…social issues: much ado about sagging

A personal sore spot with me is the ridiculous amount of backlash against sagging, the common term for the practice of wearing one’s pants well below the waist.  A national airline has crystallized the hypocrisy inherent in this backlash, as described in the below article.

US Air let scantily-clad cross dresser fly days before booting off student for saggy pants: report.

The airline’s jaw-dropping explanation, with no reference to the reasoning process, really should have been a simple mea culpa.  Something along the lines of, “Since we don’t have a clear set of policies, employees have taken it upon themselves to determine what is appropriate, so different employees have employed different criteria in different instances.”  There is no consistency in company policy here, but what is consistent is the level of fed-up-ness across many parts of society over this mostly benign practice. So fed up that even older dudes in panties get less of a hassle.  It’s a tempest in a Tea Party–I mean teapot.

What the anti-sagging zealots do in their misguided attempt to right society, one belt at at time, is what all prejudiced individuals try to do: rationalize their irrationality.  To that end, the following arguments have been put forth:

1. Sagging has its origins in prison culture. Variations of this argument include origins in gang culture, gay culture, or just as a gesture to mainstream society that says “kiss my butt.”  Regardless of the version, each individual pontificating somehow has a precise handle on the exact set of circumstances that brought about this clothing “trend.”  (I use the word “trend” in quotes, because despite everyone’s insistence that sagging is a ridiculous fad, it’s been going strong for two decades.)

The point of this argument is that the whole business of wearing your pants low is sinister and endorses deviant and/or criminal activity.  I wonder what the sag police have to say about high heels, which some sources claim were designed to objectify women and incite lust.  That sounds pretty lowdown and dirty on a few levels.

At any rate, in-depth discussions of cultural anthropology are rarely attached to fashion trends.  I’m sure you can find something evil about the origin of every article of clothing in your closet.  The fact that people want to dig up unsubstantiated claims to prove why someone is wearing an article of clothing is such a far-fetched way of arguing that I have to suspect a vendetta.

The truth, as best I can tell, is that the origins of sagging are murky.  Personally, I find the most reasonable explanation I’ve heard to be much less evil: poor kids in the inner city would be forced to wear an older brother’s hand-me-downs, even before they were big enough to fit into them.  Invoking the positive connotation of the word “ghetto,” which is creatively improvising when you don’t have exactly what you need, sagging became a look to be rocked, not to be ashamed of.

2. Sagging is indecent exposure.  This argument is allegedly the most airtight one.  At least it’s on-topic, which I can respect.  But is it true?  Sadly, no.  What throws people off is the peek-a-boo illusion of seeing a guy’s clothing falling off of him.  This creates associations of undressing, and of seeing a level of undress that is unintended.

Admittedly, this can be a provocative illusion.  However, indecent exposure involves the actual exposure of body parts.  Using that test, show me  a young lady wearing a miniskirt and a sheer blouse (this is even office attire in some places) next to a young man wearing a T-shirt and saggy jeans over a pair of boxers, and I find the female to be much closer to indecent exposure.

Take the saggy pants all the way off the sagger, and you may actually end up with fewer complaints from the older, fashion-cranky crowd.  What you’ll usually find underneath are basketball shorts, loose-fitting boxers, or, worst case scenario, some completely opaque boxer briefs.  Get rid of a waistband, add a couple of seams, and bam!  You’ve got a dude in a pair of shorts.  No issues, no indecent exposure.

There is the occasional sagger who is intent on showing off a little extra, but that has more to do with being an exhibitionist than sagging.  Some people show off by wearing sheer clothing, tight clothing, or strategically cut clothing.  There’s many paths to indecent exposure, but most of them involve the intent to do so, and that transcends the style of clothing being worn.

So no dice on that argument.  Please try again.

3. Sagging is uncomfortable and is not the way you’re “supposed” to wear your pants.  While I appreciate that everyone is so concerned about the comfort of our youth, at the end of the day it’s none of your damn business.

When I was in college, just as sagging was starting to catch on, another trend swept through certain quarters: wearing baseball caps with the brand tags still on (usually Starter).  I thought it was a fun, cool look, and I got stopped about three times a day on the Emory campus by well-meaning kids who hadn’t gotten the memo and wanted to let me know I had forgotten to take the tag off.

While I was very aware that the usual sequence of events when taking home a new article of clothing involved cutting off the tags, I decided to mix it up and forego what I was “supposed” to do and experimented with leaving the tag on as a look.

Similarly, kids who sag are not usually unaware of how to wear a pair of pants.  They’re trying something different.  If you think that makes them foolish, then that’s certainly your opinion.  I think it’s more foolish to criticize people for their choices instead of simply making your own choices and leaving it at that.

It’s important for kids to know how to dress up for important events or to make a good, professional impression.  Seeing guys who insist on sagging dress clothes for a job interview bothers me, because though I respect their integrity, I know they will have a tough time making a good impression.  For everyday dress, however, that’s really beyond the scope of what anyone else should be concerned about.

As for the uncomfortable/impractical argument, I bring you back again to the high heel, which is an iconic fashion item precisely because it is both painfully uncomfortable and highly impractical.  I don’t like the idea of holding my pants up with one hand or having to waddle down the street, but it’s no worse than killing your feet and back, twisting your ankles and almost tipping over in a pair of stilettos.

As a final absurdity in this absurd crusade against a manner of wearing clothing, I present to you the necktie.  Here we have an article of clothing that is uncomfortable, difficult to assemble, and serves not even a remotely practical function in covering the body or providing any manner of support.  It is the pinnacle of elegant dress; but alas, it’s far stupider, more useless, and less comfortable than the most ill-fitting pair of saggy jeans known to the human race.

Ah, the irony.




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