The Visible Thong Trend's Complete History: From 1930 To Today

The exposed thong is an undeniable hit with Hollywood A-listers and the fashion set, just look at any red carpet style roundup if you need evidence. But the boudoir-inspired trend has a long history that goes beyond its early 2000s heyday — all the way back to the 1930s, in fact.

Since its beginnings, the butt-baring look has always been controversial. It was reserved for cabaret dancers for the majority of the 20th century and only entered the swimwear vernacular decades later, in the ‘70s. But it was by no means considered fashion.

It wasn’t until French designer Jean Paul Gaultier shocked the industry with several thong-centric looks in his eponymous line’s Spring 1997 show. And the rest, as they say, is fashion history.

Lil’ Kim, Britney Spears, and Halle Berry were among those who brought the look into the mainstream — inspiring devotees to rock the trend off the red carpet. Today, the trend is now more closely associated with Dua Lipa, Julia Fox, and Florence Pugh, among others, who have gone viral for the exposed undies look in recent years.

From its beginnings on the stages of burlesque shows and the height of the “whale tail” in the early aughts to the sheer thong-baring styles celebrities favor now, here’s everything you need to know about the rich (and unexpected) origins of the visible thong trend. The garment may be flimsy, but its history is anything but.

1930s: The G-String Arrives

Before the thong went mainstream, the aesthetic started in burlesque, dating as far back as the ‘30s. But it wasn’t a “thong” just yet — it was the wafer-thin G-string. Though performers’ stage costumes were at the behest of local politicians, who monitored how revealing they were via state laws, the G-string became the uniform of cabaret dancers.

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1974: The Thong Is Born

It wasn’t until the 1970s that designer Rudi Gernreich would create the thong as we know it. Including the garment in his swimwear line, the American-Austrian creative released his first thong in 1974 as part of a bikini set and continued to release versions of the slinky underwear in subsequent years.

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1992: Cher Performs In A Thong Bodysuit

One of the early stars to take to the controversial silhouette was Cher. In 1992, the goddess of pop made waves when she performed in several one-piece ‘fits that featured barely-covered thong backs.

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1996: The Thong Makes Its Fashion Week Debut

It took a little longer for high fashion brands to embrace the undergarment. It wasn’t until 1996, that French designer Jean Paul Gaultier sent models down his Spring 1997 runway with racy thongs peeking out of their low-rise pants. Thus, the “whale tail” was born. Gaultier’s stamp of approval brought the swimsuit bottom into the fashion fold — for better or worse.

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1996: Gucci Shows No-Pants Looks

Tom Ford’s tenure as Gucci’s creative director was marked by a host of risqué fashion moments. One example was when he sent pantless models down the Spring 1997 runway wearing nothing but the stringy undergarment. Years later, Christian Dior’s Fall 2001 runway also saw whale tails and thongs exposed under dresses.

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1998: Lil’ Kim Rocks The Visible Thong

Like Cher, rap icon Lil’ Kim was another early thong adopter, donning many different iterations of the exposed thong trend. In the ‘90s and ‘00s, she stepped out with thongs peeking out from her pants; she performed songs sans pants entirely; and she wore G-strings under see-through dresses, like in this photo with designer Giorgio Armani.

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1998: Rose McGowan Makes MTV VMAs History

The thong gained more notoriety when it started cropping up on red carpets. In 1998, Rose McGowan change the course of fashion when she wore a revealing outfit that would go down in MTV VMAs history. The Jawbreaker star wore a beaded dress that completely bared her butt, save for the sight of her floss-like G-string.

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1999: Sisqó Debuts “Thong Song”

While many began to take notice of the underwear-forward trend, one R&B artist wrote a whole sonata about it. Yes, I’m talking about Sisqó in his 1999 hit “Thong Song,” where he croons about that thong, th-thong, thong, thong. Much like the trend’s enduring popularity, to this day, the single remains a bop.

Screenshot via YouTube

2000: Halle Berry Rocks The Look

Halle Berry also embraced the look on the 2000 MTV Movie Awards red carpet in an ensemble befitting of 2023’s Barbiecore trend. She famously wore a mini skirt and bra top co-ord set with her coordinating thong hiked high up on her hips. It was a fresh take on the look, for sure.

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2000: Britney Spears’ VMAs Debut

The thong’s trajectory changed at the turn of the millennium, largely due to Britney Spears. Whale tails were firmly affixed in the zeitgeist after the pop juggernaut wore one for her MTV Video Music Awards debut in 2000. Performing in a sheer bedazzled co-ord with a built-in thong, she continued to rock the exposed undies trend in her “I’m A Slave 4 U” video later that year, when she layered a thong over her pants.

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2001: Gillian Anderson At The Oscars

When The X-Files star Gillian Anderson arrived at the Vanity Fair Oscars after-party in 2001 with her black thong peering out of her matching dress, it was a *moment.* (Coincidentally, visible thongs were the biggest trend of the same after-party 22 years later.)

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2003: Paris Hilton Rocks A Whale Tail

Several other Y2K icons followed suit, including Paris Hilton, who took a certain liking to the trend. Her undies frequently popped out of whatever dangerously low-rise bottoms she wore. Hilton even told Bustle that she fully supports the visible thong’s resurgence: “When it comes to Y2K fashion, bring it all back.”

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2003: The Whale Tail Appears On Degrassi

In Season 3 of Degrassi: The Next Generation, Manny Santos (Cassie Steele) wore a thong in an attempt to shed her “cute” persona and become “hot.” Steele herself felt transformed by the look, telling Elle, “When I put the thong on, I was wondering if I looked as hot as I feel. I started to wear them because I really wanted to feel older.” She added, “I was 14 during that episode and I felt like it was a bit shocking and edgy for TV.”

