Bye-Bye, Butt Floss: Bloomers Are Booming

Thongs away!

It’s time for King Thong to climb down off the Empire State and hightail it back to Hollywood. The butt-slicing thong has had a stranglehold on the nether regions of New Yorkerettes for far too long. Anatomically lacerating underwear makes perfect sense in L.A., where young ladies-who are persona non grata unless they self-present like strippers-are rarely called upon to walk further than the length of the Fred Segal parking lot. For skip-along Manhattan career girls, however, the tug-tug-tug of a thong is an elective discomfort akin to being cut in half by a cheese wire. Cut that wire!

The East Coast anti-thong movement is being spearheaded by a kooky and perversely wholesome lingerie company called VPL (Visible Panty Line). The brainchild of fashion stylist Victoria Bartlett and fashion designer Jeffrey Costello, this medically inspired anti-boudoir collection, which sent shock waves along the gussets of the fashion cognoscenti during the last fall collections, is about to hit the stores. The institutionally hued VPL bandage bras, sensible panties, shapers and tanks will be sold in plastic specimen containers and are designed to be worn as innerwear or outerwear.

Despite (or perhaps because of?) the boarding-school vibe, VPL is improbably sexy, except maybe one particular panty which has a red menstrual crotch insert. Having known Victoria (a.k.a. Stickie Vickie) and Jeffrey for a number of years, I was not surprised by the intelligence and wackiness of their concept. Mr. Costello has designed performance attire for everyone from A Flock of Seagulls and Madonna to Nina Hagen. Stickie Vickie, a brilliant consultant who has successfully inflicted her demented worldview upon many companies, including Versace and Miu Miu, is one of the most deranged people working in fashion today.

A posh British girl whose mother sent her to the famous Lucy Clayton Finishing School, where she carried books on her head and tried unsuccessfully to learn how to get in and out of a cab without flashing, Ms. Bartlett is known for her bawdy drollery and her baroque hypochondria. The simple question “How are you?” invariably elicits a riotous medical litany, e.g., “Oooh! I think I’ve got a touch of Epstein-Barr, or maybe it’s chlamydia with a bit of candida. D’ya know what I mean?” I, for one, was not surprised when, at the Vanessa Beecroft–y VPL runway show at Milk Studios last spring, there was a doctor onstage examining the models with a stethoscope.

I interviewed these two intrepid, 41-year-old undieworld explorers at their showroom in midtown and asked them first about the name of their company, “We love the way it looks,” said the rudely healthy, good-looking, Gloucestershire-born Ms. Bartlett in the sexy, droll drawl-like a common Pussy Galore-that has made her famous throughout the fashion world. “When thongs came in, I really started to miss the look of a good V.P.L. Besides, thongs are naff.” Lovingly detailed, sensible-schoolgirl panties are the heart and soul of the VPL line. If you simply cannot go back to Bridget Jones–type knickers, Victoria and Jeffrey have reluctantly created a chic, understated thong alternative: Based on the classic dance belt, the VPL “compression belt” enhances and arranges your butt into an upward gesture. “It’s just as uncomfortable as a thong, but better designed and more flattering,” said Jeffrey, who, with designer Robert Tagliapietra, will be showing his own ready-to-wear collection at the upcoming spring Fashion Week.

And what about those alarmingly charming red menstrual inserts? “We’re minge-friendly!” said Victoria, who once borrowed my hotel room in Miami to consummate a vacation fling she was having with a Latin-American stripper. “I love the word ‘minge’!” “Minge,” like “naff,” is one of those English words which is screaming for assimilation into the U.S. vernacular. Not quite equivalent to “pussy,” “minge” is amiable working-class slang for “vagina” and corresponds, because of its friendly tone, more with the American “beaver.” Less charmingly, the word “minge” is often used by uncouth younger gentlemen upon encountering a redheaded chick, as in “Who’s the ginger minge?”

VPL arrives at Louis Boston and Barneys this week, and since your colleagues and friends are totally sick of seeing your nasty, unappetizing, stretched-out thong strings lurking above your waistline and would happily trade in this tawdry phenomenon for a good old-fashioned V.P.L., I would suggest you aggressively partake. My advice: If you have large hooters, skip the minimal bras ($110) and just load up on the panties ($50, all styles).

To refamiliarize yourselves with the whole notion of visible panty lines and assess their style validity, rent the 1965 classic The Sandpiper . Thrill to the sight of Liz Taylor strutting around her Big Sur beach house wearing stretch shantung Capri pants over really tight panties. Bon appétit!