It's official: Overexposed thongs are tacky,
and women are trading butt floss for panties
By: MELENA Z. RYZIK
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS
Hey girl, let me see those ... granny panties?
It doesn't quite have the same ring as rapper Sisqo's 1999 homage to barely-there undies, "Thong Song," but more and more women are trading in butt floss for roomier underwear.
Their reasons may vary - some call for comfort, others want a less cheeky look - but their mantra is the same: So long, thong!
Blame overexposure for the backlash. Though thongs gained in popularity because they minimize the dreaded visible panty line (VPL), many wearers sported visible thong straps (VTS). Even worse, women who wear low-rise jeans often let the back triangle of their thong stick out.
What was meant to be an invisible part of an outfit has become a focal point; incredibly, thongs even have their own accessories, like a line of Swarovski crystal-encrusted clips. And Monica Lewinsky isn't the only one flashing her thong; Christina Aguilera danced around in a red thong in a video, and just last week Britney Spears let her purple number peek out of her low-rise pants.
But like trucker hats or the Backstreet Boys, seeing so much of the thong has made it decidedly unfashionable - even unsexy - in some people's eyes.
Skany and embarrassing
"The visible thong string as fashion statement is just skanky," says Kayte Terry, a 27-year-old visual merchandiser and reformed thong aficionado who lives in Brooklyn. She now prefers boy shorts for their "understated sexiness." "I would much rather look like a hot '50s cheesecake girl than a cheesy Playboy model," she adds.
Wearing thongs "made me feel like a stripper," says Leslie Miller, 24, a gallery archivist who also lives in Brooklyn. "That was never really my cup of tea. And VTS is trashy, plain and simple."
Women aren't the only ones who think thongs are naughty without being nice.
"Girls wear thongs out on the weekends and it starts off looking Britney and J.Lo-ish, but by the end of the night it ends up looking horrible and embarrassing," says Matt Donnelly, 25, a bartender in Montclair, N.J. "If girls could see what their thong outfits looked like from my perspective at last call, they would never wear one out again."
"My boyfriend thinks they look like slingshots," says Amy Seiden, a 33-year-old Brooklynite who works in publishing. She notes that he's pro-thong - but only because "they make him giggle."
Ptolemy Slocum, 27, a Manhattan actor, hates thongs outright. "They make me sad for women," he says. "We know you're sexy. Wearing a thong just makes you seem kind of desperate."
Comfortable coverage rules
The tacky visibility factor doesn't account for all anti-thong sentiment; there are practical concerns as well.
Jane Borden, 26, is a Brooklyn freelance writer and equal-opportunity thong hater. "I hate it when I can tell someone's wearing a thong, even if I can't see it," she says, noting that in an effort to get rid of VPL, some women inadvertently highlight their cellulite instead.
Coverage is one reason that Bayne Gibby, a 30-year-old actress with backside issues, will never don a thong. "I take great pains to cover my butt - pants with large pockets, underwear with built-in control panels," says Gibby, who lives in Brooklyn. "The idea of putting bare butt cheeks out there is terrifying."
Margaret Miller, 24, an editorial assistant from Brooklyn, likes the extra coverage too. "My butt freezes in thongs!" she complains.
And then there's comfort. "Who wants a string up their bum all day?" asks Rosalyn Duffy, 27, a Web developer in Manhattan.
Missy Elliott also admits she's not a fan. The rapper got rid of the black cashmere thong from her MTV goody bag, explaining, "I gave it to one of my friends because the thong thing is a little uncomfortable for me."
The thong-is-wrong sentiment may not have trickled down to "Sex and the City" yet (although Carrie does favor those tighty-whities), but some of the fashion-conscious are already thong-averse. Anya Hindmarch, a designer of pricey handbags, has called thongs "the least sexy garment in the world," and Simon Doonan, creative director of Barneys, declared thongs "out" in a recent column in The New York Observer.
As an alternative, he touted a new lingerie line called VPL, which positions itself as "anti-thong" and makes sensible yet sexy panties with a "boarding school vibe," according to Doonan.
Even the French, never known for their prudishness - or their modest lingerie - have had enough of "le string." In October, an ad campaign there for Sloggi thongs drew complaints from consumers and public officials alike. The ads, which featured young women clad only in thongs, were quickly removed - but company officials did credit them with a surge in sales.
Hipsters are hipper
In the U.S., thongs still make up a quarter of total panty sales at Victoria's Secret, according to a company representative, but sales have been flat over the last three years.
Meanwhile, figures from Hanes show that the best-selling panty cut for women is the high-cut brief, followed by the bikini. The thong comes in third.
Hipster and boy-shorts styles are also gaining in popularity.
Overall, thong sales have grown very little in the last year, according to the NPD Group, a market research company. In contrast, sales of hipster or boy-shorts-style underwear have increased 47% over the last year, according to NPD figures.
Dr. Valerie Steele, a fashion historian and director of the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, is not surprised that when thongs are out, hipsters are in. "It's the pendulum effect of fashion, going from one extreme to another," she says.
Like Terry, the visual merchandiser from Brooklyn, Leslie Miller understands the appeal of hipsters. "I feel like a 1950s pinup queen in my lacy hipsters," she says. "They're comfortable, and they recall an era when lacy, beautiful undergarments didn't have to be skimpy to be sexy."
Scant undies, serious concern
Some experts say the less skimpy the panty, the better - and not just when it comes to the rear view.
In the Aug. 5, 2002, issue of American Medical News, a newspaper published by the American Medical Association, some doctors reported anecdotal evidence that thongs are connected with recurrent vaginal and urinary tract infections.
Though there have been no scientific studies on the subject, "there is a definite clinical connection between hygiene and underwear and vaginal infections. Thong underwear can be a conduit for bacteria," says Dr. Jennifer Berman, director of the Female Sexual Medical Center at UCLA and the co-host of "Berman & Berman," a show about women's sexual health on the Discovery Health network. Berman advises patients who are predisposed to urinary or vaginal infections to avoid thongs.
Medical issues aside, there is still the problem of VPL, a grim fashion reality that most women have been conditioned to despise. What's a nonthong solution? Boy shorts, which extend lower on the hip, don't bisect the bottom in the unflattering way other undies do; for bikini fans, Jockey's No Panty Line Promise style, made of nylon and Lycra, has a "unique leg binding" that supposedly makes for a smooth fit.
Or you can take a page from Seiden, the 33-year-old with the thong-loving boyfriend. "I prefer going commando," she says.
Boyfriend still likes the thong? Have him wear one.
Originally published on November 20, 2003