Irrefutable Black Truth #1: Ex-cons started the saggin' jean thing.

Resolved: “The low-slung style was inspired by the beltless pants worn by prison inmates. It spread through the hip-hop music community to urban neighborhoods and then to the suburbs. The style is predominantly worn by black youth.”

Somehow, this has become an irrefutable black truth. Just ask David Bositis, a senior political analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank that focuses on issues related to black Americans. The quote above can be attributed to him.

A USA Today article published in October 2007 reported on various proposed or passed bans on the baggy pant in eight U.S. states. That’s right, folks. Local law enforcement is gradually receiving carte blanche to start ticketing and fining folks for not wearing their pants “properly.” The article asserts, “The movement is fueled by growing worries among lawmakers that sloppy dress by America’s youth could be related, no matter how indirectly, to delinquency, poor learning and crime.”

And while that’s pretty offensive and egregious, considering that even though a significant number of Whites in both urban areas and suburbs sag too, it’s obvious “lawmakers” are after the African-American with this one, we’re a little more disturbed by Bositis’ claim above, as well as Atlanta City Councilman C.T. Martin’s quote: ‘”Bill Cosby started this conversation, and we let him down,” Martin says, referring to the comedian’s controversial criticism of the parenting skills, grammar and values of poor blacks.’

Reporter Laura Parker also adds that Martin, “says he’s trying to raise standards and instill values in today’s youth.”

Here are the problem points:

A.) When are we going to come up with some sort of substantiated source proving concretely and definitively that the “low-slung pant” is a trend that originated in prison, instead of just passing it around as common knowledge and making everyone believe that all the brothers who wear their pants this way are either ex-cons or aspiring to future convictions? This simply doesn’t seem true, and it’s its own brand of racial profiling/stereotyping.

And since we’re calling for proof, we have to wonder how one would go about proving the validity of that information. How do you support the hypothesis that some dudes had beltless pants in jail, got released, still wanted to wear their pants that way, and subsequently started a decades-long phenomenon?

Who’s to say that there aren’t other reasons why men (and some women) would rather wear their jeans around their thighs instead of at their natural waists besides a solidarity to the “brothers doin’ bids?” If you have worn your pants this way (or still do), we really want to hear from you. Post a comment, stating your motivation.

B.) It’s baffling that Councilman Martin and Bill Cosby would attribute something as superficial as how people wear their pants to a lack of values and low standards. If a person’s fashion choices were a reflection on their morality and ethics, then all the celebrities profiled at GoFugYourself would be sociopaths.

When are we going to stop spreading anecdotal misinformation? Look where it leads. Eight states are in the process of implementing these bans. Eight. That means that more than 1/6 of this country has adopted this “baggy pants mean former or future criminality” logic. That’s serious, people.

It’s also cautionary.


slb (aka Stacia L. Brown) is a writer, mother, and college instructor in Baltimore, MD. Check her out here: and here:
  • ari

    Do you have any evidence that the low-slung look didn’t originate with cons? Because the burden of proof is on you. You’re just a blogger. And African-American (I may assume too much). Plus prison is cool.

    Honestly, if I didn’t think it would completely tarnish your brand, I’d like to every single post you guys put up. You’re that good.

  • ari

    Holy crap! Talk about screwing up your brand. I need a new avatar. I’ll leave now.

  • I completely missed the Bill Cosby reference in this post. How did this man manage to become part of every conversation about black issues? It’s insane.

    Ari – Thanks for the compliment, man.

  • Even if it did start in prison (and like you said that idea has no proof behind it) at home it became a fashion because of rap music.

    That make it one of thousands of fashion fads spread because of music. How come this is the one that gets so much attention?

    That said, as someone who has to buy jeans at least a size bigger than my waist for them to fit in a manner that won’t make me look like a male stripper, I wonder if there’s a more practical reason for the beginning of the trend

  • Tabitha

    which states have bans? i’d like to go there, rock really baggy jeans, get arrested and take my fight all the way to the supreme court… i’ve dreamed of taking a fight to the supreme court. seriously though folks, this is why black ppl complain about ‘the man.’ our state legislatures have nothing better to do than pass laws that specifically target a FASHION dominant in our culture b/c it intimidates good upstanding white folk? surely something else deserves regulating.

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  • Absolute Hogwash. Regardless of who started the trend, why should it matter how a person choses to wear their pants? I don’t buy you’re clothes so why should I be concerned with what you chose to wear? We all can’t dress as if we grew up in the mid to late 1940’s.

  • narmsn

    nice rap wooooooooooooooooooooooooow

  • GJ

    I’ve worked in the prison system for over 10 years and take my word for it…the baggy pants fashion is directly related to the fact that prison clothing DO NOT have zippers, button or belts and sizes are pretty much “one size fits all.” The eternal journey to be perceived as “cool” constantly leads each generation to wear, talk, act and do many things that are very strange to say the least. Why do we cover ourselves with tattoo’s or pierce parts of our bodies? Rings on our fingers and toes or gold teeth (grills)? Why do we smoke cigarettes or decide that crystal meth sounds like fun? Face it folks…we’re not very smart and although we’re often warned beforehand, most of our lessons come the hard way. As for short sighted people like “brran1” society must constantly “reel in” actions and events that clearly show no redeeming value or borders on being offensive. We constantly push the limits of every endeavor and so people cannot be allowed to “do whatever they please”. Civility is a word that many people need to look up in their dictionary, and perhaps think twice the next time you’re letting the “F” bomb fly in a crowded local restaurant.