Baggy pants and the long history of "dangerous" street fashion (2023)

Many fads embraced by young people irritate adults, but fighting flab often feels like a moral panic.Roberto Mecea/AP hide title

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Roberto Mecea/AP

Baggy pants and the long history of "dangerous" street fashion (2)

Many fads embraced by young people irritate adults, but fighting flab often feels like a moral panic.

Roberto Mecea/AP

Mary Sue Rich has finally had enough.

The Ocala, Florida councilwoman was tired of seeing young people in her city in baggy pants, andsuccessfully lobbied to ban the style on city property.It became law in July. Violators face a $500 fine or up to six months in prison.

"I'm tired of looking at men's underwear, it's disrespectful," Rich said. "I think it would make [people who wear baggy pants] respect each other and I bet 9 out of 10 don't have a job."

the reason behind itlast year's ban in Wildwood, New Jersey, was similar🇧🇷 "I'm not trying to be the fashion police, but I personally find it offensive when a guy is outside," said Ernest Troiana, the city's mayor, after announcing that his city would be policing fashion.

(Video) Sagging Pants: It Comes From Prison

Pikeville, Tennessee has changed a bit: Officials said they wouldpartly due to health issues related to "wrong gear"of the shooter. EITHERThe mayor even pointed it outto a study by Dr. Mark Oliver Mansbach of the American National Medical Association, who allegedly found this outAbout 8 out of 10 flaccid suffer sexual problems such as premature ejaculation🇧🇷 One problem: Neither Mark Oliver Mansbach nor NAMA really exist;the much-cited study was an April Fool's joke.

That's not just the workhorse of small-town politicians, no less than a number that President Obama predicted was falling. "Brothers should pull up their pants"he told MTV a few years ago🇬🇧 "That doesn't mean you have to pass a law...but it doesn't mean people can't have common sense and respect for other people. And, you know, some people might not want to see your underwear — I'm one of them."

To the many detractors of love handles, boys who wear pants below the waist—or below the buttocks, in the case of the most committed devotees of the gig—are twice as reliable as a shortcut to a constellation of social ills that seem to afflict or affect black youth spread.A dangerous lack of self-esteem. An embrace of the culture of gangs and prisons. Another harbinger of cultural decline.Those are all things people say about hip-hop, which helped popularize the floppy aesthetic. And when it comes down to it, it's no wonder resisting love handles sometimes feels like a downright moral panic.

Such is the apoplexy surrounding the styles that many of the most vehement advocates of sagging bans are people who might otherwise fear bringing black youth into unnecessary exposure to the criminal justice system. When Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, enacted a flab ban last yearthe change received strong support from the head of the local NAACP chapter."There's nothing positive about people wearing baggy pants," he told a local TV station. (It should be noted that the national NAACP has campaigned against such bans.) And a group called the Black Mental Health Alliance of Massachusettsbegan airing public announcements in Boston last yearthat he had deliberately used the threat of arrest as a deterrent. "Our community and our people are fed up with these kids running around like this," said Omar Reid, one of the leaders of the initiativeBoston-Globus.

It's certainly nothing new that adults find teenage fashion unattractive; in fact that is the point. Full Disclosure Time: Like many people in my generational cohort, I gave in earlier. Here's what I'm going to say: Anyone who thought they were cool as a teenager and 30-year-old will see pictures of themselves in high school and cringe massively. But that's not specific to love handles, of course. like a goth dressscares the old man, and then most practitioners turn to other things. The difference is that the fears surrounding something like gothic dress aren't written into prison-threatening laws.

There is another argument against flaccidity,which you can see in this video which is part of the "Pull Up Your Pants Challenge".“, which tries to appeal to seriousness and pragmatism: Black children should simply look away to avoid unnecessary suspicions from police officers and strangers.

But if history is any indication, this suspicion has proven to be quite persistent and is linked to several different styles:Sweatshirts, boots, rags.

However, the fall was an oddly lingering source of unease.

The dark genesis of slackness

Or LAPD, Victor VinsonI was speaking to an audience of local parents, they warn of the appeal of street gangs. He explained to them how they could tell if their own children were under gang rule. The biggest clue, he said, was the baggy pants.

"Kids dress to die for these days," Vinson said.

This feeling is very similar to that of board member Mary Sue Rich of Ocala, Florida. but Winsonis quoted in aLos Angeles TimesArticle from 1988, one of the first mentions of the trend in the press. It's a reminder that people have been concerned about love handles for nearly three decades.

The world has changed a lot since then. Los Angeles in 1988 was a really violent place, especially compared to today, and much of that violence was gang related. Hip-hop had not yet become a mainstream music staple. Fashion also changed as people started wearing tighter, more contoured clothing. The sagging accompanied this:the huge baggy jeans of the 90swere replaced byJeans and skinny pants today🇧🇷 (Unless, you already know,You are Michael Jordan.)

