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Saggy Pants From Contempt of Court to a Rising Culture’s Free Expression

| March 5, 2015

Pause before you judge. (Phosub/Flickr)

Pause before you judge. (Phosub/Flickr)

In September, Ocala repealed a two-month ban on saggy pants, a measure that had criminalized wearing saggy pants on public property, including parks, public schools, sidewalks and municipal buildings, and threatened violators with jail time. The ordinance had been criticized as targeting young black men and boys. Two months earlier, a judge in Pennsylvania dismissed a contempt-of-court charge and a $50 fine against a man who’d worn saggy pants in court. Vanessa Lopez-Littleton, a lecturer at the University of Central Florida’s School of Public Administration, explores the genesis and possible message of saggy pants.

By Vanessa Lopez-Littleton

For years I’ve debated the issue of people wearing sagging pants with anyone who cared to listen. I’ve hesitated to speak publicly for fear people would think I was condoning the style of dress. For the record, I believe style is a matter of personal expression.

Consider it this way: Some Americans grow up in neighborhoods where they are exposed to people who wear sagging pants almost every day. They see it inside of their homes, around their communities, in magazines, on the Internet and on TV. As a result, some would argue, it’s a part of their culture.

Fashion and trends come and go, some of which reflect the social consciousness of those who participate in them. As such, young people should be allowed to express themselves and their culture with their style of dress. The mere fact that it is offensive to others does not negate their constitutional rights. The only intervention necessary should come from parents, who instill morals and values in their children, and the government, when the child is in a public school setting. Beyond that, style should be a matter of personal choice and not subjugated to the taste and preferences of others.

What is the real issue with sagging? Is it the fact that underwear or shorts are exposed, or is it something else? I would argue for the latter.

Here’s why:

The day after the recent Academy Awards presentations, Good Morning America aired a performance by Eden singing her new hit, “The Weekend.” What was so striking about this performer was that she was sagging, or so I thought. She was wearing a leotard and MC Hammer-style pants down below her natural waistline exposing the upper part of her hips. As I feverishly scoured the Internet looking for outrage and backlash, I quickly realized none existed.

As many black males – who have never sagged their pants – can attest, they have been disrespected regardless of the anatomical positioning of their pants.

Later that day, I saw a video on Facebook of a very cute toddler “teaching” a dance class while three adults mimicked his moves. It was kind of cute, except every time he bent down, a large portion of his diaper was exposed. The video had over 29 million views and not one comment on the sagging pants.

So that I was clear on what sagging was really about, I did some research. Sagging is a male fashion trend of wearing pants low to expose underwear. Thus, women who wear jeans below their waistline to expose a G-string (known as a “whale tail”) and dancing toddlers are not considered to be sagging.

I was perplexed, so I mentioned the issue of sagging pants to a former student who is white. Without prompting, he acknowledged that he had also worn sagging pants while in high school. When he started college, however, he stopped wearing sagging pants and was shocked to learn they were still common around town.

context floridaAnother student offered an even more interesting perspective. She was appalled by the trend, which she said started as a way for homosexual/bisexual signaling in prison. After more research, I found no evidence to support the signaling-in-prison theory but found backing for the notion that inmates were often provided ill-fitting pants in jail without belts or elastic.

The more I asked about the issue, the more intriguing it became. I was told by some that people who wear sagging pants are hopeless and crying out for help. This statement was a bit more shocking as it represents a gross overgeneralization. Many saggers have become productive members of society, including my former student who is now interning at the state capital and preparing for law school.

Vanessa Lopez-Littleton

Vanessa Lopez-Littleton

I’ve come to realize that the issue of sagging pants is not about fashion, hopelessness or the historical significance of the trend; it’s about black males and the way they are viewed in American society. Some argue that if they would pull their pants up, others would respect them. But as many black males – who have never sagged their pants – can attest, they have been disrespected regardless of the anatomical positioning of their pants.

As we know, America struggles with its own issues of diversity. There are strong undercurrents of racism and discrimination and alarming health statistics for minority groups. When subgroups, such as young black males, seek to express themselves or posit their own cultural elements, many of our laws – and us –are slow to accept them. In fact, sometimes we create laws to temper them.

To understand the uniqueness of the lenses through which others view things, we must be open to understanding subcultures with different sets of norms and values. If we are on the outside looking in, we are prone to make judgments based on our own set of morals and values.

