Who Invented the Thong: A Brief History

Posted by Hannah Palatino on

Who Invented the Thong: A Brief History

From corsets to spanx, underwear has always been an ever-evolving garment, adapting to changing societal norms, needs, and fashion trends over time. One of the most intriguing forms of underwear that has sparked curiosity and even controversy is the thong: where did it come from, and who came up with its minimalistic design? Let's dive into the origins and evolution of this iconic underwear.


Who invented the thong?

Contrary to popular belief, the thong isn't strictly a product of contemporary fashion trends. Its roots can be traced back to ancient civilizations. The earliest known version of the thong was worn by indigenous people in Africa, Brazil, and the islands of the Pacific Ocean. These primitive thongs were often made from natural resources available in the environment, like leaves or leather.

The term "thong" originates from the Old English word "thwong," a flexible leather cord. This was a fitting name considering the design of the underwear. But the modern iteration we are familiar with today? It can be credited to New York City designer Rudi Gernreich. He introduced the thong in 1974 as a solution to the then-emerging problem of "visible panty lines" or VPLs. As clothing became more form-fitting and fabrics thinner, the traditional underwear began to reveal outlines, something that the fashion-conscious individuals of the 1970s found unacceptable.

Gernreich wasn't a stranger to controversial and groundbreaking designs. He was also the creative mind behind the first topless swimsuit, which similarly aimed to challenge societal norms and redefine the boundaries of fashion. His thong design, a simple piece of fabric cut in a V-shape at the back, revolutionized the underwear industry, and spurred the subsequent popularity of the seamless thong, the lace thong, and even the shapewear thong.


Why was the thong invented?

As touched upon earlier, the modern thong was introduced as an answer to visible panty lines. The 1970s saw a boom in the fashion world with the popularization of tight-fitting pants, sheer fabrics, and body-hugging dresses. Traditional underwear would show seams and lines under these close-fitting garments. Designers and consumers alike were on the hunt for a solution to maintain the sleek look of their outfits without the distraction of underwear lines.

Rudi Gernreich, ever the innovator, saw this gap in the market and brought forth the thong. It was a design that provided the necessary coverage without compromising the aesthetic appeal of the outerwear. The thong was not just about allure or sensuality; it was a practical response to the evolving trends of the fashion world.


When did women start wearing thongs?

After Rudi Gernreich's introduction of the thong in the U.S., it took a while for this scanty underwear to move from the peripheries of the fashion world into mainstream closets. In the early stages, it was predominantly associated with exotic dancers and was deemed risqué for the average woman. But as the 1980s approached, the fitness boom began, and aerobics classes became all the rage. The high-cut leotards popular in these classes further highlighted the issue of VPLs, pushing more women to consider the thong as a feasible underwear option.

However, the true turning point came in the 1990s; the combination of celebrities flaunting thongs, coupled with popular TV shows and movies referencing or showcasing them, played a pivotal role in normalizing this underwear choice. As fashion trends like low-rise jeans emerged, the thong became not just an option, but for many, a fashion staple and statement all in one.


Why do women love thongs?

So, why do women wear thongs? Women's reasons for wearing thongs vary widely, and we’d esteem it to be a blend of practicality and personal preference. The primary reason remains the desire to eliminate visible panty lines, especially when donning tight-fitting dresses, pants, or skirts. For many women, a thong offers a sense of confidence, knowing that their outfit looks seamless.

Beyond the functional aspect, thongs also offer a certain level of empowerment and sensuality to some women. They can be a secret weapon, a piece of clothing that can make you feel more daring, empowered, or simply sexy. Just like how certain outfits or shoes can boost one's confidence, for some, the right underwear can set the tone for the day.

Lastly, comfort plays a significant role. Contrary to what some might believe, many women find thongs to be quite comfortable, especially when they are made of soft, breathable materials. Without excess fabric, wearing a thong can sometimes feel like you're wearing next to nothing.


When did thongs become popular?

The late 1990s and early 2000s marked the zenith of the thong's popularity, when pop culture was inundated with references to this underwear style, from hit songs to iconic fashion moments on red carpets. Retailers reported skyrocketing sales, and soon, it wasn't just specialty lingerie stores offering them, but every major department store and clothing brand.

However, like all fashion trends, the overwhelming popularity of thongs has seen ebb and flow. Today, while they remain a staple in many women's wardrobes, there's also been a resurgence in the popularity of other underwear styles, like boyshorts and high-waisted briefs. Nonetheless, the thong has secured its place in fashion history as a garment that transcended its fabric confines to become a cultural phenomenon.

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