Underwear has come a long stretch from when it was “unmentionables.” And where the road has led is to the thong, a little thingy that looks like a couple of hanky corners and some dental floss.
It started in strip joints but has clearly hit Main Street. The Monica Lewinsky affair forced the likes of David Halberstam to write about it. Britney Spears and Lil’ Kim made videos in it, and young women show it peeking out of low- slung jeans and Juicy Couture sweats.
“I wear them all the time,” says Medford businesswoman Jude Santana. “They’re the most comfortable thing in the world. It’s almost like wearing nothing.”
Vrenda Lee, of Ashland, says she was surprised when her younger daughter began wearing thongs at about 13.
“I can’t believe you wear those,” she said.
“Mom,” her daughter said, “you should try ’em.”
Lee, 47, says, “Now I buy them for myself and both my daughters.”
The thong last year accounted for about a quarter of the $2.5 billion in sales of women’s underwear. Seldom has so much been made of so little.
The thong is a narrow strip of material in front attached to a band around the hips. It migrated in the 1970s from strip clubs to the beaches of Brazil and in the 1990s grew wildly popular as underwear among women, and a small number of men.
In a survey taken for National Underwear Day 28 percent of women said they prefer the thong.
Santana, who’s 51, fashionable and a size 16, never thought she could, or should, wear a thong.
“But I was visiting my daughter in Maui, and I thought what the heck,” she says. “I bought one with a little T-shirt. After a while I didn’t wear the T-shirt.
“When my friends saw it they said, ‘You’re wearing a string?’ ”
Amy Maxwell says thongs are hot sellers at Papillon Rouge, the boutique she runs in east Medford. Most of the women thronging to thongs are younger.
Thongs in Brief
The thong first became popular a generation ago as a swimsuit style in Brazil.
You can buy disposable thongs.
You can buy thongs with jokes printed on the front — about the only place they can be printed.
Some gynecologists say that women prone to infections should stick to regular cotton panties.
Men’s thongs are a small share of the market (4 percent of men say they prefer them, versus 28 percent of women).
Thousands of thongs were among the items shipped to Sri Lanka after the Dec. 26 tsunami, along with winter jackets, winter tents and stiletto-heeled evening shoes.
Fans of Sisqo’s “Thong Song” (“Baby I know you wanna show/Duh dun duh/That thong thong thong thong thong”) claimed the song was about “standing up to the machinery that runs our lives.”