LENA MITCHELL: Saggy pants not an issue for municipal law

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

This is Father’s Day, and today’s Sunday Journal includes several essays by my fellow journalists in tribute to their fathers.
I chose not to write a Father’s Day essay, but instead talk about something I wish responsible fathers – and male role models in general – could influence in a positive way.
Earlier this month Saltillo passed an ordinance banning certain indecent acts, most notably the wearing of saggy pants. Last month it was Columbus, and in February Tupelo.
I expect a poll would show that an overwhelming majority of people don’t like the style in which pants are worn so low on the hips or buttocks that several inches of skin below the waist or underwear is visible. This fashion statement is favored mostly by young males, but I’ve spotted females wearing clothes hanging this way also.
The popular story about the fashion origin is that it was a way prison inmates communicated sexual availability. The myth-busting website Snopes, however, says the sexual link to the style is untrue. The prison origin, Snopes says, derives from the fact that many times prison inmates were given clothes that were too big, and since belts are not permitted in prison their clothes sagged.
When many rap artists began wearing the style in videos, I guess it was only natural that impressionable youths would begin emulating it, like they do whatever is the latest overpriced footwear of star athletes.
Though the image of these young guys is that of gangster wannabes, passing an ordinance isn’t going to change the culture, the level at which I think the problem must be reversed.
According to information I gathered, saggy pants moved into mainstream culture in the early 1990s, two decades ago. Unfortunately, that’s long enough for saggy-pants-wearing males of that era to have become fathers themselves, extending the ugly style to yet another generation.
The situation isn’t helped by the fact that in 2009, 24 percent of all children in the United States lived in single-mother households, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. I hope that in most male-headed households those young guys wouldn’t be allowed to leave the house looking like that. And men who have served in the military would be unlikely to find sagging pants acceptable.
The ordinances generally take the approach of fining individuals for a first offense $50, and higher amounts for additional offenses, $200 in Saltillo’s ordinance.
Who is going to enforce the ordinance? Our already stretched-too-thin law enforcement officers?
And what about the frequent violations that occurred long before it became a fashion? There have long been workman with too-large bellies and narrow rear ends wearing their pants riding below their paunch, with a tight-fitting or too-short T-shirt tucked inside. Don’t let him have to get down on the floor or lean over too far to examine a problem or do some work. You’d get much too graphic a view of parts of his anatomy that should only be seen in the privacy of his home or on the beach.
However disgusting it may be to see these objectionable fashions in public, I can’t see it as a public policy matter. One might as well legislate that women with breasts that are too large can’t wear halter tops without a bra. Or that people can’t wear their pajama pants to the grocery store. Or outlaw women’s leggings that look more like lingerie than something to wear in public.
A couple of months ago a concerned citizen presented a copy of Tupelo’s saggy pants ordinance to the Corinth city board and asked that they consider adopting a similar one.
The board took his recommendation under advisement without further action.
I hope they’ll continue to leave the issue on the table, and that other municipalities also will resist the huge waste of time and resources these ordinances represent.
lena.mitchell@journalinc.com