Glamour don'ts

Our co-worker wears jeans that let us see her underwear when she bends over. How can we make her stop the visual pollution?

By Cary Tennis
Published March 17, 2004 8:13PM (EST)

Dear Readers,

Greetings and thanks to all who came on Friday to the Odeon Bar in San Francisco for Blabbermouth Night, including Jack Boulware, Jim Fisher, Sheerly Avni and Dave Crow. Thanks also to the Boneless Children Foundation, Go Van Gogh and Chicken John of the Odeon. The purpose of Blabbermouth, as I explained that night, is to explore the boundaries of free expression and to deal onstage with the kinds of intimate revelations found in this column.

I hope to do it again in the next month or two. Meanwhile, I will be thinking about ways to subvert the power of "the stage," in order to foster a more intimate environment that yet still carries the power of the public and the theatrical. I will keep you informed.

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Dear Cary,

I work in a very small but diverse office. We have a new co-worker who adds to this diversity by her fashion missteps, from sleeveless mini-dresses to low-cut jeans.

We've run into a horrifying problem with the hip huggers. Most of us are gay men, by the way, if that may be part of the problem. When she wears those low-cut jeans, we've discovered that she wears thong underwear. Each time she bends over the copy machine to replace paper we want to burn our eyes out with cigarettes to erase the memory of what we have seen.

Is this a problem that is growing across America? How should we address it with her? It just doesn't seem appropriate to see someone's underwear while at an office. If we were plumbers it would be industry standard, but we are not.

Ewwww: Keeping Our Anonymity

Dear Ewwww,

According to my preliminary research, thong underwear became popular around 1997 or '98 as a way of hiding the visible panty line under tight dresses and pants. When low-cut jeans arrived, the thong's very purpose was ironically undermined: Rather than being hidden, underwear suddenly appeared not just in shadowy relief but before the naked eye, in the flesh, so to speak, riding high in shocking pink, navy blue and lemon yellow.

I wonder who she was, the first one who realized that her underwear was now higher than her jeans. Just think: Somewhere out there a young woman put on her new low-cut jeans over her thong underwear and turned her back to check her butt and saw that thong sticking up, looking like a necktie knotted at her coccyx. Maybe she said Ah, screw it, I'll wear a jacket and get new underwear later. Or maybe she said, Look at that, that'll make somebody think. Perhaps the boys with low pants and high boxers who waddle like their knees are fused had cleared the way, psychologically speaking.

To tell the truth, I remember now, the first time I saw a thong sticking up, I thought it was a technical glitch: It did not look like a piece of clothing so much as a topological problem: To what was this connected, and how? Where did it go? Isolated like that, cut off from its waist, clipped into a triangle like a little string tie, it didn't immediately read as a piece of underwear. It had no structural integrity. But how fast the mind is! It was only a second or so before it became clear where it went, what it was connected to, what it was. And then came the thought: Why? And how? How could this well-dressed young woman make such a mistake? Everything about her was deliberate, her handbag, her shoes, her hair, her lipstick: She was the whole package. It couldn't be accidental. And then with blinding speed it became clear: This was a fashion statement.

Does a man ever lose that junior high school thrill of glimpsing the forbidden, that sense of secret victory? Perhaps not. And yet the visible thong was strangely not titillating. It was forbidden, and thus should be titillating, but it was not. Because it didn't really show anything; it sort of indicated that was an area you might be interested in exploring, sir, but it didn't show it off to advantage. Frankly, it was just a little gross when you thought about it; it was vaguely diaperish, like what a sumo wrestler wears.

So I sympathize with you. Luckily, the visible thong appears to have nearly run its course. If you can wait it out, you will probably see it disappear soon. As Fox News noted in October, more women today are tucking in their thongs. The Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald has proclaimed the death of the thong and the rise of boy shorts. And as Simon Doonan noted in September in the New York Observer, "since your colleagues and friends are totally sick of seeing your nasty, unappetizing, stretched-out thong strings lurking above your waistline," Visible Panty Line is now not only a Missouri band of questionable provenance but a new line of lingerie.

Meanwhile, the best thing you can do in your office, I think, is discuss the matter openly, as a question of style trends, as though it had nothing to do with your co-worker. You might read this column aloud with feigned surprise. You might say, "Oh, dear co-worker, I hadn't noticed before, but if I'm not mistaken, you wear a thong too!" Or, if you don't think you can carry that off, you could just discuss it within earshot of the offending thong-wearer without letting on directly that you've been on the verge of burning your eyeballs out with a lit cigarette every time she bends to get a file.

I wouldn't make fun of her directly. I'd treat it more like a matter of taste -- as though her visible thong were the Dave Matthews Band.

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Cary Tennis

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