April 1, 2013
A campaign in Massachusetts is determined to put an end to wearing saggy pants by enforcing a law enacted back in 1784 and amended in 1987. According to Section 16, “Open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior,” under the “Crimes Against Chastity, Morality, Decency, and Good Order”:
A man or woman, married or unmarried, who is guilty of open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than three years or in jail for not more than two years or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars.
Up to three years in jail and a few hundred dollar fine just for wearing your pants low?!
Omar Reid, president and founder of the Black Mental Health Alliance of Massachusetts, doesn’t think it’s such a minor offense. He initiated the campaign, upcoming billboards and the accompanying video “to address the growing issue of young men walking in the streets of our communities without regard and respect for themselves and their community.” Reid explains:
For the BMHAM it’s a behavioral health issue in our neighborhoods and communities that must be addressed the entire community….This is just the beginning of our public strategy to encourage parents, schools, police, social service agencies, housing agencies, faith-based organizations, along with men and women in our community, to take a collective stand and tell our young men and boys to pull those pants up.
How does Reid not recognize that punishing someone for wearing pants at butt level isn’t exactly going to imbue that person with respect for his community—and that the long-term consequences are likely to do more harm than good?
While the Massachusetts campaign may seem straight out of an Onion article, sagging pants have been a hot topic since the early 2000s, particularly because states, cities and local communities around the United States have tried to enact laws that would provide fines, penalties, potential jail time for those who sag. Memphis, Tennessee, Delcambre, Louisiana, and Fort Worth, Texas are just a few of the cities to try to enforce anti-sagging laws to mixed results, including a successful “Urkeling” enforcement strategy derived from the character Steve Urkel from the television show “Family Matters.”
The enforcement of these laws is controversial because the majority of people who choose to make this fashion statement are young African American males. As a result, prosecution is generally equated with racial profiling, prompting the American Civil Liberties Union to write the blog post, “Why does the ACLU care about saggy pants“:
Government policy-makers have no right to dictate or influence style, nor do they have the right to protect themselves and the greater public from seeing clothing they dislike. In fact, clothing is a form of expression protected under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. A governmental body seeking to regulate content based expressive conduct, such as wearing saggy pants, must show that a substantial government interest exists in regulating the conduct, that the interest is unrelated to the suppression of free expression, and that the regulation actually furthers that government interest. The courts have been clear that government cannot ban speech simply because others find it distasteful. There is no evidence linking saggy pants to crime or public safety.
President Obama has even weighed in, calling anti-sag ordinances “a waste of time.” In a New York Times article from 2008, he explained:
“Having said that,” he continued, “brothers should pull up their pants. You are walking by your mother, your grandmother, your underwear is showing. What’s wrong with that? Come on.”
“Some people might not want to see your underwear,” Mr. Obama said. “I’m one of them.”
Wearing one’s pants really low makes the wearer walk penguin-like. The person waddles around, maintaining a stilted gait so that the pants stay in place. Cinched with a belt, in extreme cases underneath the backside with boxers visible, the pants make legs look overly short. Oversized shirts elongate the torso leading to skewed, caricature-like proportions.
Remember when it was totally acceptable to wear men’s boxer shorts as regular shorts in the early 1990s? How about corsets as outerwear? Or, ever see a woman whose leggings are stretched so taut across her derriere that her cellulite is visible through the Lycra? And let’s not forget super low-rise jeans with thongs peaking out. The list goes on and yet, you don’t hear towns passing laws against these styles, which are just as, or even more, explicit. What we have is a double standard.
Saggy pants got started in prison. Men weren’t allowed to wear belts for fear of self-harm and uniforms weren’t exactly well-tailored. That meant that more often than not, prisoners wound up wearing drooping pants. Outside of incarceration, the low-rise look stuck and ex-prisoners would identify one another by continuing to wear that style in public.
That look got co-opted by the hip-hop community and made its way into pop culture when groups like Kriss Kross wore their pants low (and backwards, but that’s another story, one that continues today with one of the members still wearing his pants backwards 21 years later) in music videos.
Today, everyone has an opinion on the subject, and teens’ views are as much a reflection of this issue’s divisiveness as are those of grown-ups. The Charlotte Observer posed the question, “Should people be punished for wearing saggy pants or exposing midriffs in public? Should wearing saggy pants be banned?” in its Young Voices section and responses varied. Adrian Delgado, 18, was strongly against the fashion: “I think that they should ban sagging pants because it just looks ridiculous seeing someone sagging.” Aaron Nash, 17, had more moderate views: “There should be a punishment for doing such actions as sagging and wearing shirts that show stomachs but not that severe, coming from a young perspective. All sagging and wearing shirts that show stomachs are just a fashion statement.” And Mario King, 18, supported the style: “I don’t think the government has the right to tell people how they can wear their clothes that they worked hard and paid for.”
