Since the early years of Hip Hop music and culture, the fashion styles championed by primarily urban-dwelling African-American and Latino men and women have been highlighted and emulated all over the world. The styles have ranged from large gold-link or platinum chains, door knocker earrings, fitted baseball caps cocked to the side or worn backwards, grills, wearing one pants leg folded up with the other worn down, wearing Timbaland boots during any season, and countless others. The recent style of sagging one’s pants is no exception. In urban and suburban neighborhoods throughout the country and the world, adolescents, young adults, and even some adults can be found wearing their jeans, khakis, and other pants 4 or more inches below their waistline with or without a belt, showing off their boxers, briefs, or pajama pants underneath. Though predominantly fashioned by men, some women, have begun to adopt the trend. However, unlike past Hip Hop-affiliated fashion trends, pants sagging has sparked a vehement backlash that has raised many questions concerning everything from the definition of public decency to the defense of civil rights.
It is generally accepted as truth that the pants sagging trend has its origins in the prison-industrial complex, which contains almost 10% of the African-American population. Prisoners are not allowed to have or wear belts in order to prevent their use as weapons or as means by which to commit suicide. Many of these prisoners, once released, are so used to wearing their pants with no belt that they continue to sag their pants on the outside. Widespread propagation of the trend began once Hip Hop artists began to adopt it. Like so many Hip Hop fashion styles before it, the sagging pants trend is now so counter-culture that it has become mainstream.
Members of the older generations have not taken kindly to this conspicuous change in the urban and suburban landscape. A number of schools across the country have aggressively fought the trend by banning and assigning negative consequences for pants sagging on school property. Many politicians, such as State Senator Eric Adams of Brooklyn, have organized advertising campaigns such as “Stop The Sag” to discourage the trend in their communities. Some have even gone as far as to pass legislation to ban pants sagging. For example, Arkansas governor Mike Bebe and the Florida State Senate recently banned pants sagging in public schools throughout their states. Swag saggers living in Fort Worth, TX are not allowed to board buses unless their pull their pants up. Several municipalities have even begun to charge fines for the practice. Some groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have decried that this type of legislation is a violation of the rights of the people to adopt any style of clothing they choose, and that it may also encourage racial profiling. President Barack Obama has even weighed in on the issue, saying that even though passing legislation to ban the trend is a fairly extreme measure in light of other priorities like job creation and health care, “brothers should pull up their pants…some people might not want to see your underwear — I’m one of them.”
The sagging pants trend has even affected the efforts of law enforcement officials in the pursuit of criminals. Some policemen claim that pants sagging makes it easier for criminals to hide drugs or weapons. Others have said that an individual pulling up their pants can be misconstrued as going for a weapon or gun, which could potentially lead to violent standoffs. There have even been cases where criminals attempting to flee police were caught because their sagging pants slowed them down or caused them to fall.
What is most alarming about pants sagging is that, unlike most other Hip Hop-affiliated fashion trends of the past, it poses a real threat to individual and community health. Individuals that sag their pants have to walk in a way that places unnatural pressure on the bones and joints in order to keep their pants from falling down. This unnatural manner of walking can lead to very bad posture, misalignments of the knee, bunions, joint degradation, hip injuries, back pain and other orthopedic problems. These problems may persist into middle and old age. A recent study has also indicated that, because of the misalignment of the hips and lower torso from unnatural walking patterns, sagging pants may lead to sexual dysfunction, which normally does not affect young men under regular circumstances. Affected men may experience serious mental and emotional distress as a result. Those that are unaware that the cause may be their clothing style often look to other unhealthy means by which to overcome them. For example, there has been a large increase in the online sales of Viagra and other drugs that claim to effectively treat sexual dysfunction. Individuals may also turn to over-the-counter drugs and supplements that are not FDA-approved, many of which can be bought at your friendly neighborhood bodega. These remedies may have very negative side effects such as early-onset hypertension. Others turn to illicit drugs such as alcohol and ecstasy. This phenomenon has been described by Dr. Mark Oliver Mansbach, who has studied the relationship between pants sagging and sexual dysfunction, as “the dirty little secret in urban communities that no one wants to talk about.”
Like Starter jackets, wearing clothes backwards, Hammer pants, goggles and shiny pantsuits, and other Hip Hop fashion trends of the past, the pants sagging phenomenon will likely fade into oblivion overtime. However, the resultant health consequences of the style have the potential to affect its emulators for years to come. As many Hip Hop artists continue to perpetuate the trend, they also continue to potentially endanger the physical and mental health of the younger generations in our communities while strengthening racial, cultural, and intergenerational tensions. The HHPH team is calling on the Hip Hop community to take a stand against the sag! Please help us to spread the word!!!
– By Monique Hedmann