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Young men looking cool in Dallas, their pants around their knees

COMMENTARY | October 11, 2007

Sagging trousers, a style also known as “Jailin’” are called disrespectful, disgusting, dishonorable and a safety hazard, and there’s a proposal to fine people who wear them. Dave McNeely says belts and suspenders would be a beautification effort, and recalls trying to look cool himself, in an earlier day. (Dyed his hair black after getting Elvis’s autograph.)


AUSTIN—Someday, when they are 10 or 15 years older, the boys who are teenagers in Dallas now should erect a statue of Ron Price. He may wind up saving them from serious injury.

In case you don't know it, Ron Price is the Dallas school board member who suggested last year that the Dallas City Council ban wearing pants so baggy that they show the wearer's underwear.

Then, his effort was stymied by concern to do so was unconstitutional, for limiting freedom of expression. But the effort has picked up new steam, as Dallas Deputy Mayor Pro-Tem Dwaine Caraway proposed a fine for the low-hanging pants. Those endorsing his stand included Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and a few other councilpersons. Caraway said he wants to protect those folks "who don't want to see someone else's private parts," and also help young adults with their self-image.

The city council in Shreveport, La., passed an ordinance with fines for so-called "sagging."

Caraway, who is African-American, as is Price, said the proposed ordinance doesn't profile blacks and Hispanics, though they are the most frequent practitioners of the low-riding trousers. Last year when Price proposed punishing the exposure, he said "I think it's disrespectful, it's dishonorable, and it's disgusting."

That is all correct, but dealing with that alone doesn't deserve a statue. What does is the fact that outlawing the baggy pants is a safety measure. Required use of belts (or suspenders) to keep pants up will not only beautify Dallas – and America – it will probably prevent more knee and ankle injuries than outlawing high school football.

In addition to being called "sagging," the baggy pants style is also known as "jailin'," because it apparently got its start from young men trying to imitate jail prisoners with sagging trousers because their belts have been taken from them.

It is interesting to see the young men shuffling down sidewalks in Dallas and elsewhere, trying to look cool while their pants are around their knees. Some have even had buttons sewn inside their shirts so they can affix their jeans to them, to keep them from sliding down too far.

The idea that it is somehow rebellious to affect a style because everybody else is doing it has always amazed me – even when I was the one copying the styles. But a half century ago when I was that age, it was so much easier to join others in seeming to go against the grain. Back then, one could do it by wearing motorcycle boots with taps, turning up the collar on your blue jean jacket, rolling up cigarettes in your T-shirt sleeve, wearing ducktails, and growing sideburns.

OK, I'll admit it; once, I even dyed my hair black. But it was only after Elvis Presley signed my hand. (True story. It was in G. Rollie White Coliseum in College Station in 1954. Elvis was 19 at the time, hadn't been on Ed Sullivan yet or in the movies. But the girl who sat beside me in science class was trying to crawl over the footlights to grab his shaking leg. After the concert, Elvis was signing autographs while leaning up against his pink and black Cadillac. So I got him to sign my hand, and my binoculars case. I didn't wash the hand for three days. And I bought a guitar. Someone stole the binoculars at an Aggie football game.)

The rebellion has changed through the years, from hair long enough to make gender identification difficult, to facial hair – in the mid-1970s, I had a beard long and scraggly enough that I probably wouldn't be allowed to board a commercial airliner today unless I could prove I was a member of ZZ Top – to earrings, to tattoos.

But now some forms of rebellion have become so mainstream that I saw a guy with tattoos down his arm all the way to his wrist – and he was a cop, wearing a short-sleeved uniform. Of course, it was in Austin, where cops even ride bicycles and wear shorts.

One female relative showed up awhile back with an earring in her nose, and another in her belly button. That strikes me as a lot more painful than rolling your cigarettes up in your T-shirt sleeve, but it's probably better than smoking the cigarettes.

While it could be argued that jailin' allows these Dallas lads to show off their best side, it probably can't be legislated out of existence. What likely will halt it will be when some hot rapper decides it's uncool, and rebels by wearing a suit.

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