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Last Updated: Monday, 18 June 2007, 08:56 GMT 09:56 UK
The strong waistband of the law
By Patrick Jackson
BBC News

The subtleties of "sagging"

As one US town outlaws the public wearing of overly revealing leg wear, some believe that visible underpants should be left to the fashion police alone.

The crackdown on exposed boxer shorts and protruding bare bottoms in Delcambre, Louisiana, has brought a legal dimension to a view of public decency in the Western world usually confined to school regulations.

A similar bid for a state-wide ban was thrown out by Louisiana three years ago but a 2005 bill in Virginia managed to clear the lower house of America's oldest legislative body.

It was then killed off by the Virginia senate amid national ridicule including jokes about a "Boxers Rebellion".

Showing undergarments is always seen as being rude or obscene purely because there is another layer of clothing on top
Andrew Groves
fashion designer

Now, however, anyone upset by the underpants of strangers can be confident that at least in Delcambre, population 2,000, offenders face a fine of $500 (254) and even six months in jail.

But are low-slung trousers already an endangered species?

Saggies and trackies

"It's bizarre because in fashion we've stopped wearing those baggy jeans," says fashion designer Andrew Groves, who heads the University of Westminster's fashion department.

FAMOUS FASHION FURORES
"Prince Igor", a Christian Dior New Look design from 1947
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Dior's New Look, 1947: Enraged by the extravagance of a tight-waist, full-skirt dress amid austerity, women ripped them off their wearers in the streets of Paris

"They're getting worked up 15 years too late about something that is probably quite dying out," he told the BBC News website.

For the London college's graduate fashion week, he recalls, every model who turned up for casting arrived in tight, skinny jeans "and the models always wear the latest look".

However, street fashion and high fashion are two different things, Groves stresses, and if the baggies often slip, they have never quite come off for some.

The loose style seems to have been copied initially from US prisons where inmates are not given belts as a precaution against hanging. Rappers picked up the look, the fans followed suit.

Groves compares this to a recent fashion among gangs of adolescent boys in north-west England who wore tracksuit bottoms tucked into their socks.

"That also comes from prison when people used to hide contraband in their trouser bottoms and socks so that it wouldn't fall out," he says.

The "saggy" phenomenon is "definitely about peer pressure", says fashion stylist Reyes Lora, who leads projects at London-based educational charity Fashion Awareness Direct (Fad).

"It's about what's in the shops, the magazines and the music videos."

It may also, she told the BBC News website, be about "men going towards the more feminine look and I think that has to do with how much they show..."

The person beneath

The issue of exposing bare flesh has less to do with low-slung baggies than low-rise jeans, the "rise" being the technical term for the crotch-waist measurement.

We are not trying to dictate a fashion ourselves but only reminding people that they are dressing a person
Reyes Lora
project director, Fashion Awareness Direct

Andrew Groves is shocked to see women still displaying their G-strings in the street.

"You can really see that still happens, but just because it's prevalent, is it cool?" he asks.

"You can't get away from the fact that it is sexual but you'll be walking down the street and you'll see somebody with the whole of their bum sticking out of their jeans and you just think it's so extreme."

While for most young men in saggies, the issue is attention not attraction, revealing trousers on a girl have different connotations and may send out the wrong message, says Lora.

Through workshops and competitions, Fad promotes original fashion among young people, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"You have people thinking that they have to sell themselves or be provocative or shocking and we want to encourage them to project more than this fake image," says the stylist.

"We seek to show the other, attractive, creative side of fashion, which is about clothes people are happy to wear, not peer pressure or what designers dictate.

"We are not trying to dictate a fashion ourselves but only reminding people that they are dressing a person."

One man's underpants...

What Andrew Groves finds funny about the saggy saga in the US is the way underwear can offend depending on the context.

Are we confusing fashion with fascism here?
foxtrottango1, Rincon, New Mexico
BBC News website reader

"If we are talking about exposing boxer shorts, you can take that back into mainstream fashion history," he says.

"You have Vivienne Westwood using corsets and undergarments as outer garments in the early 1980s and then Jean-Paul Gaultier using conical bras.

"Showing undergarments is always seen as being rude or obscene purely because there is another layer of clothing on top.

"If someone just had a swimsuit on you wouldn't think that was necessarily obscene."

Any legislation seeking to control people via their clothing is always doomed to failure, the fashion designer believes.

"People just adapt their clothing to make another gesture that is more obscene or more anti-establishment," he says.

"Ultimately this is about young people annoying older people, and older people annoying them back."


SEE ALSO
US town set to ban saggy trousers
14 Jun 07 |  Americas
Virginia drops droopy pants bill
11 Feb 05 |  Americas
Underwear becomes a prison issue
28 Feb 07 |  Scotland
South: Hoodies and anoraks
12 Nov 05 |  England

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