Each of us is unique and should be appreciated and valued as such.

Vanessa Lopez-Littleton is a lecturer and internship programs director at the University of Central Florida’s School of Public Administration. She can be reached at

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17 Responses for “Saggy Pants From Contempt of Court to a Rising Culture’s Free Expression”

  1. PeachesMcGee says:

    I find it hard to believe that her research didn’t lead to the correct reasoning. Any astute researcher would find that this trend started in America’s jails due to the no belt policy.

    • mofry says:

      I worked for the State of Georgia in downtown Atlanta with a african-american peer who also worked in the halfway houses for prisoners getting out of the Atlanta jail. She told me that the sagging pants thing started in prison as a sexual signal that the men were wanting to ‘engage’ in homo sexual behavior. This was back about 14 years ago. I find men wearing their pants around their waists disturbing and gross.

  2. ryan says:

    I hope this doesn’t turn into another fake racism claim issue. It is wrong to put someone in jail for sagging but it looks scummy and a business should be able to tell employees to pull their pants up without fearing a discrimination lawsuit.

  3. Lancer says:

    Just because you can wear your pants around your knees, doesn’t mean you should wear your pants around your knees.

  4. ted bundy says:

    its a disgusting look and shows a complete lack of respect for others..BAN IT NOW FLAGLER..

    • just do it says:

      while it is definitley a ‘black’ thing and the wigger wanna bes and the idiot that is justine beiber. my problem is the ones that let them sag so bad they are grasping their crotches while they walk…that is a disgusting look and should be banned outright

  5. matt says:

    Its not just a black thing. Boys of all types do it to with skinny jeans and they look retarded doing it. Yes I’m getting older but I try to keep a pulse on modern culture and the saggy pants has got to be the lamest fashion trend I’ve seen in a while. I have never heard anybody say wow that’s so cool he wears his pants like that. Never.

  6. Retired FF says:

    As already said, it has its roots in the thug jail culture. Kids think they look bad wearing their clothes that way when in all actuality they look like slobs. Pull your pants up and earn the respect you think you deserve.

  7. confidential says:

    I don’t mind, care or like the saggy pants or the color of who wears them…as long as like, in not so rare occasions, they show their “crack”.
    I saw a girl’s one in the Flagler Palm Coast High School parking lot, while she was obliviously of her nakedness leaning on a car window talking to the driver, few years ago and I almost never visit that school. Can’t imagine what shows daily there. I have also endured the exposed butts ( not actually mooning) of male teens while leisurely walking or shopping around town and also of some hard working distracted young adults.
    Private parts are supposed to be kept private…or maybe not? Maybe just a matter of turning one’s face the other way, like I did?

  8. David B. says:

    Every generation has it’s fashion. Mine was tie dry shirts, bell bottoms, and long hair, or Afros. Let it be.

  9. sw says:

    low Pants goes right along w/ low mentality pull your pants up moron

  10. Downtown says:

    New rule….if skid marks are showing then it’s a health code violation and the offender must return home for a pair of clean undies.

  11. John Smallberries says:

    I understand this new “rock and roll” trend to be the devil’s music. Its followers ride around in fast cars with slicked-back hair blaring it out of those radios they have trying are trying to turn our daughters to the side of evil. I mean, what’s next? They might let negroes have the same rights as us! Can you imagine a negro marrying your daughter? I mean, it’s the devil’s work. Someone should pass a law against it and make it illegal, it’s not what god intended.

  12. w.ryan says:

    kudos to Flaglerlive. I hate the sag with the underwear showing. But so what! I’ve gotten past it knowing the double standard we have in this society about everything in the black and white, young and old. the educated and the working man. Does swimsuits offend? Rule of Law? It changes so much that its not credible. There is a law for everything and unfortunately usually politically motivated. Live and let live!

  13. aHorse WithaName says:

    Surprise no one mentioned in prison its a means of advertising your rear for sale
    With or with out a belt if you wore the proper sized pants they wouldnt sag

    Wither way come on its stupid, just come out wearing your underpants instead :)

    Funniest thing ever watch them run from the police while holding their pants up. Now thats funny right there.

  14. Joy says:

    Its just flat out disrespectful. To deliberately show your underwear to the public is akin to animals showing your their backside at the zoo. Don’t want to see it. I don’t care if you are purple with blue stripes, PULL YOUR PANTS UP.

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