On an average day, I do not spend much time thinking about my underwear because if it’s good, it’s doing its job: covering my front bottom and my back bottom without muss, fuss, or internal strife. If it is bad, on the other hand, it is the only thing I can think about. Life is certainly too short to bother with underwear that sucks, but a casual conversation about a frankly incredible underwear sale at Aerie, the preferred underwear brand of Jezebel, led to a mind-blowing revelation: at least three women I know and respect wear thongs as their chosen underpinnings.
How delightfully retrograde—to choose the thong at a moment when feminism has led to an embrace of the maligned “granny panty,” a move that’s supposedly in defiance of patriarchal beauty standards, requiring a woman’s body to be desirable for a man.
Thankfully we as a society are attempting to move past the granny panty phase as praxis of fourth-wave feminism, and thankfully the women in my life who wear thongs still are doing so, not out of the desire to please a partner but because, for some reason, they prefer it. Underwear is a personal choice and it is also not inherently related to feminism. But because I am an independent woman with a mind of my own, beholden not to the marching orders of feminist trends, but to my own heart and mind, I wanted to see for myself.
According to Racked’s exhaustive and thrilling history of the thong, the style was introduced to a wide audience at the World’s Fair in 1939, where it was worn by burlesque dancers who were ordered to cover up by New York City mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. The thong, Jennifer Wright reports, ensured that the dancers were in line with the law while also displaying the goods. The thong’s gradual ascendance continued through the 1970s and into the soft-lit, Frederick’s of Hollywood ‘80s, where the style was presented as something not every woman wore, but something special. Monica Lewinsky famously showed her thong to Bill Clinton, and lo, a trend was born. Coupled with the nightmarish low-rise jeans of the late’90s and early 2000s, thongs were now a sexy little secret made visible, of course, by hiking up the strings of your underpants above the waistline of your pants— a whale tail signaling sexual availability, empowerment, or some heady combination therein.
The granny panty resurgence of the late 2010s came about with a whiff of cool-girl feminism: a reclaiming of comfort, and by extension, the body. Writing for Glamour in 2017, Leeann Duggan traced a brief history of the trend, citing the full brief’s “unpretentious, chill-girl vibe” as one of the reasons women renounce thongs. On the various brands making granny panties hip again, she writes:
And though these companies don’t wear their politics on their sleeves, one can sense a feminist undercurrent in their fresh approach to lingerie and in their embrace of the oft-scorned granny panty: These are women making underwear with women’s comfort, style, and sexiness in mind—lingerie for the female gaze.
The female gaze notwithstanding, buying designer, full-coverage underpants of the sort that rise somewhere north of your bellybutton and are so full coverage that they’re practically bike shorts is not an automatic statement about your politics. However, a thong? That’s something... or maybe it isn’t.
My only real requirements for underwear are as follows: that they stay on my body as is, and require no other embellishments to keep them up. However, a thong intrigued me. After screaming in Slack about how I would never, ever wear a thong, and no one could make me, I assigned myself the dumbest thing I could think of: wearing a thong for one week. Just to see.
Here is my story.
It feels like I’m not wearing any underwear at all, which is disconcerting but then also comfortable. My butt has been cordoned off into two discrete units as opposed to one lump sum, like twin Easter hams. A half hour into sitting at my desk, I wonder if the back part of the thong has worked its way up towards my interior. Still, even if it has, my undercarriage is covered but also exposed. Unusual, but not bad.
Sitting down is precarious—something that requires thought. To enhance the danger of this experiment and also because it is sort of summer, I wore the kind of dress that, upon second thought, requires a modesty short underneath so that my upper thighs do not touch various dirty surfaces unencumbered. Wearing said modesty shorts would’ve defeated the purpose of wearing a thong; if I wanted ass coverage, I should’ve just worn the Hanes cotton underpants that come up somewhere north of my bellybutton, functioning like a skintight diaper. This is the life I’ve chosen for myself and it is the life that I will live for one week.
Still, the sensation that my bare ass is touching every surface upon which it rests has not left, most likely because it is. I am a cartoon mascot wearing a sailor shirt and no pantaloons. I am Donald Duck-ing. I should embrace the spirit of Rihanna, a woman who eschews brassieres and maybe underwear, and looks great doing so. But I am not Rihanna, I am a blogger with a soft midsection, cellulite, and the sinking feeling that I should’ve bought a size smaller in the underpants because every time I move. I fear the front part is being consumed by my lower half, like a poly-blend iteration of the pearl G-string Richard gave Samantha in Sex and the City. Later, whilst sitting on a train seat, I notice that my bare ass did indeed touch the seat, leaving a smear of sweat, thanks to summer’s sweet humidity. Had I been wearing underpants that covered my butt, this would not have happened.
