for many more years both as underwear and swimwear.
In the 2000s, some people wore thongs with low-cut hipsters and deliberately exposed them over the top of their trousers, producing an effect popularly known as a whale tail. This led to many thong designs intended to be worn in this manner, which were adorned with jewels and motifs on the back. In the early-2000s, thongs made up 31% of the women's underwear market. However, in the late-2000s, the exposure of a thong above one's trousers became less popular and the trend turned to the wearing of lower-riding thongs that hardly show above trousers, except when bending or twisting.
Market research in 2011 placed the number of French women who wear thongs as their preferred underwear style at 25%, down by 5% from 2008. By 2016, sales of thongs in the UK were on the decline with Marks & Spencer, a major UK lingerie retailer, reporting that they made up fewer than 10% of knickers sold. Many reasons exist as to why people may choose to wear thong underwear or swimwear, such as prevention of visible panty lines, prevention of underwear "riding up" so one need not pull at one's underwear in public, comfort, fashion consciousness including the feeling of being more adult, and minimization of tan lines.
Design and variety
Types of thongs include the traditional thong, the G-string, and the C-string. There are a number of intermediate kinds of thongs between full rear coverage and a string rear. As designs become more risqué there are also types intended to expose genitals as much as they conceal them. Other styles include the Cheeky, V-string, T-front and T-back. The naming of the intermediate styles of thong is debatable, different vendors use the words somewhat interchangeably. Thongs are available in a wide variety of materials, including silk, latex, cotton, microfiber, satin, nylon, lycra/spandex, and lace. There are also novelty designs for both sexes, featuring shapes to conform to the genitals or provide humorous visual effects.
The most significant difference between thongs designed for men and women is the shape of the front part of the garment. Often, but not always, thongs for men will feature a vertical seam to create shape and space for the male genitalia, and the pouch may be made of stretchy material (usually cotton-Lycra or microfiber) for an ergonomic fit. The equivalent section in women's thongs is normally flat and seamless. However, the fabric is usually thicker in the area where it covers the vulva (by incorporating a cotton gusset).
The G-string style consists of an elastic string (also a narrow piece of cloth, leather, or plastic) that connects the front/pouch and the waistband at back, worn as swimwear or underwear mostly by women, but also by men. Since the mid-1920s, strippers and exotic dancers in the West have been referring to the style of thongs they wore for their performances as G-strings.
The origin of the term G-string is obscure. It may simply stand for 'Gusset' as the G-String is in effect just a gusset on a string. Since the 19th century, the term geestring referred to the string which held the loincloth of American Indians and later referred to the narrow loincloth itself. William Safire in his Ode on a G-String quoted the usage of the word G-string for loincloth by Harper's Magazine 15 years after Beadle's and suggested that the magazine confused the word with the musical term G string (i.e., the string for the G note). Safire also mentions the opinion of linguist Robert Hendrickson that "G" (or "gee") stands for groin, which was a taboo word at the time.
The g-string first appeared in costumes worn by showgirls in Earl Carroll's productions during the Jazz Age. Linguist Robert Hendrickson believes that the 'g' stands for 'groin'. The Oxford English Dictionary reports that the G-string was originally a narrow strip of fabric worn by Indian women. During the Depression, a "G-string" was known as "the gadget". During the 1930s, the "Chicago G-string" gained prominence when worn by performers like Margie Hart. The Chicago area was the home of some of the largest manufacturers of G-strings and it also became the center of the burlesque shows in the United States.
Other variants of women's thongs
C-string: As narrow as a G-string, but without the supporting "string" around the wearer's hips/panty line, leaving just a sideways C shaped piece between the legs. This is held in place firmly by a flexible internal frame. Since there is no material around the waist, the C-string completely eliminates the panty lines which thongs and other underwear create. C-strings are also designed for use as beachwear, which reduces the tan lines that would have been left by the side straps of even a G or V-String.
Cheeky: A more conservative style called a cheeky covers a little more area, but exposes the bottom part of the buttocks. Some cheekies are used as undergarments while others function as bikini bottoms.
