We've come a long way from the days of teens scrambling for Beatles haircuts or Elvis' blue suede shoes. Popular music, long an influence on fashion, is now affecting more intimate clothing decisions.
Dru Hill singer Sisqó's breakthrough hit "Thong Song" (RealAudio excerpt) is a saucy, uptempo paean to the previously unsung undergarment, and retailers say the song's maddeningly catchy refrain "That thong, thong, thong, thong, thong!" has sunk deep into the crevices of many listeners' brains.
Leading lingerie stores report an increase in thong sales since the single invaded radio and MTV. As the weather turns warmer, and thoughts turn to tight pants and tan lines, consumers are apparently unable to turn the other cheek to Sisqó's infectious beats.
"It's been crazy," said Keisha Walker, store manager for Frederick's of Hollywood's flagship store in Los Angeles. "We have people coming in and asking what is a thong, can they see one, can they try one on. ... We have 45-year-old women coming in and buying thongs."
A recent holiday weekend at the San Francisco Shopping Centre saw crowds eager to slip into the trend. Donelle Heston, 23, tentatively fingered the satiny fabric of a table full of underwear at Victoria's Secret.
"I just don't know about this," she said, laughing nervously. "My little brother's been singing that damned song nonstop ever since he saw the video. ... I'd never hear the end of it if he knew I actually wore a thong."
She giggled at the mere mention of the word.
"But hell, my mom bought one, so ...," she said, before heading to the register.
"Thong Song" is at #4 in its 19th week on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart after peaking at #3. It's also a favorite with viewers of MTV's "Total Request Live."
"We've had a lot of people come in and actually sing the song to us," said San Francisco Victoria's Secret retailer Patricia Calderon. "We've seen more men than women, actually, in this shop, buying them for their girlfriends."
Shopper Craig Leveroux, 21, said, "You better believe it's popular. I've seen that video everywhere. I bought a pair for my lady for her birthday. ... She didn't look exactly like the video, but she still looked pretty OK. Actually, I just bought two more."
Walker said most thong customers in her store are women. The song seems to have inspired curiosity and a lack of inhibition, she said, with many customers thronging to the "starter thong," which she compared to a training bra.
"That would be the Rio," Frederick's spokesperson Jim Scott said. "It's comfortable, good cotton, a very good seller."
When asked about Sisqó's reaction to the public's creeping upsurge in interest in the thong, Scott said, "I've heard that he thinks it's hysterical. ... We worked with his people on the video, and we'd love to get some kind of in-store endorsement, with him in the store."
"We're just delighted to be part of that artist's work," said a more tight-lipped A.J. Rosenfield, field marketing manager for Frederick's. "We've seen quite a bit of sales success with this item."
Lingerie shops in New York and Miami Beach, Fla., also confirmed increased thong sales, and radio stations and nightclubs have reacted to the song by sponsoring "thong parties" in which women wearing thongs are let in free.
Artist Strings has recorded her own reaction, titled "Tongue Song." On her recently released Black Widow album, Strings tartly challenges a man to understand what to do once he gains access to the prized piece of underwear.
"This may seem so scandalous," she sings, over the same music track as the Sisqó song, "But the truth is men can't handle it."
Neither Frederick's of Hollywood nor Victoria's Secret would disclose sales figures, but a Frederick's representative said some of the recent sales surge may be attributed to Sisqó himself. On tour with boy band *NSync, Sisqó's people have reportedly purchased "a huge number" of thong underwear.
"He's throwing them from the stage," Frederick's spokesperson Penny Mullins said. "I can't give numbers, but I can confirm that he is buying them by the thousands."