Unforeseen circumstances led to my first failure in my self-imposed experiment: I spend the first portion of this day wearing regular underpants and, somehow, being very aware that they’re on my body. The waistband of yesterday’s thong stayed precisely where I wanted it, but today, I find myself grabbing as I walk, willing the waistband to stay in place. My failure shames me and so I hasten home to change. Then, I sit on the couch for hours, reading a book and feeling the sweet bliss of my bare butt cheeks touching not the couch, but the denim shorts I have chosen to wear instead. Perhaps I love thongs now, I think to myself as I prepare for bed.
Maybe I only love thongs for indoor activities only: sitting down, walking to the kitchen for more water, petting the cat.
As the weather has stopped being miserable and is now finally sunny in beautiful New York City, I do what I should’ve done like, three weekends ago, and head to the beach. Had I really wanted to go all in on this experiment, I would’ve purchased a thong bathing suit to wear, but I prefer to keep my bottom covered in the presence of children. Upon my return from the beach, I considered wearing different underpants for comfort, but found myself dutifully reaching for the thong, resigned to my fate.
It is hotter than it was the day before, which makes me almost grateful for this experiment. What joy—a bare butt. However, I realized that one of the pairs of underpants specifically purchased for this endeavor is not a thong, but a “cheekiest” bikini brief, which means that the front half is the same width as the back. Thong-adjacent, yes, but not a thong. Of all the underwear I’ve worn in my adult life, this is by far the least comfortable, only because the back portion cannot decide whether or not it should behave like a thong or not. Regardless, I carry on with my day, and then also my evening. I enjoy a nice frozen yogurt in the gloaming, and spend the entire walk back from the frozen yogurt spot checking to see if my underwear has migrated somewhere it does not belong.
The key to thong comfort is wearing a dress that is long enough to cover the majority of the lower half, such that the sensation of wearing underwear that goes up your butt more freeing than invasive. I am no longer nervous that my under-ass will touch a bare subway seat. But at certain points in my walk to the office, I feel like I am nude from the waist down: a sensation that is distressing at first, but then awesome? Clothes, like shoes, are the enemy: constricting and hideous at times, but unfortunately necessary. Why have I rejected the thong for so long? Who knew what I was missing!
Though one might think that ass coverage in the form of denim is better than nothing, jeans do not make the thong experience any better. I still feel like I’m not wearing underwear, which is probably because technically, I’m not. However, I have stopped thinking so much about the thong, and by extension, my underwear. Prior to this ludicrous experiment, I didn’t realize how much time I spent thinking about my goddamn panties, but a careful audit of my interior life over the past 36 years leads me to believe that I’ve wasted an awful lot of time.
There are clear benefits to wearing a thong with pants, but the thong is a solution to a problem that I never concerned myself with: the visible panty line. I am not accustomed to wearing clothing that shows the line of my underwear clearly, but when I do, I honestly don’t mind? It’s better to telegraph to the world that I am wearing underwear rather than not, and also, who’s looking? This issue—VPL, if we must—was raised to me numerous times by thong enthusiasts, many of whom declared a fondness for the butt string because of this very issue. Armed with the knowledge that no one in the world will be able to tell if I’m wearing underwear or not, I walk through the office with a spring in my step. Thong o’clock is now.
I saved the ugliest thong for last and chose to wear it on a very hot day with a dress that, according to Deadspin editor-in-chief Megan Greenwell, makes me look like the Statue of Liberty, but in a good way. The thong in question is bright orange and has stars emblazoned in silver somewhere on the front part—a nod to whimsy, I guess? As the day passes, I try to think about what it is that made me do this experiment and why: a personal desire to prove a point about traditionally-feminine, “sexy” underwear or maybe a work-sanctioned reason to feel the sweet air of midsummer in New York caressing my butt.
Though this experiment is only as long as the amount of thongs I currently own (7), on the eighth day, when wearing regular underpants, I wish that this could last forever.
I haven’t learned anything consequential or dramatic about myself from wearing underwear that doesn’t cover my butt, but I suppose there was never a chance that I ever would. Years of frankly very boring body image issues prevented me from wearing a thong because I felt like my body was not a thong body. Also, thongs are marketed now seemingly to teenagers and not to me, an adult who should be moving so briskly through life that my underwear is merely a practicality more than anything else. This line of thought is the direct result of the patriarchy pressing its oppressive, meaty thumb on my will to live: every body is a thong body because it is a body. This unexpected and slightly dated self-acceptance revelation wasn’t my intention, because I thought I was self-actualized enough to not need to have one in the first place.
Regardless, here’s the real lesson: It’s not the back part that matters the most, anyway, but the front: a metaphor that I have tried in vain to make work for life, but understand only really works for underpants. And also: The trick to a good thong is one that’s “seamless,” a misnomer because there are some seams on this thing, but no matter: the effect on the bod is one of pure freedom.
I feel nude but I am not. Instead, I am free.