Why Do We Keep Returning to the '90s Whale Tail Trend?

L'OFFICIEL delves into the history of this season's most revealing trend and a late '90s and early 2000s cult: the exposed thong.
Reading time 5 minutes
Kylie Jenner wearing the whale tail trend.

One of the '90s and early aughts' most controversial trends seems to have recently creeped back into fashion, with young Y2K celebrities like Bella Hadid and Dua Lipa being photographed both on the West Coast and East Coast in their high-waist thongs or beauty moguls like Kim Kardashian bringing the style directly onto social media, having recently posed for Givenchy's Creative Director Matthew Williams in a sexy low-cut back dress with exposed thong from the Spring/Summer 2020 collection.

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Clockwise from left: Bella Hadid sporting the '90s whale tail trend around Miami in 2019. Dua Lipa taking a walk in New York City in 2020 in her high-waist thong. Kim Kardashian poses in Matthew Williams' Givenchy exposed thong dress.

Though the origins of shameless thong showing began with burlesque dancers in the 1930s as part of their performance costumes, the now so-called whale tail trend made its fashion debut at Jean Paul Gaultiers Spring/Summer 1997 runway show, which included exposed undergarments, thongs and briefs alike. Then, Tom Ford's Spring/Summer 1997 collection for Gucci featured models walking out with only G-strings on their lower halves, men and women alike. Thin thong straps were also featured, this time with clothes over them, for Ford's Spring/Summer 1998 collection, too. The memorable Gucci piece would return again, when the Keeping Up with the Kardashians star posed in a neon green two-piece set with the vintage double-G logo thong peeking out while promoting KKW beauty on Instagram in 2018.

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Clockwise from left: Jean Paul Gaultier Spring/Summer 1997. Gucci by Tom Ford Spring/Summer 1997. Kim Kardashian wearing the archival Gucci thong.

Before Kardashian, the exposed thongs of the '90s and early 2000s were popular among music and movie stars who helped to bring the look into the mainstream thanks to their pairing of low-rise pants and skirts with thongs pulled up high over the waistband. The undergarment even gets its own pop cultural moment in Sisqo's 1999 "Thong Song."

At the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards, the whale tail trend was all the rage, with Britney Spears who performed her hit song "Oops I Did It...Again" in a gold two-piece set with a bedazzled built-in G-string. Then, Christina Aguilera and Halle Berry rocked the VMA's red carpet with the high-waist underwear straps showing. Socialite Paris Hilton followed suit the next year, wearing an exposed pink thong at the Lloyd Klein Fall/Winter 2001 presentation in New York City.

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Clockwise from left: Britney Spears performing at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards. Paris Hilton during a Lloyd Klein Fall/Winter 2001 presentation in New York City. Halle Berry at the 2000 VMA's. Christina Aguilera at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards.

However, by the mid 2000s, the whale tail obsession came to an end, when both the thong and the low-rise cut fell out of vogue. But like all trends, it circled back. In 2018 and 2019, designers began elevating the look on the runways, and at the Camp-themed Met GalaHailey Bieber showed up on the red carpet in a pink Alexander Wang gown with a revealing low back and built-in thong.

Since then, the high-waist thong detail has populated the runways of Jacquemus, Givenchy, and more. In the Versace Spring/Summer 2021 women's collection, models strutted with hip-strap details, similar to those worn by Bella Hadid on the Versace Spring/Summer 2020 Men's runway with a pair of sparkly low-rise pants.


While we may not fully retire our high-waist denim for low-rise cuts and exposed thongs, the daring trend is begging to go mainstream again. And after a year spent inside, many of us are ready to take some fashion risks. Judging from the various A-listers and fashion mavens' photos, and the continuous social media push towards '90s and Y2K fashion, we might be soon walking around in our G-strings thinking, "Oops We Did It...Again!"



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