Millennia before it was making you uncomfortable at work—and before it rose to pop culture prominence—the thong graced the bodies of our oldest ancestors.
What does Lady Gaga have in common with ancient civilization? Sisqó wanted to see it all night long, Victoria's Secret loves to sell it, and many of us have spent hours yanking on them. Yes, we're talking about thong underwear.
This seemingly modern marvel of minimalist undergarments has a history dating back to ancient times—when thongs were likely even less comfortable than they are these days. Here's a look at throngs of thongs from ancient Greece to the present day.
Let me see that loincloth
The loincloth is thought to be the precursor of the thong (and all underwear). The barely-there flap of cloth, which covers the buttocks and genitalia, was initially only worn by men. Probably the most famous loincloth in the world (excluding fiction) belongs to Otzi the Iceman, an exceptionally well-preserved corpse from the 3100s B.C. When he was found in the Italian Alps in 1991, Otzi was fully regaled in his very own loincloth, which just might be the most famous pair of underwear in the world. Otzi and his under-trappings can now be found on display at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Italy.
Proper thong underwear showed up in various places around the globe in later centuries, again worn exclusively by men. Wearers of ancient thongs appeared throughout Asia, Africa, and temperate parts of Europe "as far back as 42,000 B.C.E.," according to World Clothing and Fashion: Thousands of years ago, San Bushman in various parts of Africa fashioned thongs from animal skin that were held onto their wastes with cord or sinew. The practice proliferated throughout the world for millennia, extending into ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and ancient Japan.
A Japanese print of a ferryman wringing out his loincloth. Image via Wikipedia.
A stripper's tease
But let's get to what we think of when we think about a thong: a tiny, sexy, and perhaps somewhat itchy piece of (mostly women's) undies. The contemporary thong first made an appearance at the 1939 World's Fair in New York, but it wasn't revealed as a new-fangled invention being shown off among the world's up and coming inventors. Rather, the thong was forced into creation by then-mayor Fiorello La Guardia, who stipulated that nude dancers had to cover up their "private parts" during the World's Fair. In a cheeky move toward compliance, the dancers donned thongs, which covered just enough risky business to be acceptable by the apparently prudish Mr. La Guardia.
"Must have been invented by a man"
Thongs are frequently associated with wedgies; they're not especially comfortable, nor are they necessarily designed to be. While nude dancers were the first to wear the modern thong, some accounts say that thongs didn't hit the fashion scene in earnest until 1981, when Frederick Mellinger began selling "scanty panties" to women.
If the name Frederick Mellinger sounds familiar, it's most likely because someone in your home received Frederick's of Hollywood lingerie catalogues while you were growing up. The iconic lingerie and intimate apparel brand dates all the way back to the 1940s, when Mellinger invented the push-up bra. The man indeed had an eye for creating game-changing undergarments.
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