Over the past decade we have seen the emergence of a clothing fad on African American boys that almost no adults like—sagging pants. We’ve seen them in the malls, in the streets, in the schools, on the concert stage, on TV. Yes, they wear sagging pants with various and sundry boxer shorts on full display. Most adults hate this fad and that’s just as it should be. Young people do whatever they can to be transgressive. They relish the fact that adults object to their styles and fads. That’s why they choose what they do—to annoy adults.
We have done everything we know how to do to discourage them from wearing sagging pants. We have told them a story of how this fad emerged in prisons because inmates were not permitted to have belts. We have told them that wearing their pants down with their underwear showing was advertising that they were available for sex from other men. And, we have told them that “saggin” spelled backwards was who they were telling the world they were! None of these negative portrayals has discouraged them from wearing their pants almost to their knees.
I started thinking about this pants thing today as I was sitting in an airline club. You know the airline clubs—the exorbitantly priced respites from the rest of the airport. They are places where middle class mostly business travelers duck into to avoid the crowds, get their flight schedules straightened out, and eat what are undoubtedly over-priced snacks. I have a membership because it’s one way to spend the thousands of miles I accumulate and never use. People in those clubs tend to be White, middle aged, and male. They are heading to some business meeting or conference. Every once in a while a celebrity shows up. I once saw Macklemore in an airline club. I was probably the only one in the club who recognized him.
The men who frequent these clubs are generally in business suits. Their alternate “uniform” is “business casual” that typically consists of khaki pants and polo shirts or “mom jeans” with blue blazers.
Today in the Los Angeles airline club I saw an older man (definitely over 75) and his pants were the opposite of sagging. They were high…no I mean REALLY high…like up under his armpits. I realized that like the sagging adolescent, the “rising” senior citizen is making a statement about who he is. I chuckled because his pants did not make him a “bad” person. They did not mean he was untrustworthy. It also made me think about when those pants positions were reversed. In the 1940s the “Zoot Suit Riots” began when Mexican American young men wearing distinctive clothes (big suits with high waist pants) clashed with soldiers in LA. During this era, young men were derided for wearing their pants too high! Respectable men wore their pants lower…much lower!
The fad of wearing sagging pants will go the way of all fads. A few years from now no one will be doing it. Do you remember the group Chris Cross? Their trademark was wearing their clothes BACKWARDS! How silly was that? Lots of people railed against that fad. I remember telling a friend, “Who does this inconvenience other than people who wear their clothes backwards? I mean can you imagine the hassle of going to the bathroom with your clothes on backwards?
Our youth have so many more challenges than how they wear their clothes. When Trayvon Martin was murdered Geraldo Rivera actually said it was because he was wearing a hoodie! We know our children are targeted no matter what they wear. If they wear hoodies, throwback jerseys, jogging suits, baseball caps (wore sideways or backwards), skinny jeans, or puffy down jackets these items of clothing are not the reason they are being assaulted and killed.
Youth are always going to adopt outrageous clothing trends. One of my sons went through his “Prince” phase (ugh) and another had a few MC Hammer get ups. I just had to grin and bear it and now as adults—husbands and parents—we all get a big laugh out of looking at old pictures of them in those outfits. In the meantime I’ve got a great Chaka Khan outfit of bell bottoms with a long buckskin fringe vest I might have to see if I can still get into!
Stay Black & Smart!