TRENTON, N.J. -- The fashion first took hold in American prisons, where inmates aren't given belts with their baggy uniform pants to prevent hangings and beatings. By the late 80s, the trend had made it to gangster rap videos, then skateboarders in the suburbs and on to high school hallways.
Now, wearing your pants low enough to show your boxers or bare buttocks in a small town in Louisiana could get you six months in jail and a $500 fine. Laws banning sagging pants are also being pushed hard in Atlanta, and in Trenton, where a first bust for low-riding trousers could soon mean an assessment by a city worker on where your life is going.
"Are they employed? Do they have a high school diploma? It's a wonderful way to redirect at that point," said Trenton Councilwoman Annette Lartigue, who is drafting a law to outlaw saggy pants. "The message is clear: we don't want to see your backside."
The Trenton law could come up for a vote as soon as October, Lartigue said.
Those who sag their pants see it as a form of urban expression and hip hop rebellion. Those who want to stop them see it as an indecent, sloppy trend that is a bad influence on children.
"It has the potential to catch on with elementary school kids, and we want to stop it before it gets there," said C.T. Martin, an Atlanta councilman. "Teachers have raised questions about what a distraction it is."
In Atlanta, a law has been introduced to ban sagging and punishment could include small fines or community work -- but no jail time, Martin said.
"How can you clean up and hold a job with one hand holding your britches up?" asked Martin. "We've got to do something. Some of them wear them so low in the front that their organs will show."
The penalty is stiffer in Delcambre, La., where in June the town council passed an ordinance that carries a fine of up to $500 or six months in jail for exposing underwear in public. Several other municipalities and parish governments in Louisiana have enacted similar laws in recent months.
Trenton's Lartigue says a second offense could be a $250 fine and a third could dent your wallet for $500. That goes for girls, too, who Lartigue says wear "lowriders" that "expose their thongs."
At Trenton hip hop clothing store Razor Sharp Clothing Shop 4 Ballers, shopper Mark Wise, 30, said his jeans sag for practical reasons.
"The reason I don't wear tight pants is because it's easier to get money out of my pocket this way," Wise said. "It's just more comfortable."
Shop owner Mack Murray said Trenton's proposed ordinance unfairly targets Blacks.
"Are they going to go after construction workers and plumbers, because their pants sag, too?" Murray asked. "They're stereotyping us."
The American Civil Liberties Union agrees.
"In Atlanta, we see this as racial profiling," said Benetta Standly, statewide organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. "It's going to target African American male youths. There's a fear with people associating the way you dress with crimes being committed."
Adrian "Easy A.D." Harris, 43, a founding member of the Bronx's legendary old school rap group Cold Crush Brothers, said the saggy pants trend started in the late '80s, spilling out from U.S. prisons to its ghettos.
"For young people, it's a form of rebellion and identity," Harris said. "The young people think it's fashionable. They don't think it's negative."
--The Associated Press