What’s behind the sagging pants trend?
Carlos Turner, a twenty-year old art vendor from Florida, lets his pants sag below his waistline because he is simply very comfortable with his pants that way. ”[It’s] just for comfort,” says Turner. “I don’t like them on my waist.” Turner who recently moved to New York says that he picked up the style about ten years ago at age ten, from an older cousin. Turner, who has a size thirty-two waist occasionally purchases size 34 pants in order to achieve a ‘baggy look.’ Even his suit trousers are worn in a saggy manner.
Although Turner always wears a belt, the only time he pulls his pants up towards his waist is when an elder makes a request. The manner or style in which Turner wears his pants is not uncommon. (Take an honest look down any major urban area street.) In fact the phenomenon of sagging pants is somewhat infamous compared to other fashion trends from the past two or three decades. An accepted theory about this trend is that it originated in the prison system due to inmates not being allowed belts.
A few municipalities in various states across the country have considered passing laws banning sagging pants. Some of the proposed laws or resolutions came with penalties followed by possible jail time for repeat offenses. Outside of the legal arena, even Turner concedes that some people probably judge him for his sagging attire. A closer examination of the trend illuminates a number of factors contributing to this ongoing very public display of potential indecency.
Patricia “Gigi” Allen, a twenty-five year old originally from Richmond, Virginia confesses to sagging her pants. “I only do that when I’m in an ‘I don’t care mode,’” says Allen. “You know how females wear low-riders, I dress like the skateboarders.” Allen, an openly lesbian woman, says that many of her female peers often wear sagging pants in an effort to resemble men. And even though her pants sag occasionally, Allen says she embraces the style with some discretion. “I don’t like sagging where you see whole hind posts, ” adds Allen. ” it’s not appropriate.”
“This issue has received a lot more attention because anytime you see underwear, people may be offended by that,” says Dr. Wendy Buskey, a Clinical Psychologist with a practice in Prince George’s County in Maryland. The style, which sometimes resembles a limp flag at half-mast, can be found virtually anywhere throughout the States within any population of young blacks, whites, Latinos and females. Dr. Buskey believes that the trend of sagging pants is a specific African-American creation that has been absorbed and embraced by the mainstream culture.
“African-Americans define and redefine what’s stylish and cool,” says Dr. Buskey. ”[Yet] the negative appraisal of African-American styles of dress is nothing new. ” But even if parents and older generations disapprove of the style, Dr. Buskey cautions against lecturing adolescents above 15 about sagging pants. “It’s not effective,” Dr. Buskey emphasizes. “What [adolescents] need at that time is to [be able] to express their point of view. As a parent this is difficult because you do have to allow your children to establish their own identity. For parents, it becomes important to be curious about this style of dress. For some adolescents this style might actually increases their self-esteem or make them feel more comfortable. For another person this type of dress could lead to antisocial behavior.”
Sola Winley, a social worker and clinical therapist based in New York says that he often informs adolescents of the image sagging pants projects. “All generations send social signals,” says Winley. “What concerns me is that if you are either black or brown there is an expected way of dressing, talking and or mannerism. For example, if you wear your pants on your waist or use correct English then you are somehow not ‘black.’”
For Timothy James, a junior at a majority black and Latino population high school in midtown Manhattan, the sagging pants are essentially part of a requirement to attend school. James, whose real name has been changed to protect his identity, says that the dress code at his high school prohibits male students from wearing belts on campus.
“You can’t wear no belts in school [because] they say we can use them as weapons, says James. “My pants always fall even if I pull them up. I don’t like it but I know I got to go to school. On the weekends I wear a belt.”
Dr. Thomas DeMarco, a principal at Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School located in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, believes that a dress code banning belts is an extreme measure. However, DeMarco, who has served as a principal for approximately fifteen years in public, parochial, and charter school environments, is an advocate for dress codes. DeMarco, a Brooklyn native says that he first noticed the trend of sagging pants about nine years ago.
“Really this style starts with seventh and eighth graders, says DeMarco. “It appears as though the kids are just emulating a popular styles from music videos and fashion magazines.”
Dr. Darryl Townes, a licensed psychologist in with a practice in Savannah, Georgia says that he has discussed this topic of sagging pants with several colleagues from various states through his affiliation with the Association of Black Psychologists. ”[The] style has been transformed into something that represents counter-culture,” says Dr. Townes. “It’s in our communities, it’s in the Hip-Hop culture.”
Along with a sense of counter-cultural affiliations, Dr. Townes says that sagging pants have the potential to send both homoerotic and homophobic signals. “It’s almost like the young men are daring people to look at their behinds or to take their manhood.”
Townes, a forty-four year old former combat medic with two sons aged fifteen and twenty-three believes that this trend will pass like the styles of his generation. But Dr. Townes also admits that his wife often asks adolescents standing at a nearby school bus stop to pull up their pants.
“In some way [our] culture embraces this style as a fad,” says Townes. “At some point we have to take greater responsibility for what we put on TV and start changing these images. We see images that perpetuate the idea that that it’s okay. It becomes part of our heritage and it’s really not. We have to set a community standard.”