by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
October 23, 2007
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- If you feel compelled to say something to a kid about the way he is dressed and the way you feel about baggy, droopy, oversized, indecent and downright ugly pants, be ready with a smart come-back of your own when he sneers, "is there a law against it?"
"Yes, there is a law against it," you can say with confidence and firm conviction that you are within your rights to complain. That is, if you live in one of the growing number of states banning the exposure of underwear as the beltless pants wearers stroll malls and city streets. The laws even go so far as to say exposing the label on the boxer shorts is as far as the boys can go.
Laws are being drafted just when the styles are finally changing. The fashion statements being made by the age group favoring baggy pants are not new. At that age, kids want to be "different," recognizable to each other as cool and just when they all get with it and look alike - well, it's not cool anymore.
The pendulum is about to swing. Early Saturday evening I was driving on a main street in Brunswick, Georgia. There were still a few pedestrians window-shopping and in this predominantly African American city, it was usual that grownups and teens alike were Black.
I was stopped at a red light and noticed two young men ambling along, each wearing baggy pants and extra long tee shirts with a sports logo on the front. The one nearest the curb had pulled his shirt aside and was holding up his pants as he nonchalantly carried on his conversation.
If there were one thing you can say in favor of this style it would be to realize it is not threatening. Rest assured, the really bad guys are wearing belts. There is no way someone dressed the way these city strollers were could carry a gun, let alone reach for one. Or, hide a knife, for that matter. They couldn't grab your purse and run - and, certainly not would they be able to scale a fence without losing their, ahem, "dignity."
We may laugh at the outcome of a police arrest in Louisiana, where a young, baggy-panted car jacker who beat the driver with a brick, was able to avoid capture until his street smarts ran out. He was spotted by a policeman who called for backup. Three officers came at the suspect from different directions. He might have dodged capture again but his pants dropped to the ground and he fell to his knees.
"We literally caught him with his pants down," a local police lieutenant told reporters.
For about 40 years now, Americans are identified around the world as being the ones in blue jeans. The baggy pants are usually worn by African-American kids and came out of the music world of hip-hop and rap, led by predominantly black artists. Music-loving teens of all races want that distinctiveness and there is nothing wrong in seeking identity, togetherness, and recognition. As a matter of fact, baggy pants are not the first time something outrageous by community standards made such a strong impact. In 1942, the Zoot Suit was the favored style.
It was wartime and although I wasn't aware of how far reaching the fashion went, it was the topic of conversation everywhere. The cuffs on the wide pants were nipped in at the ankle, prompting comedians to say things like, "Did you hear about the zoot-suiter who had to butter his feet so he could slide into his pants?"
We saw the fashion being worn by Duke Ellington on stage at the Paramount Theater, Sammy Davis, Jr. just starting out as opening act for Frank Sinatra at the Capital Theater, Cab Calloway - known as the Man in the Zoot Suit with the Reet Pleats." Even Al Capp, creator of "L'il Abner" put a zoot suit on one of the Yokums. We laughed at the wide-shoulders on the suit jackets, the skinny ankles below bloused-out trousers, wide-brimmed, royal blue or purple and red fedoras.
What I didn't know then but came across recently was that there was a Zoot Suit Riot in downtown Los Angeles involving some drunken sailors who came upon some innocent Mexican-Americans who had adopted the style. It was not a case of rules banning the style, as they're trying to do with baggy pants; instead, those wearing zoot suits were attacked.
One of the sailors on leave got into it and was badly injured; then, 50 sailors made their way to the center of the Mexican-American community, where the most serious rioting occurred. Police intervened, arrested the Mexican-Americans for disturbing the peace, and MPs took the sailors to the brig. In June, Los Angeles was made off-limits to all military personnel.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt commented, "The question goes deeper than just [zoot] suits. It is a racial protest. I have been worried for a long time about the Mexican racial situation. It is a problem with roots going a long way back, and we do not always face these problems as we should."
Mrs. Roosevelt saw the problem as going a long way back. She spoke those words over 65 years ago; how far back did her thoughts go at the time? She said, "we do not always face these problems as we should." I guess she didn't want to stir up controversy in the middle of a war. After all, the roots went way back then - and further back now.
We have the platitudes all ready: "the more things change, the more they remain the same," "this too shall pass away," or, my favorite: "what's it going to matter a hundred years from today?"
This is not a case of déjà vu - not even Yogi Berra's "déjà vu all over again;" this is déjà vu "still."