“Pull your pants up!”
The simple refrain, ordinarily from the mouths of grandmothers, becomes more complicated as a government mandate or talking point from pundits.
While no longer the fashion du jour (it seems that most are opting to stay on-trend with skinny jeans) there is a lingering fixation to quell sagging pants as a means to alleviate all the bad behavior that supposedly comes with it.
Effective July 9, Wildwood Ordinance 4-2.4 mandates that anyone over the age of 12 must wear footwear and shirts on the boardwalk and cannot allow their pants or swim trunks to sag more than three inches below the waist.
And in controversial remarks that criticized the African American community, CNN anchor Don Lemon also criticized sagging pants, citing them in his five-point improvement plan. “Walking around with your ass and your underwear showing is not okay,” he said, drawing an inaccurate and exceedingly problematic correlation between sagging pants, prison culture and homosexual activity.
While I’m not a fan of sagging pants stylistically, I also recognize them as one the biggest red herrings in conversations about young people and youth culture. Despite the modern fervor, a basic knowledge of pop culture reveals that baggy pants aren’t new, and have always had a bad rep as a mitigating factor in violence and destructive behavior, even as far back as the zoot suit era of the 1940s, when the style was popularized by black and Chicano youths.
Clothes are political and have a particularly significant role in counterculture identities. The way that we style ourselves — intentionally or not — communicates a lot about who we are to the world because of value-based assumptions that are made based on personal appearance.
Like any other form of communication, the message sent isn’t always the one received. Usually, what one person identifies as a fashion faux pas is about comfort for someone else; such was the case for the 2005 Northwestern University women’s lacrosse team, who found themselves on the receiving end of criticism for wearing flip flops to meet President Bush at the White House, launching a national conversation about protocol.
What’s being lost here is that clothes are aesthetic and functional, and evolving in their utility. While very public, clothes and hair are also incredibly personal and shouldn’t be regulated by an arbitrary litmus of what’s appropriate for all.
Let’s work together to keep government out of our closets.