NEW YORK — Typically, when people talk about the “fashion police” they’re being sarcastic, but if a Louisiana legislator gets his way, police in that state could start arresting people for wearing low-rise jeans.
State Rep. Derrick Shepherd, a Democrat, last week submitted a bill that would make it illegal for a person to wear pants below the waist “thereby exposing his skin or intimate clothing.” The penalty would be a fine of up to $500 or as much as six months in jail, according to the draft legislation, which has been submitted to the Louisiana House Criminal Justice Committee.
Since people have long considered what they wear to be an important form of self-expression, retailers and denim designers blasted the proposal as unwarranted.
“Isn’t that ridiculous?” said Daniela Clarke, the designer behind the Los Angeles-based Frankie B. jeans line, which helped spark the low-rise trend starting in 2000. “Why doesn’t he just look away?”
Sal Parasuco, president of Montreal-based Parasuco Jeans Co. and a designer who early in the low-rise trend promoted “butt cleavage” on bus advertisements, suggested that lawmakers concerned with indecency should turn to targets other than fashion.
“Before they do those things, they should get rid of all those cable channels showing porn,” he said. “Such a law is like taking us back to the 1800s. There are so many other things that could be outlawed than what you’re wearing. I think our legislators have nothing to do. They’re looking for scapegoats from the reality of things.”
Shepherd did not return calls to his office this week. But in an Associated Press report, he said he introduced the bill because he was “sick of seeing” glimmers of women’s underwear or men’s boxers peeking over low-slung jeans. He added, according to the report, “If parents can’t do their job, if parents can’t regulate what their children wear, then there should be a law.”
That comment particularly irked designer Clarke, who said, “I have a child and I can censor what my child sees and what she doesn’t see.”
Steven Adjmi, co-owner of two Jean Therapy locations in New Orleans, said as a practical matter he wasn’t too worried about the proposal.
“Honestly, I think that it’s never going to pass in Louisiana,” he said.
Adjmi said during Mardi Gras celebrations in his city, laws against public nudity are routinely violated, yet flashers are rarely arrested. He added that he would consider such a law a violation of rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“Free speech should mean free self-expression,” he said. “Self-expression encompasses what you wear. The state has a lot more things to worry about than the jeans people wear.”