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Saggy Pants Billboard Campaign Draws Ire and Debate

Russell Simmons and others weigh in on New York State Sen. Eric Adams's campaign in Brooklyn against sagging pants.

New York State Sen. Eric Adams has erected six billboards in Brooklyn.

Over the past two weeks, a series of billboards has gone up in Brooklyn neighborhoods promoting an unusual fashion message: Guys, pull up your sagging pants. The advertisements are the work of New York State Sen. Eric Adams, who has launched a campaign to encourage young urban males to stop wearing their jeans and trousers so low that it shows off their underwear — an erstwhile streetwear trend that started amongst hip-hop fans in the Nineties and long ago expanded into the skater and suburban demographics.

The six billboards that have gone up in Brooklyn show two men in saggy jeans — their boxer shorts prominently on display — and the tag lines: “We are better than this!,” “Stop the Sag!” and “Raise your pants, raise your image!”

Adams told WWD he is partnering with other New York state senators to expand the campaign to Queens and buy billboards in that borough, as well.

“The sagging pants culture represents an immature disregard for the basic civility, courtesy and responsibility that our young men should display,” said Adams, who noted the trend was inspired by the loose, beltless look of prison garb.

However, those who work in the streetwear industry and cater to young urban males took a critical stance on the Adams campaign. “I like Sen. Adams, but this is wrong-headed and a waste of time,” said Russell Simmons, the founder of Phat Farm and Argyle Culture. “This is the latest example of adults trying to repress the creativity and individuality of kids. Why would kids want to dress like Sen. Adams? There is no connection to saggy pants and the ability to succeed. Just look at what buttoned-up America has done to the rest of the world and each other. Why can’t kids be different?”

Jeffrey Tweedy, vice president at Sean John, said he was supportive of the overall message, but believes Adams has unfairly targeted African-American males with the campaign.

“I wish he wouldn’t focus on African-Americans and instead talk about all races,” said Tweedy. “Many different people are involved with this trend. It’s not just black kids. You can go to Washington Square Park and see skaters wearing tight Levi’s in a similar way.”

Tweedy also took issue with the alleged prison heritage of the saggy pants look. “This was a fashion statement. It was never a gang statement,” explained Tweedy of the long-lasting trend.

Sean John has never promoted the saggy bottoms look, said Tweedy. “We are a sophisticated brand. I actually get offended when I see some stores style their mannequins with saggy jeans. But remember, this is about youthful rebellion. They are doing it to get attention — there’s a cool factor involved.”

Jason Geter, who cofounded the upscale streetwear brand AKOO with hip-hop star T.I., was diplomatic in his response to the issue. “AKOO stands for A King of Oneself, so we certainly promote excellence,” he noted. “We encourage all young men to carry themselves in a respectable manner to decrease the chances of being singled out or judged in society. When it comes to fashion, always remember to dress for the occasion.”

The Adams campaign has engendered support from a number of his Senate colleagues, including Senate president Malcolm Smith. “The ‘Stop the Sag’ campaign promotes self-respect and fights self-imposed negative stereotypes of our youth in communities across the state,” said Smith.

Adams said he’s received thousands of calls and letters from constituents, with 95 percent of them favorable to his “Stop the Sag” campaign. A YouTube video of Adams talking about the initiative has received more than 95,000 hits, and the senator is aiming to expand ads to buses — funded by Adams and other senators’ own campaign chests. “I’m targeting adults as well as kids. Young people always want to push traditional boundaries and adults need to tell them when they’ve gone too far,” said Adams, who is asking New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein to come up with a citywide standard of dress in public schools that would ban saggy pants that expose underwear.

The Adams initiative is the latest effort by lawmakers to curb the saggy jeans look. Over the years, legislators in places as diverse as Louisiana, Connecticut and Georgia have introduced bills to ban the fashion trend, with various outcomes.

Minya Quirk, co-founder of the Capsule trade show and the BPMW showroom, which represents youthful brands such as Stüssy, Penfield and Clae, said it’s almost de rigueur for adults to get offended by youthful fashion trends. “There’s something to be said for young people who invent their own fashion trends and find new ways to wear things. It makes people who are older angry,” she observed. “But kids will be kids, and it’s an expression of their youthfulness and not something they will stick with for the rest of their lives.”

Even President Barack Obama has previously weighed in on the matter — coming down on the side of non-saggy pants. In an interview with MTV a week before his election win, he told viewers: “Here is my attitude: I think people passing a law against people wearing sagging pants is a waste of time.…Having said that, brothers should pull up their pants. You are walking by your mother, your grandmother, your underwear is showing. What’s wrong with that? Come on. There are some issues that we face, that you don’t have to pass a law, but that doesn’t mean folks can’t have some sense and some respect for other people and, you know, some people might not want to see your underwear — I’m one of them.”