The Low Down: When An Unlikely Fad Becomes Unshakable Fashion

Etiquette Pull_Up_Your_Pants


Atlanta, GA. is an increasingly diverse Southern mecca and hip-hop epicenter with many fashion tastes.

One common trend involves wearing long shorts (or short pants) low and belted well below the elastic waistband of one’s boxers. For women, the look is sometimes modified to expose the thong above the waistline. This phenomenon, popularized by rappers like Ludacris, Marky Mark and Li'l Kim, is typically referred to as “bustin' a sag.”

Many sources agree that the style originated in prison, where ill-fitting clothes are the norm and belts are not allowed.  After making its way from the cell to the street on the wave of Rap, the style was adopted by hip-hop aficionados and R&B stars as a way of establishing “street cred” and adding bravado to their appearance.

Once considered a passing fad, the trend remains popular. (It’s even got a Facebook page.)

But some find the look offensive. Since 2004, attempted bans on “sags” have been proposed in multiple states. Many succeeded in briefly criminalizing the trend, threatening fines and jail time for wearing the banned style. Most such laws have since been overturned after being deemed unconstitutional. [Note: the above image is part of a fake PSA campaign, “Metropolitan Etiquette Authority,” from artist Jay Shells.]

Some of us may have once laughed at what we saw as a silly, momentary trend. Still, when government legislates what we wear, personal expression and freedom of speech is threatened.  Are we so worried about the indecent appearance of a strip of elastic that we would pass a law against it? Lawmakers may actually be trying to legislate away a lifestyle that makes some uncomfortable. To such fashion policing, many cry racism, and they may have a point.

But, from a socio-cultural perspective, the longevity of this trend, and the strong reaction to it, is fascinating. Could it be yet another example of the generation gap playing itself out through fashion? Like long hair in the 60s or wide-cuffed jeans in the 50s, the fad begins to look like the identity badge of a social movement taking its place in the cultural lexicon. Perhaps this helps explain why the 90’s art of “busting sags” hasn’t yet receded.

The ever evolving hip-hop movement has given us myriad trends since its inception: fat laced Adidas, Mercedes emblems on gold chains, Flava Flav's clock necklace, the ethnocentricity of Afrika Bambaataa and Tribe Called Quest. Some of these have diminished. Others have become classics. All reflect the cultural conditions of their era.

Atlanta, as “hip-hop's center of gravity,” may have a lot to say about whether the saggy pants phenomenon will become passé or iconic. Atlanta, too, is growing and changing as her population becomes more diverse and sophisticated -- but there is a tension between this “new” Atlanta and its historical roots: Non-conformity is often tempered by convention, cultural co-mingling brushed back by nostalgia and habit. Atlanta stands in the past while looking to the future. It is within this creative paradox that the city's soul rests. May we move forward together with good humor and not get caught with our pants down.

Other hip-hop and Atlanta-inspired fashions worth imitating:

  1. Atlanta hip-hop star Andre 3000 rocks an updated classic look and looks dope doing it.


  1. The Bow tie. Once relegated to the realm of the creepy or the politically weird, this New meets Old-South  trend is adorable. The look goes hand in hand with the prohibition cocktail revolution that's sweeping the nation and can be found at Billy Reid in ATL's ultra-hip West Side (and in other locations across the country).


  1. If bustin' a sag is your bag, then follow the rules: A belt is optional and should rest firmly below the hip bones and about half way down the buttocks. Avoid the unfortunate long-waist-little-legs effect. Wear colorful boxers or playful boxer briefs, but never tighty-whities. Boxers should be freshly laundered for maximum puffiness. (For more, refer to this knowledgable blogger's instructions.)