Does a violation on a permanent record for sartorial choices really have more lasting positive effects than negative ones? Doubtful. As Benjamin Chavis, former executive director of the N.A.A.C.P. stated in a New York Times article, “I think to criminalize how a person wears their clothing is more offensive than what the remedy is trying to do.” Plus, wearing saggy pants is the punishment itself; much like the hobble skirt from the early 20th century, the movement-stilting, limp-enabling, malfunction-prone clothing is awkward enough to make you think twice about the price you pay for fashion.
March 18, 2013
Last month, Chinese school uniforms made the news. Studies had shown that possibly as many as 25,000 children in Shanghai, China, were wearing mandated uniforms that were essentially poisoning them. The fabric contained toxic aromatic amines, thought to be carcinogens and found in plastics, dyes and pesticides. Ingesting, inhaling or absorbing the chemicals is considered hazardous and some countries have banned them. Students were told to stop wearing the outfits made by Shanghai Ouxia Clothing Company until a complete investigation had taken place.
Horrifying, but not particularly surprising, considering how much China appears in the headlines for tainted products, the incident recalled a moment this past November when big, fast fashion chains were in the news for selling toxic clothes. Greenpeace published a report called Toxic Threads: The Big Fashion Stitch-Up, in which it uncovered how retailers including Zara, H & M and Nike had been incorporating harmful dyes into fabrics. More specifically:
A total of 141 items of clothing were purchased in April 2012 in 29 countries and regions worldwide from authorised retailers. The chemicals found included high levels of toxic phthalates in four of the garments, and cancer-causing amines from the use of certain azo dyes in two garments. NPEs [nonylphenol ethoxylates] were found in 89 garments (just under two thirds of those tested), showing little difference from the results of the previous investigation into the presence of these substances in sports clothing that was conducted in 2011. In addition, the presence of many other different types of potentially hazardous industrial chemicals was discovered across a number of the products tested.
According to the Huffington Post, just over a week after Greenpeace released the report, the international clothing chain Zara, committed to changing its ways. It will ”eliminate all discharge of hazardous chemicals” by 2020, the company said.
So how far have we really come from the time when ancient Egyptians used copper and lead in their eye makeup? In the 15th to 17th centuries, Romans used variations of lead and mercury to lighten their skin. When “Irish beauty Marie Gunning (a k a the Countess of Coventry) died in 1760, the press called her a ‘victim of cosmetics.’ ”
Style has trumped safety and comfort for centuries. Even though we now know these chemicals and dyes are bad for us, they keep creeping into our clothes and makeup. Sometimes we make decisions about what to wear based on what we think looks good, and in doing so, we do more damage to ourselves than we knew was possible.
For starters, take women’s shoes. High heels may make our legs look slim and elegant, but they are also known to cause ankle and heel pain, plantar fasciitis, painful swelling of the bottom of the foot, bunions and corns. Thick wooden wedges, five-inch stilettos and the heel-less Lady Gaga variety change our posture and how we arch our posteriors.
This performance offers a stark commentary on the subject, with the model assuming egretlike movements in order to walk in a very nontraditional pair of heels.
Historically speaking, one of the best-known examples of harmful body modification is foot binding. The Chinese practice kept a woman’s feet “dainty” and “lady-like” by tightly wrapping them when she was a child to prevent natural growth. The painful process was done to secure her role in the upper echelons of society.
By grossly deforming and disabling their feet and wearing tiny, delicate shoes, women would be more attractive to their mate, they were told, and would not be expected to work. Thankfully the practice was banned in 1912 (although people continued to bind in secret). On occasion, it’s still possible to encounter a woman from an older generation in China hobbling around on bound feet.
Speaking of hobbling, how about the hobble skirt? This form of restrictive, perilous garment was popularized in the 1910s and is generally attributed to French fashion designer Paul Poiret. Skirts were long and full, and they narrowed at the hem, or even at the calf, to provide a ballooning effect.
But there’s another version of the skirt’s origin that suggests a practical side to the style. The story goes that when Mrs. Hart Berg went on a flight with the Wright brothers, the first woman to do so, she tied a rope around the bottom of her long skirt to keep it from billowing in the air. Soon the Wright brothers’ sister, Katherine Wright, did the same. The trend took off and women attempted to wear these hazardous skirts to perform everyday tasks without falling flat on their faces, as depicted in numerous news stories from the time. The style lost its luster with the advent of the car, which certainly makes sense. Imagine trying to climb into a Ford Model T with the equivalent of an unforgiving elastic band wrapped around your calves.