But let's go back a bit. The most well-known origin myth for love handles goes something like this: Convicts forbidden from wearing belts often wore saggy prison-derived uniforms and took that look with them when they returned abroad. Another story has it that some inmates wore low-rise pants to let other inmates know they were sexually available. Both have long been a "straight fear" argument against love handles. Um, literally in the case of the latter.

"You want to walk around looking like a criminal? Take off your damn pants!"

"Did you know that look in prison meant you wanted to have sex with other inmates? Take off your damn pants!”

But it's not clear how true that is.

"I don't think we can definitively say that love handles started in prisons," said Tanisha C. Ford, a fashion historian at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.


An entry on the genesis of flaccidity in Snopes, the online dictionary of urban legends, says the trend originated in prison, but the article doesn't cite its sources.

Consider the many other fashions that once carried the prison stigma that have migrated to the outside world. It's probably no coincidence that the popularization of tattoos and body art coincided with the explosion of America's prison state.

Whatever the origins, people actively courted this connection and resisted mainstream American ideas about property.through their clothes.But if that fad catches on, what passes for opposition will require an occasional recalibration.

So it's entirely possible that flaccidity still exists all these decades later because it hasn't lost its unique ability to irritate.

When the 'Hoodlums' wore jackets

But all this drama about brown kids, baggy clothes, and crime goes well beyond hip-hop and street gangs. In the 1930s, black men and Mexican Americans in California began wearing large, oversized suit jackets and trousers that tapered to the ankles: zoot suits.

The youths were stripped naked and severely beaten as police officers roamed the streets of Los Angeles looking for zoot-clad youths whom they had charged with petty crimes.Harold P. Matosian/AP hide title

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Harold P. Matosian/AP

Baggy pants and the long history of "dangerous" street fashion (4)

The youths were stripped naked and severely beaten as police officers roamed the streets of Los Angeles looking for zoot-clad youths whom they had charged with petty crimes.

Harold P. Matosian/AP

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Ford, the fashion historian, said the look was a born improvisation as many of these kids couldn't afford tailors. "A lot of kids would go to the thrift store to buy these suits and then ask their mom or aunt to pull their pants down," she said.

But Luis Alvarez, a historian at the University of California, San Diego, who wrote a book about that time, namesZoot's power, said that like the origins of flab, the genesis of the zoot suit is pretty murky. "Some might argue that [people started wearing it because] it looked better spinning girls on the dance floor," she said. "I got into an argument with a guy who said he got it from [Clark Gable].And the wind carried it awaybecause I wore a baggy suit in that movie."

There is no doubt, he said, that the look was popularized by black jazz musicians as they traveled the country.

Today, these zoot suits are synonymous with the jazz age and WWII era. But back then, they were considered the wardrobe of black and Mexican-American criminals and gang members. Opponents of zoot suits, and there were many, saw them as harbingers of moral decay. In his book, Álvarez quotes a book from 1943Washington PostArticle typical of trend reporting in big city newspapers. The language it contains closely resembles the speech Officer Vinson would give decades later to parents in Los Angeles about the dangers of the skinny.

"The chief characteristics are the wide felt hat, the long key-ring, the pocket-knife of a certain size and shape which the boys carry in their vest pockets, the girls in their stockings, the girl's peculiarly shaped whiskey bottle. Chest, the men's haircut of increasing density and neck length - a whole utensil that has symbolic and secret meaning for those in the know. In some places, the wearing of the uniform by the entire gang is a danger signal, indicating a pre-established plan for concerted action and attack.

In 1943, Noe Vasquez and Joe Vasquez, both 18 years old but not related, told the Los Angeles Police Department that they were robbed by sailors who tore up their zoot suit clothing. And even after that?Style.Pennsylvania hide title

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Baggy pants and the long history of "dangerous" street fashion (6)

In 1943, Noe Vasquez and Joe Vasquez, both 18 years old but not related, told the Los Angeles Police Department that they were robbed by sailors who tore up their zoot suit clothing. And even after that?Style.


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"The style is associated with jazz music, it is associated with urban spaces, it is associated with the criminal underworld: gambling and gambling," Ford said. And those crimes have been associated with black people and Latinos.

Álvarez wrote that "[z]oot syle represented what was morally and politically deficient on the home front during World War II: violence, alcohol, premarital sex, and the threat of street muggings." This aversion to dress and the culture associated with it persisted, although quite a few people in the military and war industries were very well dressed.

As the war escalated, Americans tightened their belts. (My fault folks). Strict rations were imposed on textiles and fabrics, further infuriating opponents of the zoot suit: those broad, voluminous tresses were not only criminal, but an affront to the country's war aims.

"In 1942 and 1943 it became a focal point for ideas that went beyond the boyish style," Álvarez told me. "Then it becomes a platform for discussions about who is American and who is not."

That anger erupted in violence in Los Angeles, when gangs of white military officers - accompanied by hundreds of police officers - left their posts to hunt down black-and-white-clad Mexican-American youths with the intention of beating them. People were taken off trams and beaten by mobs. They were beaten in the street. The violence lasted more than four days.

