Rubber thong

Thongs, rubber, unknown maker, 1977-1979

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!