ROAD TOWN, Tortola, VI – For the past 10 years, social commentators and scientists have observed how cultural hegemony has resulted in the youths of the Virgin Islands (VI), males in particular, adopting the pants sagging American culture.
This pants sagging, as seen in popular culture and entertainment, is one where young males wear their pants below the buttocks area, which often leads to the full displaying of underwear and most times, the naked buttocks.
Origins of the Culture
While the pants sagging phenomenon now transcends global culture, research have shown that this practice has its history rooted in the United States (US) prison culture. During the 1970s in the US prisons, those institutions did not receive government assistance as they do now.
As such, prisoners—who were often African Americans and Latinos—did not have much money and the provision of clothing was usually the last thing on the list of improvements. The clothes you got then in the prison system after your sentence, were often ‘hand-me-downs’.
Inmates would get off the prison buses and proceed into what they call ‘intake’, where you receive your ‘prison blues’.
These clothing ranged in sizes from smallest to largest so depending on where you stood in that line, you either got your size or you didn’t. If you happen to not get your correct size—perhaps a size or two larger—you still had to wear the clothing.
Often, the incorrect sized clothing would not fit properly, hence, part of the origins of the pants sagging culture.
Further, later in the 1980s, it was found that many prisoners used their belts to commit suicide. Therefore, a policy emerged in all State and Federal Penitentiaries to not allow pensioners to have or wear belts while in the system.
The lack of belts coupled with incorrect sized clothing further allowed the pants of inmates to be dropping under their buttock. Eventually, the wearing of the pants below the buttocks became ‘a way of life’ in the US prison system and in the prison gay cultural. This system was one where you can show that you are available sexually—using the sagging pants—for another inmate to be your ‘daddy.’
Then, when many of the prisoners came out of incarceration in the 1990s and 2000s, the culture continued and popularised into mainstream street fashion in gangs and in urban areas. Other ex-inmates used it as a way to indicate that they went to jail or that they were also available sexually, as in the case of the prison gay culture.
The culture of pants sagging is now a global fashion statement and has made its way into the VI and throughout the Caribbean region.
According to research, those who do not engage in pants sagging for sexual reasons often do it to indicate they are ‘urban’ and more into the hard-core, thug or gangster lifestyle. For some, it is just a fashion choice with them imitating a popular sportsman or entertainer who partake in the trend.
In the VI, while both the young and old engage in the practice albeit for different reasons, one anonymous social worker commenting on the issue noted, “These young men do not even understand the history of this ‘so-called’ fashion statement… at times, you can see their naked backsides [and] it can get disgusting.”