A G-string is a type of thong, a narrow piece of fabric, leather, or satin that covers or holds the genitals, passes between the buttocks, and is attached to a waistband around the hips. A G-string can be worn both by men and by women. It may also be worn in swimwear, where it may serve as a bikini bottom, but may be worn alone as a monokini or topless swimsuit. G-strings may also be worn by exotic or go-go dancers. As underwear, a G-string may be worn in preference to panties to avoid creation of a visible panty line, or to briefs in order to enhance sex-appeal.
The two terms G-string and thong are sometimes used interchangeably; however, technically they refer to different pieces of clothing.
Since the 19th century, the term geestring referred to the string which held the loincloth of Native Americans and later referred to the narrow loincloth itself. William Safire in his Ode on a G-String quoted the usage of the word "G-string" for loincloth by Harper's Magazine 15 years after John Hanson Beadle's 1877 usage and suggested that the magazine confused the word with the musical term G-string (i.e., the string for the G note). This is apocryphal, as the narrowest string on a violin is the E string.
The G-string first appeared in costumes worn by showgirls in the United States in Earl Carroll's productions during the 1920s, a period known as the Jazz Age or the Roaring Twenties. According to "Striptease" by Shteir, the first performers to wear a G-string were Latina stripper Chiquita Garcia in 1934, and "Princess Whitewing", a Native American stripper near the end of the decade. Linguist Robert Hendrickson believes that the G stands for groin. During the Depression, a "G-string" was known as "the gadget", a double-entendre that referred to a handyman's "contrivance", an all-purpose word for the thing that might "fix" things. During the 1930s, the "Chicago G-string" gained prominence when worn by performers like Margie Hart. The Chicago area was the home of some of the largest manufacturers of G-strings and it also became the center of the burlesque shows in the United States.
The term G-string started to appear in Variety magazine during the 1930s. In New York City, G-strings were worn by female dancers at risqué Broadway theatre shows during the Jazz Age. During the 1930s and 1940s, the New York striptease shows in which G-strings were worn were described as "strong". In shows referred to as "weak" or "sweet" the stripper wore "net panties" instead. "Strong" shows usually took place only when the police were not present, and they became rarer after 1936 when Fiorello H. La Guardia, the Mayor of New York City, organised a series of police raids on burlesque shows.
The American burlesque entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee is popularly associated with the G-string. In 1941 she published a best-selling detective novel called The G-String Murders in which strippers are found strangled with their own G-strings. Her striptease performances often included the wearing of a G-string; in a memoir written by her son Erik Lee Preminger she is described as glueing on a black lace G-string with spirit gum in preparation for a performance.
Littell's Living Age, Vol. IX, 1846: 'Their arms were a small hatchet, stuck in their girdle-string.' While that hardly proves G-string is an abbreviation of girdlestring, the fact that the latter word existed and means the same as G-string supports my conjecture that the shorter term derived from the longer.