Finally, no overview of clothing hazards would be complete without acknowledging the corset. For hundreds of years, the corset has been worn to mask or accentuate the natural curves of a woman’s, or man’s, body. With whalebone or metal boning and tight-lacing, the body-binders prompted medical professionals, especially in the 1800s, to try to bring an end to their use, explaining that they hindered muscle development, mobility and, well, the ability to breathe. The doctors were on to something, but, as was the case with bound feet, many women weren’t ready to give up the body-shaper because, they, or society, preferred the corseted shape over their natural one.
What are examples of dangerous or precarious clothes, shoes or underwear you’ve worn, purposefully – or unbeknownst to you? (Take the case of Isadora Duncan, who was strangled by her scarf.) Or, what do you try to stay away from?
Thanks, Laura Jane Kenny!
February 19, 2013
If a woman in the 1920s had a boyish figure and was naturally skinny, she was all set to slip on a slim sheath, a signature look of the 1920s. But if she was plump and curvaceous, she might choose certain undergarments to help achieve the fashionable unisex flapper shape.
The flapper silhouette was distinctive, and if you’re a fan of PBS’s “Downton Abbey,” you’ve seen it in full effect this season: angular (basically rectangular), androgynous, slender and straight. It was influenced by Braque, Picasso, Leger and others artists whose work had hard, geometric forms and visible lines.
Undergarments worn in the 1920s were a steep departure from the waist-sucking, back-arching corsets of the previous decades. Gone was the Edwardian S-curve corset, meant to shrink the waist and emphasize the backside. It was replaced with garments designed to flatten the chest, hips and derriere.
Examples of the figure that women were seeking can be seen in the following ad for Gossard lingerie from 1926. If you didn’t have that shape naturally, and you wanted a Twiggyesque body, that androgynous and iconic look from the 1960s that had its roots in the ’20s, a few underthings could help you along.
One of the more well-known garments of the time was called a step-in. The Gossard ad describes its version as “extremely pliable and often boneless.” These garments, usually made of silk or cotton, were loose, short and lightweight (often with a snap or button closure between the legs). In Flapper Jane, in the September 9, 1925, issue of The New Republic, the writer Bruce Bliven described what a young flapper wore.
Jane isn’t wearing much, this summer. If you’d like to know exactly, it is: one dress, one step-in, two stockings, two shoes. A step-in, if you are 99 and 44/100th percent ignorant, is underwear—one piece, light, exceedingly brief but roomy.
But there were other options besides the step-in. The Symington Side Lacer was pretty much the exact opposite of the 1990s Wonderbra. Once on, you pulled the straps to flatten and minimize the size of your chest, thus more easily slipping into the shapeless, drop-waisted dresses that were in fashion.
The point was to de-emphasize the default curves of a woman’s body that had been exaggerated in previous decades. But, for many women that would mean getting into an elastic tube, a more structured version of today’s Spanx. Freedom from a boned corset allowed women to finally, and literally, exhale with relief (and more easily dance the Charleston).
With undergarments came stockings. Forget garters! The trend was to roll your stocking. And with hemlines rising to right below the knee, the chance that someone would catch a glimpse of your rolled stocking, and even more scandalous, your knee cap, was kind of the point. Padded methods increased the girth of the roll so the stockings would become more noticeable, as described in Threaded’s Stocking Series, Part 4: The Rebellious Roll Garters. In fact, a Paramount silent film from 1927 starring Louise Brooks was even named after the phenomenon. And of course, there’s the classic line from the song “All That Jazz” in the 1975 Kander & Ebb musical Chicago, “I’m going to rouge my knees and roll my stockings down,” that solidified rolled stocking as a cultural touchstone as well as what might be an urban legend and sexual innuendo about flappers rouging their knees.
Was that shape-shifting and recalibrating a successful move toward gender equality during those Roaring Twenties? Yes, reducing feminine curves that had been synonymous with an outmoded version of feminine beauty was a direct path toward evening the playing field for men and women. But, the argument becomes cloudy when you consider that women ultimately looked less like men and more like underdeveloped, prepubescent youths.
November 19, 2012
We can offer our gratitude this Thanksgiving to the English inventor Thomas Hancock for allowing our clothes to give a little as we indulge in a holiday feast. Without Hancock, we might not have elastic. And without elastic, this holiday could be very uncomfortable.
