The whale tail is back. Need proof? In December, Beyoncé appeared in British Vogue clad in a red Christopher John Rogers gown and a coordinating G-string. A month before, Kim Kardashian posed for Matthew Williams’ debut Givenchy campaign in a black maxi dress and a visible red thong. But, while it may be only somewhat surprising to see the celebrities wearing the controversial Y2K trend almost 20 years after its heyday, it’s downright puzzling to see its resurgence on Instagram's most fashion-forward and in stores.
Brands like Subsurface, Miaou, Musier Paris, Aya Muse, and more have made it their mission to bring back the flossy, revealing look that ruled the late ‘90s and early ‘00s fashion landscape. And it’s working: Across Instagram, G-strings are appearing out from under pants, skirts, and more. On TikTok, #WhaleTail has more than 32 million views. That said, it’s one thing to wear a visible thong in a photo that was taken in the safety of your bedroom or, if you’re lucky, your backyard. It’s a whole other story when you actually have to step foot into the world, your underwear exposed for all the world to see.
To find out what it’s really like to wear a visible thong in public, I spent a week testing out a variety of whale-tail-style garments, from pants with a thong-shaped cut-out in the back to midi skirts fit with strings that give the appearance of exposed underwear. Hell, I even wore a G-string pulled up over the waistband of a pair of parachute pants.
I started off my tale of whale tails in a pair of yoga pants from Miaou that featured cut-outs on both hips, which gave off the illusion that I’d hiked a thick-strapped thong up over the top of my low-rise loungewear. To add to the Y2K theme, I accessorized with red-lens sunglasses and a shrunken shoulder bag. As I walked through Soho in New York City — my hips out for the world to see — I felt surprisingly comfortable, despite the fact that patches of skin that so rarely saw the light of day, were out. Truthfully, I felt weirder about the fact that I was wearing yoga pants in 2021 (despite them being an Emma Chamberlain-approved trend) than anything else.
Still easing into my experiment, I wore a Musier Paris knit skirt on day two. Probably the least thong-like of all the items I tested, this skirt features two strings that stem from the center of the waistline and tie around the waist, barely teasing the look of peek-a-boo undergarments. Given the heat, I paired the cream-colored skirt with a cropped navy blue tank top and a matching shoulder bag. For the second time, I was unscathed during a walk through the neighborhood. As I headed to meet a friend for dinner nearby, I even got a compliment — and not the creepy kind.
At that point, I figured I had the hang of this whole whale tail thing. Maybe Paris Hilton and Christina Milian had it right when they wore their thongs above their pants after all. So I tried to style a real G-string. Since I don’t own any low-rise pants — I’m still team high-rise for the time being — I had to settle for wearing vintage parachute pants worn low enough on my hips so that my underwear would peek over. Almost immediately upon stepping outside my front door, I felt uncomfortable. As I walked to Trader Joe’s, I noticed that people were looking — no, staring — at me.
Within five minutes, I turned around, skipping groceries and heading back to my sartorial safety net of baggy jeans and a hoodie. Every last piece of photo evidence was, in turn, deleted from my phone.
The next day, I decided to give thong pants one last go by trying a pair of black, ribbed flares from Los Angeles-based brand Subsurface, the likes of which have been garnering attention on Instagram. In the photos I took of myself wearing them, I appear nonchalant at having a large part of my lower back-upper butt region exposed in Manhattan. I didn’t feel the least bit uncomfortable posting the photos, either. But Instagram isn’t reality, and for the second day in a row, I found myself bee-lining for my comfort clothes as soon as I took the photo.
I went into this experiment with two possible outcomes in mind: (1) I’d be met with catcalls that so many people, women especially, experience whenever they leave the house, whether their clothes are revealing or not; or (2) visible thong fashion would become a staple in my wardrobe for the summer of over-the-top dressing that’s ahead. And yet, neither ended up being true. I wasn’t catcalled by strangers in the street, nor did I walk around freely, embracing my bare-all bottoms. Instead, it was my own feelings of discomfort that led me to the realization that maybe whale tails ended back in ‘06 for a reason. Sure, they look great on red carpets and magazine covers in 2021. I even understand wearing them on Instagram, where it's easier to “pull something off” than it is IRL. But when it comes to Y2K trends to actually wear, I’ll happily stick with micro-minis.
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