How Low Can You Go?
For some three or four seasons now — or approximately two years in layman’s terms, the fashion industry has had an unhealthy obsession touting THE RETURN OF THE '90s [read: minimalism, clogs, crop tops, grunge, punk, supermodels, full eyebrows, ornately embellished Versace pre '97, Birkenstocks, et al] and declaring anything remotely off the beaten path “edgy,” “downtown,” “high/low” or “street.”
The sudden rise of parody apparel spoofing storied French mega-labels, namely snap back caps and cotton sweatshirts that read Homiès South Central (Hermès Paris), Cuntier (Cartier), Féline (Céline), and BALLIN' (Balmain) as seen on many a blogger and/or street style fixture, has only catapulted the “street” aspect into the new-vintage stratosphere circa early '90s gangsta rap territory à la N.W.A. of “F*ck Tha Police” fame. Luckily, for those looking to pick up some last minute A…for attitude*, there's always sagging.
Originated in prisons across America, where inmates' belts are often taken away to prevent prisoners from using them as weapons or committing suicide by hanging, the practice of sagging was later adapted and made popular by pioneering members of '90s counterculture and became a mainstay of the “urban” scene for over a decade or two. (Roughly around the time Diddy, Jay Z and Kanye decided to step up their fashion game — black James Bond, all fitted everything, leather meggings/kilts, respectively).
The aforementioned early '90s gangsta rap acts (and real-life gang members, many of whom had actually spent time in prison), all baggy pants, dark sunglasses and gold chains, wore low-slung trousers to denote time spent behind bars to increase their roughneck curb appeal among peers. Wearing one's pants a couple of inches below the natural waist was also used as a tool by misunderstood youth to broadcast separation from the very groups, mainstream society and aggressive law enforcement officials that made it their business to target young men of color, they felt rejected and disengaged.
Fast forward approximately twenty years, past the “Friday,” Barbershop” and “Are We There Yet?” movie franchises, past the gotta-have-'em-now Beats by Dre headphones. The thinly-veiled “ghetto” style, once reserved exclusively for urban neighborhoods and its inhabitants — vehemently eschewed by many an aspirational yuppie [or buppie] with a Beemer, SAAB or Subaru and a preppy handbook close at hand — is having a grand resurgence.
While sagging has taken on various iterations through the late nineties, none have been as obvious or uncompromisingly suggestive as the tumbling trouser crisis plaguing society, otherwise known as #Sag2pointO: pants worn way below the belt, where the lowest point of curvature of one’s backside meet’s the uppermost part of the thigh. And at times even lower, letting the world know exactly what’s between you and your (fill in preferred poly-blend three-pack brand of the day).
Gone are the days of a subtly provocative slither of Kate Moss and Mark Wahlberg's [né Marky Mark] carefree-casual crisp white Calvin Klein undies and washboard abs splashed across billboards outside Westside Pavilion. Gone are the days of TLC's Technicolor boxers festooned with popular cartoon characters peeking from the sides of denim dungarees and other nefarious denim-on-denim ensembles.
Gone are the days of Gwen Stefani's (circa early No Doubt) and the late R&B diva Aaliyah's two or three inches below the natural waist meant to excite and expose the aggressively logo-ridden elastic waistband of designer cotton underwear. Gone are the days of Tommy Hilfiger button-downs covered in regatta-inspired embroidered patches expertly half-tucked into perfectly pressed Marithé + François Girbaud jeans to show one's sartorial flair and impressive, mile-long braided belt in hip-hop dance/“flow” circles. No.
The New Sag is not a nostalgic nod or wink to Alexander McQueen's now iconic “bumsters” circa '96, which gave way to it's Britney bitch low-rise everything during the early aughts, nor is it Bruce Weber's homoerotic Abercrombie & Fitch crew or Kid n' Play's House Party; it's full-on Full Monty.
#Sag2pointO is a nouveau, tongue-in-cheek, faux-street/luxe-hood or “ratchet” aesthetic re-mixed and co-opted by, most surprisingly, hipsters and trustifarians, alike. A few fashion heavyweights and some of Hollywood and pop music's elite — Givenchy, Chanel, Thom Browne, Comme des Garçons and Junya Wantanabe — have all introduced double-decker or trompe l'oeil pant styles for men and women to create the illusion of sagging. Golden goddess Gwyneth doesn't sag per se, but there's the New York Yankee fitted baseball cap recommended to GOOP shoppers and the heavy gold chain her son Moses wears to “look like Uncle Jay,” as in Z. And then, of course, there's @BadGalRiRi [if you dare, see: Instagram, Twitter,Vogue.com, Us Weekly, etc].
