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Deja Vu

April 15, 2013

The War on Pants


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2013: A Louisiana town has passed an ordinance that would criminalize the wearing of “sagging pants”—defined by the ordinance as pants so low underwear is exposed. The Terrebonne Parish Council voted 8-1 in favor of the ban, which sets a high series of fines for offenders: $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second and $100 and sixteen hours of public service for each subsequent offence. WWL-TV, a local CBS affiliate, reports:

“Appearing in public view while exposing one's skin or undergarments below the waist is contrary to safety, health, peace and good order of the parish and the general welfare,” the ordinance reads.

But plenty of people, such as Montegut resident Ida Moore, think that the government should not have the power to ban sagging even though it looks “foolish, unattractive and unbecoming.”

“It's certainly not the first time elders complained about the social mores and dress habits of young people,” Moore told WWL-TV. “But to make laws of governing social differences is a slippery slope to the level of government that we do not allow.” The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana sent a letter to the council saying that the ban is unconstitutional.

1943: A series of violent clashes between white servicemen stationed in Los Angeles and local Latino youths turned the city upside down for weeks. The events came to be known as the Zoot Suit Riots, named after the flashy style of dress favored by many of the young men involved. In a desperate attempt to curb the unrest, the Los Angeles City Council banned the wearing of zoot suits—high-waisted, wide-legged, tight-cuffed, pegged trousers, and a long coat with wide lapels and wide padded shoulders. The Los Angeles Times covered the story:

The new ordinance instructs city judges to send to jail for sixty days any one caught in ankle-choker trousers and knee-length coats. The latest instance of violence came today when zoot suiters deliberately ran down with an automobile and critically injured a city patrolman.

Every available policeman and auxiliary policeman was on duty last night but sailors and soldiers, beaten and victimized by many of the oddly dressed gangsters, formed their own squads to clean out the areas. The zoot suiters, ordinarily engaged in their own gang rivalries, banded together to battle the servicemen.

Arrests of long-haired hoodlums with ankle-choker pants were running more than 100 a day, and several voluntarily appeared at Central Jail, asking to be locked up for protection.
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Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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