Screenshot via YouTube

2008: The Trend Is More Divisive Than Ever

The early aughts saw even more stars adopt the look, with the likes of Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, and Christina Milian all rocking the trend. However, it had grown more and more divisive through the years. In 2008, a Guardian article dubbed the whale tail a crime of fashion. Eventually, the trend fizzled out in the latter half of that decade.

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2009: The United States Of Tara Has A Thong Story Arc

In TV and film, projects like The United States of Tara and Degrassi showed just how prevalent the look was, injecting storylines about thongs as a teenage rite of passage.


2014: Rihanna Revives The Trend

Almost a decade after the trend went out of style, Miss Fenty herself revived the look to attend the 2014 CFDA Awards, spawning the renaissance of the thong as a statement piece. Rihanna’s take on the lingerie trend was more “subtle,” with her seamless thong complimenting (instead of outshining) her Swarovski-crystal-encrusted Adam Selman gown.

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2014: Rihanna Revives The Trend

Apparently, the styling choice is a great regret in her life. Looking back, Rihanna says she should’ve made her thong even more conspicuous. Explaining why she attended the event sans bra, Rihanna told Vogue, “I just liked it better without the lines underneath. Could you imagine the CFDA dress with a bra?” Of her undergarments, she continued, “I would slice my throat. I already wanted to, for wearing a thong that wasn't bedazzled. That's the only regret I have in my life.”

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2017: Kendall Jenner Bares Butt

Three years later, Kendall Jenner channeled Rihanna in another sparkly, thong-baring number of her own at the 2017 Met Gala. “It’s pretty sexual but, it’s cool, and I always like something that’s a little controversial,” she told Allure of the daring look.

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2018: I Am Gia Updates The Whale Tail

Meanwhile, a year later, the whale tail was also making its comeback — especially, when cool-girl label I.Am.Gia. sent models down the Australia Fashion Week runway wearing pants with built-in strings. The looks flawlessly replicated the G-string-focused ‘fits of yore, that featured straps riding high above low-rise waistbands.

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2019: Hailey Bieber Dons The Look At The MET Gala

There’s no larger confirmation of a trends popularity than an appearance at the Met Gala. Hailey Bieber proved that in 2019 when she resurrected the look in a dreamy, powder pink number. It was sweet in the front and risqué in the back, with a crystal-encrusted thong built right into the design.

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2019: Alexa Demie Also Sports The Tail

Also in 2019, Alexa Demie wore a similar built-in bedazzled whale tail dress by Mexican label Akna to the Euphoria premiere, dressing like her on-screen counterpart Maddy Perez. Maddy would reach for the trend several times over the course of the HBO show’s two seasons, introducing the look to a new generation of fans.

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2019: Versace Takes On The Trend

Like celebrities, fashion designers recalled the ‘90s style heavily in 2019. Versace, for example, smartly dressed supermodel Bella Hadid in a string-y outfit of her own, complete with a matching bra.

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2020: More Stars Embrace The Look

More celebrities donned pants with faux, built-in thongs in the coming years, including Beyoncé, who posed in a crystal-encrusted number for her British Vogue cover, and Kim Kardashian who would share ‘fits on main. Even Jennifer Lopez was spotted out in the look while filming her 2022 movie Hustlers.


2021: Megan Thee Stallion Performs In A Thong

Musicians also employed the trend for performances, tours, and even album art. Megan Thee Stallion and Nicki Minaj have both included the boudoir-friendly look as part of their on-stage ensembles, while Cardi B and Megan both donned matching G-strings on the cover art for “WAP.

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2021: Dua Lipa Flaunts The Look

Dua Lipa, the reigning “queen of the exposed thong,” is one of the biggest current purveyors of the trend — on dates, red carpets, on vacation, and even in campaigns. The “Sweetest Pie” singer has thus far flaunted her undies under sheer dresses, as a whale tail, and even with jeans. When Lipa posted her NYE whale tail ‘fit on main, one of the trend’s OG devotees, Paris Hilton, gave her a thumbs up, commenting “That’s hot.”

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2022: Bella Hadid Proves The Trend Is Back

These days, the look is more popular than ever. On TikTok alone, the hashtag #whaletail has amassed over 89.9 million views with more and more Gen Zers trying out the trend for themselves.

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2022: Thongs Dominate Fashion Week

More and more designers are showing statement thongs. Fashion houses Givenchy, Dion Lee, and Nensi Dojaka all released collections last year featuring thong-forward ensembles. While, more recently, the likes of Puppets and Puppets, Bronx and Branco, and Gucci all highlighted the underwear in their collections.

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2022: Julia Fox Goes Pantsless

Julia Fox is a fan of forgoing pants altogether letting the undergarment shine as a solo piece. The look gives a whole new meaning to the term “visible thong.”

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2023: Miley Cyrus Rocks Rings In The New Year

There are several ways to wear the exposed thong look in the year 2023. Miley Cyrus, for example, wore her glistening style poking out of a sultry cut-out dress for her New Year’s Eve performance.

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2023: Florence Pugh Slays The Sheer Look

The buzziest way to style the trend, as of late, is by layering a contrasting thong under any see-through item — a sheer dresses, pants, or skirts. This dazzling Florence Pugh look is a prime example.

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2023: The Thong Is Ubiquitous

However you may feel about it, the trend is showing no signs of slowing down. Cue: Sisqó’s “Thong Song.”

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