So Nostalgic

20 Years Ago, Degrassi Normalized The Whale Tail

Happy anniversary to Manny’s most infamous look.

Even as the “whale tail” was gaining notoriety in the early aughts, few TV shows dared to incorporate the style on-screen. Degrassi: The Next Generation, however, wasn’t like other shows — and Manny Santos (Cassie Steele) wasn’t your run-of-the-mill high school character.

Almost twenty years ago to the day, viewers witnessed Manny’s metamorphosis before our very eyes. In the third episode of Season 3, which premiered on Oct. 1, 2003, she shed her innocent persona and discovered the truly transformative powers of the visible thong.

Titled “U Got The Look,” Manny made a declaration that teens ’round the world could relate to. “I wanna be hot. Not cute, not adorable. Hot,” she pronounced. And the tool she utilized to up her hot-o-meter? A slinky bedazzled thong she found at a kiosk in the mall.

With a new look and newfound confidence, Manny strutted down the Degrassi hallways with the swagger of Bella Hadid on a Versace runway. In the scene, she wore a lace-up, off-the-shoulder crop top in sky blue that fully displayed her navel — dress codes be damned.

Upping her look’s risqué factor, she also rocked the exposed bra trend that dominated the early aughts. However, instead of wearing the straps pulled up, she slipped her brassiere’s black straps down off her shoulders to coordinate with the top’s revealing neckline.

Screenshot via YouTube

Her pièce de résistance, however, was a royal blue thong embellished with rhinestones, which she pulled high above her hips. The lingerie was completely visible above her shockingly low-rise jeans, another controversial trend of the Y2K era.

As Manny intended, her new look left a trail of pubescent teens absolutely enthralled in her wake.

Screenshot via YouTube
Screenshot via YouTube

The outfit instantly became Degrassi’s most iconic fashion moment. More importantly, it also marked a pivotal moment in pop culture history: the normalization of the whale tail.

By 2003, a few daring celebrities had already been rocking the whale tail at red-carpet events; Halle Berry, Britney Spears, and Paris Hilton, to name a few. But Manny’s look — worn so brazenly to something as mundane as third period — definitely sparked a thong awakening among young audiences.

Screenshot via YouTube

Steele herself has acknowledged the impact her now-iconic scene had on viewers. “I felt like it was a bit shocking and edgy for TV,” she told Elle in a 2018 interview. “Manny Santos embodied what it meant to be bold at that age when you’re discovering your sexuality ... I’ve had girls who come up to [me] who have been slut-shamed in high school tell me my character meant a lot to them and got them through things.”

To this day, Manny’s impact endures. In recent years, fashion has seen a resurgence of the exposed thong. It’s thus far been worn by the most stylish, including Kim Kardashian, Dua Lipa, and Hailey Bieber. Best believe that this TV moment helped fuel modern iterations.

Degrassi may be seeing a new cast soon, but Manny’s thong will live forever.