Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Illegal Pants-Wearing?

Eugene Volokh links to a story from Louisiana. Some people there are trying to make low-slung pants illegal to wear in public.

I am vehemently opposed to the wearing of low-slung pants that show underwear, but I think enforcement of fashion standards is best left to the fashion police, not the real police. If people were more proactive in persecuting people whose pants pop below the posterior, this wouldn't be such a pervasive problem. We needn't be rude; all we have to do is tap people on the shoulder and let them know that their butt is hanging out in an unflattering way.

I honestly think many of these people, particularly the women, are unaware of just how much of their cheeks are flapping in the breeze. A pair of pants that covers the underwear when standing in front of the mirror may display a good five inches of thong when a person squats down. This happened at my daughter's dance concert last year. I merely tapped the lady on the shoulder and told her her underwear was showing, and she immediately took action to cover it up.

The men, however, are a different story. I'm sure most of them are aware that their boxers are showing. I have been sorely tempted to keep a hank of rope in my car so that I can offer pieces of it to boys wearing low-slung pants. "Oh, you poor thing, you can't even afford a belt. Here, please, take this piece of rope and tie up your pants!" If I were a more mischievous person, I'd give the pants an "accidental" tug as I walked by, causing them to show even larger amounts of the boxer shorts. If you're going to show the top half, why not the bottom half too? In the interest of full disclosure, that is, if you're advertising yourself for sale.

If people knew that they were going to be subject to much public criticism based on their choice of dress, they might reconsider what they wear. Social forces are much more powerful than legal forces when it comes to matters of dress, largely because they do not require legalistic definition of what can and cannot be worn. Regulations on exotic dancers, for example, specify exactly how much flesh of what kind can be showing. I have difficulty picturing debate in the state legislature over nipple coverage, and nipples are a well-defined area of the body. I cannot imagine having to map out the human body and define where butt-cheeks begin, let alone having to make measurements on a potential offender to determine if the amount of cheekage exposed is legal or illegal. If, as this law would, we merely specify that showing undergarments is illegal, then a person who wears no underwear under their low-slung pants is not in violation of the law. However, such a person would quickly change their pants if strangers persisted in slipping pennies into their "coin slot".

This is the perfect context for vigilante justice.