"The Marines and Los Angeles Police Department stripped these kids in these clothes and burned their costumes in the street," Ford said. But the anti-zoot marauders weren't picky; People not wearing zoots were also attacked.

Similar but smaller outbreaks of violence erupted in other major cities across the country as zoot patrons clashed with police and angry whites. As things calmed down, the Zoot-suit riots became a national scandal, with leftists and conservatives alike arguing they may have been part of a conspiracy to sow discord on the home front.

Dangerous fashion becomes popular

The war is over. The fashion continued. Ford said that it appears that Dashikis and Afros would acquire their own aura of black menace over time, although in these style choices the menace stemmed from fears of militancy and political unrest rather than street crime.

"We see the afro and the dashikis ... as part of the iconography of the 1970s, but we don't remember how controversial and political they were," he said. Some historically black universities, such as Hampton University, have banned afros, and the hairstyle has been banned in Cuba and Tanzania.

However, freed from their contemporary clutter, these looks have been integrated into everyday life. Afros used to shock both whites and older blacks. Today, women with college degrees publish theirs"Big Disc"Photos on Facebook, Instagram or countless blogs dedicated to natural hair and are taken with affirmation and support.

And the zoot suits? Ford joked that "ternos steve harvey“This was the stylish look chosen by multi-millionaire athletes, which looked a lot like WWII-era zoot suits. You saw these huge 6-8 basketball players walking around in big long suit jackets," he said. I was looking for an excuse to linktonight photo by Jalen Rose🇧🇷 thank you Dr. vado.)

You can still see the teens rocking them too. "Right now I can't go a week or two in May or June without passing some kids in overalls at prom," Alvarez said.

I wondered if Flab would likely make the same transition to normal. "As soon as historians start telling the story of the late 20th century, which we haven't done yet, there's a way to revere flabs, hoodies and t-shirts as markers of a particular era," Ford said Baggy pants style might even become how we remember the youthful resilience of our times. But, he said, "it will definitely continue to be associated with [ideas of] crime."

Álvarez said zoot suits and flab share much of the same DNA: They were how people made statements about their relationships with other people and their circumstances.

"[For users] it's a mechanism to regain the dignity that's been taken from them," he said.

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A lot of people would roll their eyes and clench their fists if you said there's something dignified about baggy pants, I said.

"Youth culture in general isn't always decipherable outside of the inner circle," Álvarez replied. "In many ways, our dress, vocabulary, and slang become powerful because [outsiders] can't understand them."


What did sagging mean in slavery? ›

“Some white masters would rape their African male slaves; subsequently, the victims were forced to wear their pants sagging so that their masters could identify them for future attacks.

What does sagging pants mean in jail? ›

Another story goes that some prisoners would wear their pants low to let other inmates know they were sexually available. Both have been tentpoles of "scared straight" arguments against sagging for a long time.

Where did wearing sagging pants come from? ›

The style was popularized by skaters and hip-hop musicians in the 1990s. It is often claimed the style originated from the United States prison system where belts are sometimes prohibited and there can be a lack of appropriately sized clothing.

How do you keep baggy pants from dragging? ›

Add width to your body with sub-layers.

Under layers will add width to your frame, and much like your widened stance, more width to your body will prevent your pants for sagging farther than you intend.

What were slaves whipped with? ›

The whip that was used to do such damage to the slaves was called a “cat-of-nine tails”. It was a whip that was woven and flowed into nine separate pieces. Each piece had a knot in the middle, and broken glass, and nails at the very end.

Why did slaves not know their age? ›

The slavery culture demanded that slaves be treated as property, and to this end, slaves needed to believe they were property. Having no birth record and no true knowledge of one's age helped establish this mindset of being a non-person.

Why do gangsters let their pants sag? ›

According to lore, inmates allegedly sagged their pants to signal sexual availability. But Snopes, the fact-checking website, says this story is false. Sagging did begin in prison, but for a more banal reason: Prisoners were often issued clothing that was too large for them and they couldn't wear belts.

Is sagging disrespectful? ›

Long story short, invest in a belt or buy pants that fit. To expose your underwear in a public environment is rude and disrespectful to those around you. If for no other reason, pull up your pants for the sake of yourself. Sagging makes you look unprofessional and, quite frankly, vulgar.

Why do my pants go up my bum? ›

The not-so-simple answer is equal parts fabric and fit. Stretched out undies, silky garments, and low-quality high rise denim can all be the culprits of this often uncomfortable occurrence.

What does the slang word sagging mean? ›

(of courage, spirits, etc) weakening; flagging. to bolster one's sagging popularity.

What was the point of sagging? ›

According to lore, inmates allegedly sagged their pants to signal sexual availability. But Snopes, the fact-checking website, says this story is false. Sagging did begin in prison, but for a more banal reason: Prisoners were often issued clothing that was too large for them and they couldn't wear belts.


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