Low-hanging pants are giving rise to new laws Chicago Tribune
Published Sunday, September 09, 2007
ATLANTA — Adrian Bustamante hasn’t given much thought to a city proposal to ban baggy pants. Regardless of whether officials decide to impose a fine for anyone caught with their pants hanging below their rear end, he has no plans to change his wardrobe, which largely consists of oversize T-shirts, body jewelry and saggy pants with the crotch dangling at his knees.
“It would be a stupid law,” said Bustamante, a21-year-old construction worker from suburban Norcross, Ga. “Young people like to be different than old people. Our clothes are an expression of who we are.”
For generations, teenagers have defied adults with their clothing. From zoot suits in the 1930s to the latest trend of low-hanging pants — a style inspired by prison inmates — teenage fashion has drawn the angst of adults who either just don’t get it or simply don’t like it.
Since the hip-hop music community adopted the “gangsta” style in the 1990s,it has quickly gained favor among young African-Americans, and, to a lesser extent, Hispanics such as Bustamante, Asians and whites.
But these days, adults are not just standing by shaking their heads. They are enacting laws to dictate what kids should wear, at least in public.
Last month, Atlanta became one of the largest cities to consider fining or jailing people for saggy pants. The Atlanta City Council is having hearings on a proposal by Councilman C.T. Martin to impose a civil penalty such as a fine for “the indecent exposure of his or her undergarments” in public.
That means young men no longer could wear their pants hanging off their hips, exposing their underwear. The law also could target women in pants cut low enough to reveal the strap of a thong, a style popularized in music videos.
While previous efforts to ban such styles in Virginia and Colorado have failed, a new crop of cities have either enacted laws or are considering them. Delcambre, La., a small town about 80 miles southwest of Baton Rouge, recently passed a ban with fines of up to $500 or six months in jail. Shreveport and Alexandria have passed similar ordinances.
Delcambre Mayor Carol Broussard said the ordinance passed in June received overwhelming support from residents. So far, there have been no violators, Broussard said.
“It was getting to the point of why the hell wear pants? Forget about the pants and leave them at home,” Broussard said. “I hope this is the right thing. If it’s guidance these guys and girls need, hopefully we are helping them out by saying, ‘We don’t want to see your underwear, so pull your pants up.’ ”
Some public schools have addressed the issue through dress codes. Indianapolis Public Schools, for example, instituted a new policy this year banning jeans, saggy pants and shirts that reveal midriffs. Students must wear solid-colored pants, belts and shirts with collars.
While there have been no court cases to test laws banning hip-hop clothing, the ordinances are a violation of the First Amendment, according to Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.
“On the very face of it, it’s unconstitutional,” said Seagraves. “It has chosen one form of dress and singled it out to criminalize it. This is clearly a violation of freedom of expression.”