Rubber thong

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89/1346 Thongs, rubber, unknown maker, 1977-1979, Gift of A W Fuller: Collection Powerhouse Museum

Not what you were expecting – tricked you!

Have you bought shoes for 99 cents and got ten years international travel out of them?

Well a Mr Fuller bought these in 1978 and trudged them all around Europe. He mended one toe strap with wire and felt they had a good two more years’ wear left, when his family prized them from him out of sheer embarrassment and gave them to the Powerhouse Museum.

Rubber thongs were a recognised anti-establishment symbol in the 1960s and 1970s, known as bangers and double pluggers, they epitomised an unpretentious and egalitarian society and reached iconic status. Australians embraced them heart and sole! Some men were even seen in them at the Opera! The residue from those subversive days is evident in the banning of thongs from many clubs and restaurants. Provocative fashion statements soften with time and thong sandals have now evolved into a benign unthreatening style of footwear – now the most popular shoe style around the world for both men and women.

Surprisingly much engineering expertise and ingenuity went into the design of thongs – the right rubber formula – the plug must not pull out – harder than you might think. Engineer Jim Merser designed the plug in a cupped shape so that as the toe thong pulled up vertically the round disc holding it into the sole spread sideways, getting wider and it did not pull through. Dunlop patented this design as a ‘device by which central forces are diverted externally.’

Thongs gained ground from the 1950s and from the early 1960s Dunlop often sold over a million pairs a year. China has long overshadowed this, producing 800 million pairs in 2001 – no surprise then that 6 million thongs are floating on our oceans.

Marine biologist Gary Carlos has a theory that the thong’s innate asymmetry separates the right thong from the left on our oceans.

Left thongs veer to the right and end up in Indonesia and right thongs end up on remote Queensland beaches and Pacific Islands.

So get down to the beach and make sure you leave your thongs above the high water mark!

Further reading:
Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, Vol 7
Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands
Joanne B. Eicher, Margaret Maynard, 2011.

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12 responses to “Rubber thong

  • An alternative explanation is that as most people are right-handed they tend to wear out their right thong more and so the differential is explained by weight rather than asymmetry. Just a thought.

    • Wow now we are getting serious! Perhaps the lighter right thongs blow across the top of the water while the heavier left thongs sink down and flow with the water current in another direction . Philip you have started something!!!

    • Wow you have really started something Philip! Perhaps the lighter right thongs are blown across the surface by the wind, while the heavier left thongs sink lower in the water and are driven by the water current in the opposite direction!!!

  • An alternative explanation is that as most people are right-handed they tend to wear out their right thong more and so the differential is explained by weight rather than asymmetry. Just a thought.

    • Wow you have really started something Philip! Perhaps the lighter right thongs are blown across the surface by the wind, while the heavier left thongs sink lower in the water and are driven by the water current in the opposite direction!!!

  • Genuine rubber thongs are now very hard to buy locally – mostly they’re made of plastic. My brother brought himself 3 pairs of genuine rubber thongs on a recent trip to Myanmar – just to ensure he’s enough to last a life time. However, he’s still wearing his comfortable old thongs and will do till they’ve completely worn out, and only then will he start wearing in the next pair (no doubt wearing them till they die too). The owner of these red thongs was also obviously very attached to his thongs. Lovely ‘summery’ post Lindie. AMVdV

  • Genuine rubber thongs are now very hard to buy locally – mostly they’re made of plastic. My brother brought himself 3 pairs of genuine rubber thongs on a recent trip to China – just to ensure he’s enough to last a life time. However, he’s still wearing his comfortable old thongs and will do till they’ve completely worn out, and only then will he start wearing in the next pair (no doubt wearing them till they die too). The owner of these red thongs was also obviously very attached to his thongs. Lovely ‘summery’ post Lindie. AMVdV

  • Actually the thongs were bought in Myanmar (Burma) not China – guess this makes more sense given history of rubber production.

  • Actually the thongs were bought in Myanmar (Burma) not China – guess this makes more sense given history of rubber production.

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