Working at a school located on the site of a residential facility for troubled youth requires teachers to enforce strict rules designed to modify problem behaviors and to help students create a new self-image unconnected with the troubles of their past. One rule requiring constant enforcement is getting male students to pull up their pants. This battle with the beltless is a never-ending endeavor that often seems doomed to failure as pants seem on average to sag lower and lower each year, now often hanging perilously below the buttocks. Neither laws nor pleas from celebrities nor unflattering stories regarding the origins of the fashion seem sufficient to persuade young men to buy a belt.
This predominantly urban fashion of sagging britches is an issue which has been addressed by everyone from comedians to city councils to the President of the United States. In an article on National Public Radio’s blog, Code Switch, entitled “Sagging Pants and the Long History of ‘Dangerous’ Street Fashion,” blogger Gene Demby brings attention to city ordinances enacted in parts of Florida, New Jersey, and Tennessee which have established bans and introduced penalties to those who insist on displaying their underwear in public. Billy Cosby used to repeatedly call on teenage boys to pull up their pants before recent scandals gave detractors an opportunity to throw that advice back in his face. And while President Obama may not support using law to enforce fashion, he was himself quoted in 2008 telling MTV that he finds the practice disrespectful:
“Brothers should pull up their pants. 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.”
There are many dubious myths to the origin of sagging pants; however, it seems a common consensus that the fashion developed in the prison population and from there was emulated by hip hop artists, who in turn influenced the general population. According to Kirsten West Savali in her article, “Sagging Pants: Prison Uniform Represents Wreckage of Black Communities,” the origins of sagging are vague, even though prison advocates such as Judge Greg Mathis continue to perpetuate the unverifiable genesis sagas of sagging involving the prohibition of belts in prison and proliferating incidents of prison promiscuity. While Mathis was a gangbanger in his youth and did some time in jail, Savali contributes his voiced perspective to “unsubstantiated scare tactics.” The blog Cladwell discusses the origin and motivations of sagging in a similar manner, and goes further to discredit the more colorful and distasteful of these sagging origin myths.
The controversial practice of young males wearing pants below the buttocks, thus exposing their underwear, is an urban fashion which likely originated in prison and originally became popular to the general population after the style was adopted by various hip hop recording artists. The more detailed and sexualized origin stories, while propagated by celebrities such as Judge Greg Mathis, are unverifiable at best.