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)

Jason said black youth started the trend and believes “white boys have picked up on it to be like us.’’

City resident Ronald Huggins, 22, who does not agree with the sagging fashion, said he believes the black community is the hub for style and fashion for other ethnic groups.

“We’re the brainchild for a lot of things and if we only realized the influence and the amount of power we have to produce positive things, we’d be setting records all over the world,’’ said Huggins, a Southern Connecticut State University graduate who aspires to be mayor of New Haven.

“If we can just get ourselves together, we can affect the nation and generations to come,’’ he said.

The fashion has created a way of life for some who identify with the hip-hop community.

New Haven hip-hop and graffiti artist Dooley-O Jackson said hip-hop introduced the style to mainstream society because youth had no other options to express themselves.

“(Some) adults wear suits and kids wore tight shorts, so hip-hop broke the standard rules of dressing,’’ said Jackson, 44, who started rapping in the late 1980s.

Differentiating rap music from hip-hop culture, Jackson said, “Rap never had its own fashion, it’s always been hip-hop.

“Pants hanging off your bottom is something that came from jail,’’ he said. “When hip hop at its worst had no new swag, except jailhouse rock clothing, the youth adopted it.’’

According to hiphop-network.com, in the early 1970s the musical genre was born in the crime-ridden neighborhoods of the South Bronx.

Fashion statement or not, some towns across the country have decided sag is not swag. In New Jersey, two towns have passed ordinances banning sagging pants, and other towns have considered or adopted similar measures.

Penns Grove and Wildwood are issuing fines of $25 on first offense.

On further offenses, fines could climb to $1,000, as well as potential community service hours.

But state Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, said creating a law on the issue is a waste of time.

“No one in the House or Senate has raised the issue. Different cities in the state talked about it last year, but nothing came from it,’’ said Holder-Winfield.

“Personally, I think it’s a sloppy fashion and adds to the negative perception of black youth; it needs to be done away with.’’ he said.

Jahad said from a law enforcement perspective, he sees it as similar to the broken window theory - which posits that addressing issues such as vandalism in neighborhoods helps address larger issues.

“It’s like a quality-of-life crime, it’s seen as if your pants are down, you’re not motivated, you don’t have a job and don’t care about yourself,’’ Jahad said.

“This is a community accountability issue, but when we can’t police ourselves, law enforcement steps in,’’ he said.

Jahad believes race does play a factor when it comes to law enforcement stereotypes.

“Skateboarders and hipsters wear their pants saggy, but they’re not seen as anti-establishment,’’ he said. “For our kids, law enforcement is looking at it like it’s criminal.’’