T-front: A type of G-string in which the string reaches also the front part. It provides no coverage while still maintaining the basic hygienic underwear functions. Usually it is built by strings only, sometimes with more fabric or lace around the waist. Certain designs cover the string with pearls for decoration and stimulation reasons.
Back-view of a man in G-string
A kowpeenam is a traditional thong worn in India, by some men as a loincloth or underclothing. It is made up of rectangular strip of cotton cloth which is used to cover the genitals with the help of the strings connected to the four ends of the cloth for binding it around the waist of the wearer. It is used by wrestlers in the game of Kushti or traditional Indian wrestling in the Akhara (wrestling ring) and also during practice sessions and training.
A fundoshi is the traditional Japanese undergarment for adult males, made from a length of cotton. Before World War II, the fundoshi was the main form of underwear for Japanese adult males. However, it fell out of use quickly after the war with the introduction of new underwear to the Japanese market, such as briefs and trunks. Nowadays, the fundoshi is mainly used not as underwear but as festival (matsuri) clothing at Hadaka Matsuri or, sometimes, as swimwear.
There are many other varieties of fundoshi as the variations on the principle of a loincloth are almost infinite. For example, the mokko-fundoshi (literally "earth-basket loincloth" because it looks like the traditional baskets used in construction) is made like the etchyuu-fundoshi but without a front apron; the cloth is secured to the belt to make a bikini effect. The kuro-neko fundoshi (literally "black cat fundoshi") is like the mokko-fundoshi except that the portion that passes from front to back is tailored to create a thong effect.
A jockstrap (also known as a jock, jock strap, strap, supporter, or athletic supporter) is an undergarment designed for supporting the male genitalia during sports or other vigorous physical activity. It was created by Chicago sporting goods company Sharp & Smith in 1874. Technically it is not a thong, as there is no narrow strap that passes up between the buttocks. A jockstrap consists of a waistband (usually elastic) with a support pouch for the genitalia and two elastic straps affixed to the base of the pouch and to the left and right sides of the waistband at the hip. The pouch, in some varieties, may be fitted with a pocket to hold an impact resistant cup to protect the testicles and/or the penis from injury.
A dance belt is a type of thong designed to be used in the same manner as an athletic supporter, but for male dancers (especially in ballet). Its purpose is to protect and support the dancer during dance activities without being seen through outer garments, such as tights, leotards, gym leggings or shorts. Thongs tend to offer better support for the male anatomy than do other underwear styles (as well as eliminating contact between the genitals and inner thighs) and is one of the reasons why men and boys may choose to wear them.
As thongs pass between the buttocks and, in women, may be in close contact with the anus and labia, concerns have been raised that they may become damp and act as a conduit for germ transfer, increasing the probability that the wearer may develop urinary tract infections, such as cystitis. However, research suggests that wearing thong underwear does not have a statistically significant effect on the occurrence of bacterial vaginosis or yeast infection.
In 2002, a female high school vice principal in San Diego, California, physically checked up to 100 female students' underwear as they entered the school for a dance, with or without student permission, causing an uproar among students and some parents and eliciting an investigation by the school into the vice principal's conduct. In her defense, the vice principal said the checks were for student safety and not specifically because of the wearing of thongs.
Of particular controversy is the retail by several outlets, including Abercrombie & Fitch, Argos and Etam, of thongs for children as young as seven, due to their previous association with nude or erotic dancers. This controversy spawned a great deal of attention for Abercrombie, including a chain letter that received wide circulation. Media attention was drawn to the phenomenon when a British primary head teacher voiced concerns that pupils as young as 10 were wearing thong underwear to school.
Thong swimsuits are banned or strongly discouraged in some places, including most Muslim countries such as Iran. Areas in the United States include such locations as Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Kure Beach, North Carolina.
- Flip-flops – type of footwear sometimes known as thong sandals
- Foot thongs – partial foot covers worn by acro dancers
- Sportswear (activewear)
- Thong Song
- Underwear as outerwear
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