Anyone can “sag”
The Song Is Wrong
Any of you old enough to remember what wearing green once meant? Guys, I mean, white guys, white guys wearing green. You got laughed at and put down, in high school especially, because green meant you were “that way” — except on St. Patrick’s Day.
Actually, in real social life, wearing a red tie in certain pre-Stonewall urban circles was intended to signify exactly that, at least to those in the know.
It was the same as having your trouser cuffs tailored a bit high so your socks would show, like Fred Astaire’s when he kicked up his heels. Inside-signals such as those, which had some small parlance across the usual barbed wire of race and class, were necessary when it was illegal and dangerous to be upfront about wanting to meet another man.
Apparently there’s a brand new kind of gay-male dress code, one I had thought was just a species of hip-hop streetwear that’s been around for a while. At least that’s what a few folks in Dallas, Texas, think.
Some Dallasites have their knickers in a twist about boys who wear their pants so low that their shorts, or even their butt cracks, show. It’s called sagging. Been going on for years; some saggers even wear their pants backwards. Dallas, home of the teenage plumber.
As reported, the story goes like this:
Parents and teachers were complaining that it was disrespectful and nasty for the community’s young men — most, but not all, of the boys in question being African American — to be showing their shorts and even their bare rears (one report says the fashion ante was upped from clean boxers to dirty ones). Forget about the almost supernatural gravity-defying skill this phenomenon requires, especially for the skinniest. Constant “hitching” becomes part of the game.
As usual, making school rules and naggin’ about saggin’ got nowhere, because part of why kids do this in the first place is to annoy their elders. (Municipalities keep trying to ban the sag, at least in the Southeast, but they ultimately discover it’s against the law to tell citizens what to wear.) Then a group called Hip Hop Government, with the support of a selfless deputy mayor, put up posters (donated by Clear Channel) in sag-infested Dallas neighborhoods that read: “Don’t Be Lame, Elevate Your Game. Pullem’ Up!”
Now comes the juicy, stupid part. Dallas gospel rapper Dooney Da’ Priest (Dewayne Brown) got in on the act with a song that became the Dallas campaign’s theme. Here’s a line from his “Pull Your Pants Up”: “You walk the streets with your pants way down low/ I don’t know/ looks to me you on the down-low.”
Dooney Da’ Priest CD cover
Down low/down-low, a fashion pun! For those who have been away for a decade or three, being “on the down-low” or the DL initially referred to an ostensibly straight black guy having secret gay sex. But the term soon moved out of just-black use and widened to embrace any kind of concealed behavior, similar to the way you can now “come out of the closet” as a clandestine butterscotch lover, or anything at all.
In a recent interview, fashion historian Da’ Priest explained that in prison, where saggin’ got its start, wearing your pants below your cheeks meant you were a sexually available bottom (as it were).
Too bad that’s just not true. It’s the kind of misinformation that tries to use classic peer-pressure queerophobia to control youthful conformists conforming to whatever’s unacceptable to the conformists in power. Because prisoners often are issued pants the wrong size and aren’t allowed belts (from which inmates fashion in-house nooses), a make-it-work style and strut developed. Maybe Da’ Priest can visit San Quentin, say, and clue in everyone there as to what saggin’ really means. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to know.
Next posting moves from gender-fraught clothing to gendered fragrance and food: Sniffing Dirt, Tasting Sweat.
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