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Rihanna

Rihanna arrives at the Grammy Awards on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Chris Pizzello

Wednesday marked the arrival of a phenomenon known as the harvest moon, but some capital city dwellers have seen moons in Madison for weeks.

Some say it's a fashion trend. Others are convinced it's an accident. Intentional or not, it's more prevalent than ever before. 

It even has a name. Yes. It is the underbutt.

What is it, exactly? It's the area where butt meets thigh, exposed by "cheeky" short-shorts.

It runs rampant on college campuses. One columnist at the Independent Florida Alligator attributes the first and most prominent exposure to Rihanna. She also mentions Miley Cyrus as an underbutt offender, as does this New York Magazine column that says the trend is here to stay.

And it turns out, a lot of people have opinions about it — but they don't want their names attached to those feelings. Most people interviewed for this article asked to be identified by a pseudonym or their first name only.

"I see these shorts all of the time," said 'Jo,' an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "All over campus — and off. I think it's getting progressively worse.

"When I first saw the 'pockets hanging out' trend (where shorts are cut so high the pockets hang below the bottom of the shorts) last year, I just didn't get it. I immediately thought of the 'Back to the Future Part 2' scene where Marty asks why all the kids in the future are wearing their pockets inside out, and Doc says that it's the newest fashion trend."

Jo said she would hardly describe herself as a puritan, but it bothers her that the people wearing these shorts don't seem to realize how unflattering they are. She said she feels that girls and women should take ownership of their bodies as much as their minds, but she doesn't think this look accomplishes that.

"I don't really think it's pushing any boundaries," Jo said, "whereas maybe other trends, like having a skirt above the knee in the '60s or big hair from the '80s or all-black attire from the '90s, were about making statements about what is culturally appropriate."

Paige Schultz, fashion editor for UW-Madison's MODA magazine, is very clear on where she stands: She's very much in favor of short-shorts, but adamantly anti-underbutt.

"I recently saw a girl on campus walking around, and you could see her butt cheeks falling out of her shorts," Schultz said. "There’s a difference between following a trend and following it with the style."

The style, Schultz said, trends toward showing a lot of leg. Emphasis on "leg." It also includes high-waisted shorts, which are a major contributor to the underbutt, she said.

One problem with those high-waisted shorts is that it's difficult to find a pair that fits at both the hip and the waist. The mistake many women make is selecting a pair that fits at the waist, rather than at the hips, Schultz said. That causes them to buy a size smaller than the rest of their body requires. Shorts that fit the hips can always be belted at the waist, Schultz said.

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Schultz recommends walking, bending and moving around in the dressing room to see the shorts move before buying them.

Kristen, who works downtown and has seen an awful lot of underbutt on State Street in particular, thinks it's symptomatic of a deeper issue. She said she thinks most cases of underbutt are unintentional — the result of young women squeezing into too-small shorts thinking they'll cover more than they actually do.

She said she thinks it's often an unintended consequence of being fixated on staying within a certain clothing size, rather than buying clothing that fits well regardless of the number on the tag.

Jo said in her mind, this is nothing new in the debate between sexual objectification and sexual freedom — but for some reason, this particular trend feels like the wrong kind of raunchy to her.

"There's nothing wrong, in my opinion, with showing a little cleavage or having a shorter skirt," Jo said. "There's nothing wrong with being comfortable in your own skin and embracing your sexuality and your body. The butt cheek shorts, however, don't make a 'Hey, this is my body, my skin, and I can be sexually free!' statement, at least not in my interpretation. The statement is more like, 'Hey, look at my butt cheeks.'"

But Greg, who also works downtown, thinks everyone needs to settle down and hush the underbutt fuss.

"This sort of moral panic happens every time there's a new fashion innovation," Greg said. "Sideboob became a thing a few years ago, and a few years before that, it was low-slung jeans. On the one hand, women have to always be sexy, but then when they experiment with new ways to be sexy, there's a societal freakout."

"The idea of shock and outrage (in clothing) has been with us for a long time — starting with the Industrial Revolution, and certainly exaggerated in the most recent decades," said Beverly Gordon, professor emerita in design studies at UW-Madison. "It's ever-changing; that which shocks now won't shock later, but something else will."

Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.