But are popular micro-blogging and photo sharing social media services like Twitter and Instagram to blame? Perhaps. The studio system with its heavy-handed PRs and ironfisted studio execs is all but extinct. Rambunctious and rebellious nobodies from middle-of-nowhere-USA cum highly desirable somebodies, ever-primped and preened and camera-ready after undergoing Pygmalion-like transformations, now have the power to show the world they're just like us, even if it is a put-on aesthetic foreign and far removed from their new (or original) lives.
With the simple push of a literal or figurative button, it seems every other popular performer — including its most egregious offender(s), Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber and his on-again-off-again “swagger coach” — is letting it all hang out on the stage and on the pages of glossy magazines. But as with most fashion trends, which came first, the street or the runway/music video/stage?
It is no surprise the streets of NYC are flooded with boys (and a few very brave girls) in nearly ubiquitous saggy, draggy, baggy (or slim fit, but still low as a chariot) trousers. New York City wouldn't be New York City if there weren't young people in semi-controversial, somewhat questionable garb. But sagging: how does one run, let alone walk, unobstructed in skin-tight skinny jeans?
Skinny jeans with a more-than-dropped dropped crotch? Where the actual waistband is situated well below said crotch? How does the old saying go? Oh, yes. NO ONE WANTS TO SEE YOUR ROBUST DERRIER AND UNFORTUNATE-LOOKING NEON LYCRA UNDERWEAR. The constant tugging and pulling-up these trend-setters exhibit just short of dropping trou is not unlike any otherwise bland CW starlet attempting to *werq* her first major red carpet in what is likely her first strapless (borrowed) gown, all while making a conscious effort to avoid a potential wardrobe malfunction: sad and sadder.
Today's sagging trend was first (indirectly) documented in the summer of 2008 by The New York Times' Bill Cunningham, the grandfather of street style, in an “On The Street” flickering-image piece titled “Cinched.” Mr. Cunningham, in his never-ending quest to document emerging trends on the colorful streets of New York City, set out to capture young men—many in the photo gallery African American and Latino, “but it's the white kids, too; they're coming in from the suburbs and the pants are falling down” — and their affinity for bling-y, bedecked and bedazzled belts holding up “the trousers that defy gravity.”
Mr. Cunningham observed that not unlike The Great Depression, when women's dropped hemlines reflected the downward spiral of the stock market, the trend of men's trousers sinking lower and lower could be an economic forecast for millennials. (It's worth noting the story ran in June, a few short months before the height of the Global Financial Crisis.)
The famed photographer remarked, “how these trousers don't fall…I have waited and thought, 'Oh, my God, I'm gonna get one right now, his pants are gonna fall off!' And it hasn't happened. It's just terrible. I've waited and waited.” However enjoyable Mr. Cunningham's bright observations, insightful commentary on the full-moon aspect of the looks was all but overlooked, if not intentionally ignored, not to ignite yet another debate on the insidious social politics of dressing.
But the politics of dressing cannot be ignored. And in this particular instance, social codes and implications of style must not be ignored for we now know the importance of perception and direct correlation to one's attire in or out of school, the workplace, or on- or off-duty [see: national unemployment rate v. unemployment rate for young black men under 35; Stop and Frisk, NYC edition; Florida v. Zimmerman].
Saggy Gate: is it a less than subtle style note? Is it a subliminal, yet more revealing, cry for help from a new generation of marginalized young men (and again, those very few, very confused/confusing young women)? Perhaps it's simply another tactic for insatiable attention seekers with too much time not much else to say or do (looking at you, Miley). Is it the misappropriation of a trend without historical context because 'hood is cute' for a privileged few, including the “Brahs of Tumblr”?
Or are otherwise heterosexual–looking young men on-the-down-low attempting to pass as straight and appear “hard” while exclaiming “no-homo” in public while exciting mild titillation around the nether region out of a deeper curiosity or purely for one's own self-pleasure? Or maybe the “macho” allure is intended to catch the eye of a knowing potential suitor also seeking discretion? Talk about a half-, or rather whole-assed attempt.
*N.W.A. (N*ggaz Wit Attitudes): seminal ’90s rap group formed by Dr. Dre, Ice Cube. Eazy E, DJ Yella and MC Ren.
Teddy Tinson | Elite.
Top Photo Credit: Getty Images