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A brief history of sagging trousers

Sunday November 20 2016

The sagging pants trend started in prison. Inmates, not allowed to have belts, wear their pants low. Once home, they continued the practise. Young boys in the neighbourhood took the look as their own. The trend grew and is immensely popular in both urban and suburban areas. PHOTO | FILE

The sagging pants trend started in prison. Inmates, not allowed to have belts, wear their pants low. Once home, they continued the practise. Young boys in the neighbourhood took the look as their own. The trend grew and is immensely popular in both urban and suburban areas. PHOTO | FILE 

CAROL ODERO
By CAROL ODERO
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My last salon visit was riveting. Two mothers shared a dilemma — sagging trousers.

One said the most surprising thing. She repeatedly tells her boy sagging his jeans is immoral because it was a trend started by homosexuals signalling availability. The second mother agreed. Naturally I pounced, called out their logic as propaganda invented by parents and school authorities to scare boys out of sagging their trousers. I have always known sagging trousers emerged, whole, from American prisons where prisoners styled by the republic in ill-fitting trousers, were not allowed the luxury of belts or even string to hold up their trousers. Just in case they were used as weapons.

Of course, we all automatically turned to Google to solve the escalating argument. It became evident the homosexual rumour was precisely that, smoke, air and urban myth.

One article traced sagging trousers as far back as prisons in the 1960s. There were no refined sources so I went to one of the only two people I know who out Google me: my big brother. It didn’t help. Everyone I asked knew the same things I knew. The debate raged, becoming an earworm I needed to exorcise. Finally, I went to Google Scholar. Someone, anyone, a historian for instance, must have data.

Sagging, we all know, has been found incredibly distasteful by every subsequent older generation. It has been blamed for drug trafficking, decaying morals, laziness, failure to launch and together with the rise of hip hop, taken blame for all ills affecting the black community. Hip hop, they say (grown folks), correlates directly to the fall of the waistline, some so notorious they are belted right under the butt. Few things say “oh come on!” like the-baby-pooped-themselves-again look.

WASTE OF TIME

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Here is what is interesting about sagging trousers. The first recorded media article was in 1988, Los Angeles Times. This is now a 30-year-old conversation; because by the time trends attract media ink it has been ongoing for longer than a minute. If anything should dissuade millennials, it should be the sound knowledge their parents were criticised by their grandparents for wearing what he now thinks is cool!

The plague of sagging trousers so infested America they started billboard campaigns urging boys to “pull up their pants; pull up their image,” telling them “We are better than this!”

In 2008 saggers conversation heated to the point of legislation. Then Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, in an interview with MTV said, “Here’s my attitude: I think passing a law about people wearing sagging pants is a waste of time. ... You’re walking by your mother, your grandmother, and your underwear is showing. ... What’s wrong with that? Come on. There are some issues that we face that you don’t have to pass a law against, but that doesn’t mean folks can’t have some sense and some respect for other people. And, you know, some people might not want to see your underwear — I’m one of them.” He proceeded to encourage employers to ban low slung trousers at the workplace.

Syndicated courtroom reality TV Judge Greg Mathis in a think piece for Ebony magazine that same year said: “The sagging pants trend started in prison. Inmates, not allowed to have belts, wear their pants low. Once home, they continued the practise. Young boys in the neighbourhood took the look as their own. The trend grew and is immensely popular in both urban and suburban areas.” The Judge loathes sagging trousers, going as far as advocating for laws to erase the glamourisation of gangsta/ thug life and a mindset in praise of the ghetto.

Youth obviously enjoy giving adults apoplexies because two generations in, sagging trousers live on. This is where the paradox lies. The more you say they can’t, the more they will. Sagging generates attention, sparks conversations and elevates the status of a pair of trousers that appears harmless on a retail rack or a teenager’s floor until they put it on.

It explains why they are favoured by whites, blacks and Hispanics alike. Despite the deep mistrust of sagging trousers, their reputation has not proven to be nearly as fatal as hoodies.

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