Baggy Pants: A Democratic Outrage.

Posted: September 30, 2013 in Uncategorized
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By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

I had a strange realization last quarter.  I was in my American History course, and I just mentioned in passing, apropos of nothing, that people get far too outraged at young men wearing baggy, low hanging pants.  To my surprise, my teenager/twenty-something students started to complain about the droopy trouser fashion in the gallery_1_1_11337 (1)exact same language as most octogenarians. I think some may have even muttered something about ‘kids these days’. I felt as though I was surrounded by cooler, younger Abe Simpsons, waving their fists at passing clouds.

I wouldn’t say this was the first time I have noticed this unexpected phenomenon.  I have heard students before speak of loose-fitting slacks in negative terms.  But, as I looked around the room this time, realizing the ethnic and racial diversity of a 40 person class at Robert Morris University, I was struck at the different characters reviling the fashion in a similar….well….fashion.  White, African-American, Latino, Asian, young, old, male, female; a small majority of the class had the same negative opinion when it came to baggy pants.

My mind started to wander.  As I checked in on social media in the days and weeks after this particular course last quarter, I saw a handful of memes posted by extremely different Facebook ‘friends’ that were supposed to be funny, but obviously masked a severe outrage and hatred concerning young men’s pants.  Again, the strangely divergent backgrounds of the people posting about an innocuous fashion trend struck me.  Old and young; white and black; urban and rural; educated and not-all-that-educated; men and women; northerner and southerner; liberal and conservative; religious and secular.  They all agreed on a topic.

It hit me! The outrage about baggy pants is pluralistically democratic.  I can’t think of any other social topic that a broader range of divergent people agree upon.

Ironically, I think this outrage is backfiring.  If these people want to get rid of the baggy pant look, they may be more advised to start practicing it themselves.   Most other youth fads, whether it be music, movies, language, or fashion, lose their revolutionary chops when less rebellious populations co-opt them.  As soon as mom and dad start to listen to rock and roll, rock and roll is dead. Along comes punk, and mom and dad are outraged. Long live rock and roll.

The baggy pant fashion has never been co-opted by mainstream society, and it probably never will. Perhaps this is why the baggy pant look is a freakishly long youth fashion trend.  The best I can figure, the look began around 20 years ago, gaining its first full-throated pop culture critique from Alicia Silverstone’s character in the film ‘Clueless’.  See this clip:

Such long lasting outrage raises two big question.  First, what upsets people so much about this fashion choice?  Is it the ‘sloppiness’ of the look, as Alicia Silverstone points out in that clip?  Or, is there something more sinister?  Is racial bias tied up in the disdain as well?

I am going to avoid this query, since I think each person who hates baggy pants has their own reason, and to pigeonhole anyone‘s particular feelings is unfair.

The second question is more intriguing, and, I believe, more important.  Why are people so outraged with another’s pants, all the while ignoring much more outrageous social ills? I will take up that troubling question in next week’s blog post.


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