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For some, sagging pants carry greater meaning

By Shahid Abdul-Karim New Haven Register | 7/18/2014, 11:12 a.m.
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - Sag is swag if you ask some young people.
In this photo taken June 10, 2014, Trevor Smith, front, and Justin McClendon pose for a photo wearing their sagging, baggy pants as a fashion statement in New Haven, Conn. Opinions vary on the origin of the sagging pants movement. While some see them as a fashion statement, others say it perpetuates racial stereotypes, or could lead to health complications based on the way it can force wearers to walk. (AP Photo/New Haven Register, Peter Casolino)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - Sag is swag if you ask some young people.

For Trevor Smith, saggin’ pants are merely a fashion statement.

Others, however, worry that it perpetuates racial stereotypes, may have roots as a gay male signal and could lead to health complications based on the way it can force wearers to walk.

But Smith, 18, a student at Gateway Community College, said, “It’s just fashion for us. Everyone has a different look at it and some people don’t know how to go with the changing times.’’

“We know the meaning of the pants saggin’ years ago; it’s changing now,’’ he said. “We don’t focus on what it meant back in the day or the negative, we wear it as part of our swag or expression.’’

Opinions vary on the origin of the sagging pants movement.

Some contend that it sprang up because belts were not allowed in prison - to prevent self-harm, while some believe blacks who were enslaved were denied belts for fear they would aid in escape.

“The saggin’ started in the prison where inmates couldn’t wear belts, but in jail culture things started to transcend,’’ said community activist Leonard Jahad, the state’s top New Haven probation supervisor,

“The left pant leg rolled up meant you’re in a certain gang and both pant legs rolled up meant something else,” Jahad said. “When pants are down like the kids wear on the streets, in prison, it means you are available to the next man for sexual activity.’’

Smith, who’s also entertainment director of the youth development organization Ice the Beef, said he and his peers don’t view the sagging pants as a sexual signal, or anything more than a style choice.

“We’re not saggin’ our pants to be disrespectful. Nobody says anything when people wear short jean skirts; no one cares,’’ he said. “It’s no different when our mothers and grandmothers wear the big hats to church. It’s fashion for them and the sag is our fashion.’’

Smith acknowledged that some of his peers who wear sagging pants go to the extreme.

“Some of us do take it to the max, but it’s not like it’s to the ankles,’’ Smith said.

“It’s part of black culture now, but whites and Puerto Ricans wear the sag, too,’’ he said.

Several white male youth who wear their pants sagging were interviewed for the story. All declined be identified.

However, they agreed it’s purely a fashion expression and a way to be connected to their black peers.

Jason Jacobs, 15, who has been wearing the sagging style since he was 9, said he wore it for the wrong reasons.

“When I first started doing it, I did it so I could stuff things into my pants, now it’s a trend everyone does,’’ Jason said.

“I don’t do it all the time like I use to; it was a big with me at one point,’’ he said. “I’m trying to stop the sag, because I want to be different now.’’