From the iconic whale tail Degrassi episode to Cisco’s classic anthem, thongs have long reigned supreme in fashion and pop culture. So what better way to end the summer than with an all out thong-a-thon? This long weekend, ELLE celebrates the best, the worst and the most memorable thongs—on the red carpet, on the beach, and beyond.
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How will we remember summer 2018? Drinking straws were canceled. Donald Trump separated children from parents while his inner circle got Watergated. Aretha Franklin departed for a better dimension. And showing one’s butt on American beaches went mainstream.
Maybe you noticed that swimsuit bottoms are receding. The sporty American Speedo and the Brazilian thong for which the wax was named seem to be on a collision course, boosted by nostalgia for ‘80s and ‘90s high-cut-everything. Two years after Teyana Taylor danced in a thong to Kanye West’s “Fade,” the Kardashians are in full, beach-town-postcard-thong mode.
The rest of us are more likely to have encountered a thong-brief hybrid, designed to generously cover crack but insistently reveal the place where butt meets thigh. The emerging term for this cut is “cheeky,” and the name fits. On e-commerce models and Instagram influencers, scant bottoms make wearers look like the cheeky Coppertone baby whose dog ate her swimsuit.
Does it work in real life? I have no idea. Swimsuits, more than any other clothes, elude objective analysis. In theory, cheeky bottoms might be flattering, in a leg-elongating kind of way. But, in my experience, they can also dig into flesh, which is not conventionally considered desirable. Revolve’s influencers have solved this problem with a pose. They lift their swimsuits off their hips with their thumbs, as if subtly picking a wedgie—a wedgie they might actually have. All but the best fitting cheeky bottoms ride up at the slightest disturbance.
More importantly: it’s 2018, and these concerns suddenly feel outdated. Worrying about whether something is flattering means admitting that looking good equals looking thin—or, in this case, religious about deadlifts—which we all agree should no longer be the goal. We should all feel comfortable showing our butts when that’s the vibe. There’s nothing wrong with our butts!
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Still, you can’t choose your hang-ups, and it can be disorienting to expose a butt you were recently encouraged to minimize. More than once I have found myself in a dressing room, spinning around like a dog trying to bite its tail, wondering where the rest of the swimsuit is. Not long ago, a butt-exposing suit had to be procured at a fancy import lingerie store or accidentally purchased while traveling in a less Puritanical country. Now, H&M and J.Crew feel like Ibiza, with cheeky bottoms innocently on display where the diaper-dimensioned bikinis once were. One can filter Aerie swimwear by “cheeky” and “cheekier.” (How cheeky is cheekier? You’ll find out when it arrives; the model is shown seated.)
If something changed when it comes to butts, it’s hard to pin down. My colleagues tell me showing your butt at the beach is the culture. (It wouldn’t be the first time white ladies like me followed suit.) Maybe 2015’s cut-off denim shorts where your butt hangs out were the gateway bottom. Maybe, amid a growing socialist movement, Gen Z identifies with beachgoing Europe. Maybe we all got tired of self-loathing.
What I do know is that the antidote to stressing about your beach body is, counterintuitively, to actually go to the beach. When I’m out in my (probably unflattering) $18 Amazon cheeky one-piece, it’s hard to remember to worry about how I look. I’m too busy reading a thriller, or playing kadima, or thinking really hard about whether I should reapply SPF or go for a swim then reapply. Squinting at my phone, I can’t even make out how I look in the Instagram photo.
And, for the Northern hemisphere, there’s no better time to go to the beach than September. Our planetary lean away from the sun brings gentle, slanted, golden light—all-day magic hour, minimal butt-burning. Here on the East Coast, crowds thin and the water is warm and swollen with early hurricane-season waves. Body anxiety loses out to anxiety of a more existential strain—wondering if and when you’ll next get to the beach.
One way to cope is to wreak havoc on a Labor Day sale. If you’ve yearned to go cheeky but never dared, now’s the time to commit. The price is right, and there are probably no returns. Every final sale swimsuit contains the promise of next summer, or of the tropical getaway you swear you’ll take this winter. December is only 91 days away.