Every bad fashion trend that has ever existed eventually comes back from the dead, stronger and better than ever, reinvented for “now”, whenever that may be. Currently, those who pay attention to fashion are in the grips of a 2000s revival, fueled in part by literal teenagers on TikTok discovering the joys of their parent’s True Religion jeans and Ed Hardy trucker hats. Elsewhere, millennials who claim to be fearful of Gen Z but are really just scared of irrelevance, have waged war. All these turf wars are mere distractions from the real enemy, riding in on a dark horse with its buttcrack hanging out: the low-rise pant’s best friend, the whale tail.
For the uninitiated, a whale tail describes the top part of a thong that rises out of the back of the low-rise pant of your choice, like the fin of a majestic orca rising out of the vast ocean of your ass. All the lithe, tan starlets of the early 2000s flaunted this trend, parading around Hollywood with their underwear sticking out of the back of their pants. Gillian Anderson wore a backless dress with her thong just fully out and about to the 2001 Vanity Fair Oscar’s afterparty. This look, which includes a pair of tiny purple sunglasses, was a real moment. Unlike Paris Hilton running around Los Angeles with her g-string out for the paparazzi, there’s something less calculated and more “who cares” about Anderson’s choice; the thong isn’t even that nice, and you can still see the tag. I don’t know Gillian Anderson’s mind, but this is effortless in its own way. Though I can’t in good faith support this, I have to respect it. (Notably, Mrs. Hailey Beiber wore an updated version of this dress to the 2019 Met Gala, the theme of which was camp. Perhaps she is the only one who got it right that year.)
The whale tail trickled down to Degrassi: The Next Generation, a spinoff of a beloved show about Canadian teenagers learning life lessons. In a 2003 episode, shy, sweet, and innocent Manny Santos decides to lean into popularity by daring to dress like the famous women running around on TV with their panties out. The jeans she selected for this particular ask are so low that they don’t seem to actually fit her, but what counts is that the entirety of her thong is showing, loud and proud, above the waistband.
The whale tail’s appearance on a show meant to teach teenagers not to do drugs should’ve been the end of that trend. For a while, it was! But the creep of 2000s-era fashion means that the low-rise pant is back and visible thongs will soon return. That’s great for anyone who saw this trend pass them by in their youth and bemoaned the fact that they were too young to participate. It’s less great for people like myself, who were old enough to do this when it happened the first time and would rather not go down that road again. However, I’d like to think that both parties can agree on one thing: if you’re going to do the whale tail, just do it with your underwear and not a body chain?
My third favorite website on the internet, Hypebae, alerted me to the existence of jewelry designer Steff Eleoff, who makes beautiful, organic jewelry in the sort of blobby shapes that are popular now. Most of her work is fine to lovely; what is NOT fine is the body chain that mimics the look of a thong peeking out over the pantaloons. If you’re going to leave your house doing full-on Y2K cosplay, and you’ve decided that part of your look is a whale tail, then I urge you to commit to the bit with the panache and the verve required to wear a thong that is visible from behind. The whale tail chain is appealing because it’s an “updated” version of this “look,” but it feels like a cop-out to me. Put your little g-string on, if that’s what you’re doing today, Sandra, and pull up your Diesel jeans. Wear that whale tail with the pride of your forbearers. Please just skip the chain.
Correction: A previous version of this post misremembered Manny’s last name. It is Santos, not Rodriguez.
(Updated 3/2/22 with new details)