When it comes to fashion, you can always be sure of two things.
The first is that each generation of young people will find a new way to offend their elders. The other is that grown-ups will try to stop them.
Today, the trend that offends is wearing baggy, drooping pants that ride around the thighs, the better to show off a young man’s taste in boxer shorts. And the grown-up who wants to stop it is Atlanta City Councilman C.T. Martin.
“I don’t think women should have to see that. I don’t think young girls should have to see that. I don’t think children should have to see that,” Martin told TODAY’s Ann Curry during an interview Friday.
Inspired by his constituents, particularly teachers, who are tired of looking at other people’s underwear, Martin has introduced legislation in Atlanta that would outlaw clothing that shows off underwear, be it boxers, thongs, sports bras or even bra straps.
Two cities in Louisiana, Delcambre and Opelousas, have similar laws providing for fines up to $500 and up to six months in jail, although no one has yet been charged under the laws.
“I’m a firm believer in the First Amendment,” Martin told Curry. “It’s not about putting anyone in jail. It’s about trying to get some educational discussion about the future for young people.”
Nonsense, say civil libertarians. It’s not only an infringement of the First Amendment’s freedom of expression, but because the fashion is most popular among young African-Americans, it’s also a thinly veiled effort at racial profiling.
“There is no way that I can think of that you can enforce this that the impact doesn’t fall more heavily on young black men,” Debbie Seagraves of the Georgia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union told NBC’s Michelle Kosinski in a taped interview.
“This is no different than the miniskirts of the ’60s, no different than the midriff shirts we’ve seen recently,” he told Curry. “It’s a fashion statement. We can’t legislate what people are wearing. We can’t say ‘You can’t wear that because we don’t agree with it.’ ”
Martin, who is African-American, denied targeting blacks. “The last time I looked, people of all ages and people of all origins were involved in this,” he said. “That’s not my discussion. My discussion is a way to figure out a way to get this issue talked about.”
'This is fashion'
The fashion has been around for a number of years. It is said to have had its start in prisons, where inmates are not allowed to wear belts and frequently have ill-fitting pants.
From there, it spread from the inner cities to suburbia.
“It’s all a part of the bigger discussion,” Martin said of his proposed law. “How can we fix a phenomenon that does not relate to building our good character and does not relate to thinking about the future and what will happen as you go on with your life?”
Smith said that there’s a big difference between what people wear on their own time and what they wear to the office or to a job interview.
“Just because people dress the way they want to dress when they’re on their downtime, doesn’t mean they don’t respect those other rules of society in professional environments,” he said. “This is fashion.”
He pointed out that adults who relax in jeans don’t wear them to the office and said it’s the same with kids who come home from work and pull on a pair of pants that refuse to stay up.
Said Smith, “People have a right to dress the way they want.”