Illustration by Nanda Ormond

The Short History Of Thongs


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Thongs go back to the Egyptians. When Tut the Boy King had finished a hard day of human sacrificing et al, he kicked back in flip flops made of papyrus. The modern thong, symbol of western decadence, came from the east, with soldiers returning from the American occupation of Japan after the Second World War. The marines were stoked on a local version called a zori, made from straw.

Linguistic problems abounded from the start: “thong” is an exclusively Australian usage – the G-Banger variant is pronounced with a licentious twang, like thowng. (See SisQó). Thongs are “flip flops” or “bangers” to the Yanks, “double pluggers” to us and “jandals” to the Kiwis, who get naming rights because it appears a Kiwi, Maurice Yock, patented the ancient design back in 1957. (That’s right, Yock. Has there ever been a more onomatopoetic relationship between patenter and product?) Dunlop then patented the little knob on the end of the plug which holds the strap into the sole.

Thongs became a powerful anti-authority symbol in the 60s and 70s. Perhaps as a result, it’s remained unclear whether they constitute footwear for the purposes of bistro admission.

They’ve had their high points. The classic rainbow “Licorice Allsorts” design in the mid-80s with the cloth straps. Mick Fanning taking equity instead of payment for his stubby-opener thong design. And who could forget Our Kylie, borne aloft at the Sydney Olympics…on a giant thong? The OutdoorGearLab website has an incredibly earnest product review comparing thongs, with tables on performance, price, comfort, etc. This type of thinking completely misses the point of thongs, which is that there is no point. Great Odin’s raven! They’re just bloody thongs. Some of the best ones are made in developing countries out of tyre rubber.

Despite their ubiquity, thongs are known to have only two alternative uses: hitting huntsmans and lighting up a mate’s sunburn. In the standard Dunlop version with the white deck and the blue undercarriage, the wearer’s heel eventually rubs through the top and into the blue foam – even through to the footpath if you’re that stingy. Having someone step on the back of a thong when in motion is about the most annoying thing one human can do to another. Thong rub, over the roof of the foot, or between the big and second toes, is a bastard. But it’s estimated that in Britain in 2010 there were 200,000 emergency department admissions related to thong injuries.

The rise of Havaianas has come to symbolise Brazil’s rise generally. Surprisingly, they’ve been around since 1962. You can get them from vending machines now, just like World Champions. Try to buy rubber thongs if you can – they’re recyclable, whereas the polyurethane ones are a “number 7 resin” product, about as evil as surfboards. Thongs are a large component of the trash in the Pacific Gyres. Because of their asymmetry, left thongs gradually drift right and end up in Indonesia: right thongs end up on remote Queensland beaches and Pacific Islands. There are currently thought to be six million thongs floating around the world’s oceans. The only comforting thing about such a hideous statistic is that it’s an even number, so theoretically they can all one day be paired again.

Jock Serong