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Banning Saggy Pants and Controlling Public Spaces

Wildwood, N.J. has joined the ranks of more than 20 cities in America that have banned saggy pants.

The gateway to the Wildwood, N.J. boardwalk. Credit: Diane Hamilton

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Since 2004 more than 20 cities, counties or parishes in the nation have outlawed “saggy pants” (for a primer on what those are, check this song). Now Wildwood, N.J., a throwback beach vacation mecca on the Jersey Shore, has become the most recent town to join the ranks of these droopy-drawer-free zones.

Wildwood’s ban of saggy pants on its heavily touristed boardwalk passed into law last week, prompting a debate about how much authority local officials have in telling young people how to dress. Rappers such as The Game, Bizzy Bone (of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony) and Mac Miller have spoken out against what they see as discriminatory, racialized undertones in the ban.

A prominent view of saggy pants on Detroit’s Gratiot Avenue, just what Wildwood doesn’t want. Credit: Bryan Hawkins. Click through to his website.

In fact, many officials freely admit that a distaste for hip hop culture and style motivate their efforts to do away with saggy pants. As Russel Hornsby, a councilmember from Louisiana’s Terrebonne Parish, said of his locality’s saggy pants ban, “hopefully, it’ll get these young men to pull up their pants… The problem is our young men are emulating prisoners. It sends a sign that you’re available for sex. It’s a bad example to set.”

The associations between delinquency and appearance have long been at the heart of efforts to control dress, as well as fears about racial profiling. Laws against saggy pants recall the legislation leading up to the Zoot Suit Riots, raising questions about profiling, harassment and who can and cannot use public spaces.

The heavily touristed Wildwood boardwalk. Credit: Katia Striek

A family on the Wildwood boardwalk. Credit: Flickr user BartNJ

There’s also the matter of the Constitution. The American Civil Liberties Union has consistently opposed these bans, emphasizing their violation of the 14th amendment. A 2008 case in Rivera Beach, Fla. ruled the local saggy pants ban unconstitutional.

So on the one hand, we have arguments about creating safe spaces where citizens, and particularly families, can go without feeling threatened. On the other, we have arguments about the importance of upholding not only free speech and expression, but the freedom to enjoy public spaces regardless of appearance.

The mayor of Wildwood describes his city’s law as a tool that “will help the city take the boardwalk back.” Back from whom?

Below, we have a list of states where cities or counties have passed or proposed their own saggy pants bans.

  • New Jersey (Wildwood, Seaside Heights)
  • Louisiana (Terrebonne Parish, Lafourche Parish, Shreveport, Mansfield, Delcambre and proposed statewide)
  • Illinois (North Lawndale, Lynwood, Sauk Village, Evanston
  • Georgia (Suburbs of Atlanta, Albany)
  • Michigan (Suburbs of Detroit)
  • Florida (Miami, Jacksonville, Cocoa, Riviera Beach)
  • Missouri (Collinsville)
  • Alabama (Montgomery County)
  • Texas (Fort Worth)
  • Ohio (East Cleveland)
  • Virginia (proposed statewide)

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Tags: arts and culturepublic spaceracenew jersey

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