The Origins of Hip-Hop Fashion

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>I had an interesting encounter at Burger King the other day. There was chaos at the counter. I was late to a meeting and waiting on a burger and fries when I and a hoard of other hungry clients discovered that the store was out of meat. The situation was made more humorous by the understaffed store employees insistence on focusing on new orders at the cash register, stacking more and more people into the waiting line that was producing no food. At one point I asked “Don’t you think you ought to quit taking orders for food if you don’t have any?” The logic seemed to be lost on everyone behind the counter.

To make matters even more interesting, two men came in behind me dressed in typical hip-hop attire – baggy pants down around their knees with colorful boxers on full display for all to see. I say men, because my best guess would put them in their early or mid 20’s. Two older women, who were obviously not together, looked on in disdain. At one point, one of them leaned over and tapped one of the men on the shoulder: “Young man, I wanted to know if you would please pull your pants up while you are in the store.” The man turned in irritation and said “this is the way I wear my clothes.” The woman was undeterred: “Excuse me sir, but I am trying hard to be polite and respectful, I mean no disrespect, but you are in public and I can see all of your underwear.”

For the man’s part, he did respond with some acknowledged respect and even gave an obligatory tug on his pants that brought them to his waist only to fall back down again, perhaps a half inch lower than before: “I mean no disrespect either Mam, but how I wear my clothes is my business.” It was an interesting exchange, precisely because the woman said out loud what every person in line was already thinking … that, or maybe we were just all irritated and hungry, turning our vexation on every easy target in sight.

The episode did get me thinking. I watched, paying more attention then usual to such attire as the man strutted off toward the soda machine to get his drink. I realized that his “walk” was really a “waddle.” How could it be otherwise? He had so much fabric between his legs all they way down to his knees that he had to make like a penguin. I also thought about the larger debate in society about the “baggy pants syndrome,” and several questions came to mind. I know that many would like to deter young people from dressing this way by reminding them that it a sick glorification of crime and prison life, as many trace the origins of baggy pants and laceless boots to the removal of belts and laces that take place when one is taken to jail.

That argument, however, does little to discourage such public displays of one’s “undies.” Take this perspective from a twenty something person living in Florida:

But Larry Harris, Jr., 28, a musician from Miami, who stood in oversize gear outside a hip-hop show in Times Square, denied that prison style was his inspiration. “I think what you have here is people who don’t understand the language of hip-hop,” he said.

The longer article from which this quote is taken demonstrates that some cities and townships are going a bit further than a polite tap on the shoulder at the local fast food joint. But I have a different theory about where the baggy pants syndrome really finds it impetus. It hit me like a Mack truck as I saw that man stroll away from the counter. The person behind all of this social distress is none other than one who was formerly thought to be a well-mannered, clean cut, and impeccable example of social decorum. Want someone to blame? Join me in laying the blame on the true culprit of so much underwear becoming outer-wear. His name? None other than the beloved Dick Van Dyke.


  1. >Perhaps we should count our blessings…at least the man’s body was covered. In my ‘hood’ it is not uncommon to look out one’s window and see ‘shade-tree Charlie’ displaying a full moon!

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