Alabama City May Outlaw Sagging Pants, Short Skirts

By Kenrya Rankin Sep 16, 2015

Dadeville, Alabama, population 3,184, is a city-council vote away from banning its residents from wearing pants that sag below the hips. Councilperson Frank Goodman, who has been attempting to ban the style since 2008, recently proposed an ordinance that would outlaw the style, citing God’s will as his motivation.

“I prayed and asked God to show me what I should do, and the way I should go about it,” Goodman, 66, said in an interview with The Daily Beast. “What would God do? Did God go around doing this?” Goodman, who is black, continued: “[God] would show me this saggy pant—it’s one of the things He did not do. It is not in His orders to do that to gain eternal life.”

Sagging is a style that many say finds its roots in the American prison system, where it was a natural byproduct of offenders wearing ill-fitting garb in an environment where belts are forbidden. The story goes that it then moved to the outside world when they were released. But historians haven’t found evidence of a clear link. “I don’t think we can definitively say that sagging began in prisons,” Tanisha C. Ford, a historian at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who researches fashion told NPR.

What is true is that, for a time, sagging pants were part of some early-’90s hip-hop artists’ uniform, and many fans—and then the mainstream—quickly followed suit. Communities around the country have been attempting to outlaw it ever since, with legislation targeted at criminalizing the primarily young, black youth who adopted the style. The legal action has been mostly unsuccessful, with judicial challenges making quick work of the laws that actually garner enough support to pass. For example, a 2009 Riviera Beach, Florida, law was declared unconstitutional after a 17-year-old was arrested. More recently, also in Florida, city council members in Ocala passed a law last year that threatened jail time for wearing sagging pants on city property. It was repealed a month later, after the local NAACP threatened legal action the government.

President Barack Obama commented on the style back in 2008. “I think passing a law about people wearing sagging pants is a waste of time,” he told MTV News. “Having said that, brothers should pull up their pants. You’re walking by your mother, your grandmother, and your underwear is showing. … There are some issues that we face that you don’t have to pass a law [against], but that doesn’t mean folks can’t have some sense and some respect for other people. And, you know, some people might not want to see your underwear—I’m one of them.”

The folks in Dadeville think they can make a law stick. In fact, they are now looking to further regulate the dress of residents. At a meeting last week, councilperson Stephanie Kelley, also black, reportedly said that she wants to widen the ban to include short skirts and shorts. “My concern is that it should be for everybody. I think for girls, with these shorts up so high looking like undergarments and dresses so short, I don’t want us to be showing favoritism.”

The city’s attorney, Robin Reynolds, plans to have an ordinance penned in time for the next council meeting. “If the council wants me to write in something for the females—it will take a little more creativity on my part,” Reynolds said. Dadeville’s population is 47 percent black, and Goodman and Kelly are the only two African-American members of the city council. Reynolds is white.