Hancock was a key player in establishing the British rubber industry. While patenting and producing elastic fastenings for gloves, suspenders and stockings in 1820, he was struck by how much rubber he was wasting. An early environmentalist, he invented a machine called the masticator that shreds scraps of rubber and allows those remnants to be recycled. Fun fact: Before patenting the masticator (how aptly named for Thanksgiving!), he called it the “pickling machine” to keep his invention a secret.
Hancock went on to create waterproof fabrics alongside Charles Macintosh, and from that collaboration, the classic mackintosh coat was born. Meanwhile, advances in rubber production moved forward. Decades later, elastic, and the rubber that’s key to its existence, has quietly established itself as an essential ingredient in the upcoming holiday, right alongside cranberries and stuffing.
With Turkey Day only a few days away, what follows are a handful of holiday attire suggestions to make the season of eating more comfortable—inspired by vintage fashion ads all emphasizing a certain stretch factor.
But first, if you absolutely refuse to let your holiday heft win, strap yourself into a girdle to maintain your svelte, girded shape. And good luck.
To those of us who have come to accept that we’ll be consuming more than usual, before you fill up your plate, consider doing a little stretching to ease yourself into the meal.
Speaking of undergarments, make sure yours have a comfortable enough waistband for the meal ahead (cowboy hat optional).
For utmost comfort, sweatpants, with their forgiving waistbands, provide the flexibility you’ll need to go back for seconds and thirds (sweatband optional).
Not feeling the dressed-down look? How about a slinky shift with adjustable lace sides for adding or losing a dress size as needed?
Or, for convenience sake, keep your spandex aerobics gear on throughout the meal. Plan a trip to the gym as soon as the festivities conclude.
And when all else fails, throw on a muu-muu-like robe.
October 12, 2012
It’s time to bring back rolled stockings. This isn’t attributable to scientific research or trend-spotting. It’s that in compiling Threaded’s Stocking Series (read Parts 1, 2, and 3), this was one trend I could imagine incorporating into what I wear today (as opposed to, say, paint-on stockings). Grimace if you like, but I’m imagining navy stockings rolled just below the knee, clog sandals, a knee-length, high-waisted pinstriped skirt and a vintage 1980s paisley blouse (with the shoulder pads intact, of course).
The rolled stocking, complete with roll garter, had its heyday in the 1920s and ’30s. It was sandwiched between a period when women wore corsets with garters used to hold up stockings and a time when women’s undergarments included less bulky, but still cumbersome garter belts, also with attached garters.So how’d it work? You’d slip on your stocking, slide the garter roll up your leg to the edge of the stocking (mid-thigh, usually) and fold the stocking edge over the garter, rolling it down your leg until it was just where you wanted it (generally below the knee).
This wasn’t some passing fad like winter of ’71 hot pants craze. In fact, a Paramount silent film from 1927 starring Louise Brooks was even named after the phenomenon: Rolled Stockings!
Keep in mind that during the peak season of garter rolls, stockings weren’t what they are today. Made from silk, they didn’t stretch (as nylon hose weren’t introduced until 1939), they came as a pair, and they needed to be held up on your leg – somehow.
So roll garters provided a real utility, safeguarding women from clothing malfunctions like finding your stockings gathered at your ankles. But rolling your stockings over a garter was also about making a fashion statement (the equivalent of ’80s legwarmers?). In the 1920s – as corsets were worn less frequently, dresses became looser, hemlines rose, and flappers rebelled against preconceived notions of female etiquette – many women embraced the new roll garter, forgoing subtlety and increasing the chances that the roll – and a little leg! – might be seen. (Heard the one about the schoolteacher who was fired for a stocking roll dress code violation?). To draw attention to this risqué business, stockings were often rolled beneath the knee and padded garters were patented to increase the girth of the roll.
Something about the slouchy, more relaxed look of these rolled stockings is reflected in the women’s faces in the photos I found during my research. Dress silhouettes had been pretty rigid until that time, enforced by restrictive undergarments. From their satisfied expressions, and without any concrete evidence to back me up, wearing rolled stocking back then must’ve been akin to the liberating, punk rock feeling of, I don’t know, wearing ripped fishnets today?
That being said, I haven’t attempted the rollover garter technique (turns out they still sell them !) so I could be dead wrong. Maybe it’d feel as restrictive as wearing 100 elastic bands around my calf. Hopefully, the women in these photos aren’t just grinning and bearing it.
Any Threaded readers out there who’ve rolled their hose and want to share their own memories?