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Perspectives: Oversized Pants, Undersized Goals of Today’s Youth

On a recent trip to the mall, I saw a young man who could barely walk because the seat of his pants sagged to his thighs. I just shook my head and wondered to myself, ‘Is this the future?’ Because if it is, we’re in a whole heap of trouble. The dress code of today’s youth is symptomatic of larger problems of what is supposed to be the future generation of doctors, lawyers, scholars and other professionals. The lifestyles and decision-making of an increasingly large numbers of young men, both Black and White, should be called into question. Oversized pants and undersized goals make for a bleak future.

The problem of boys and young men wearing their pants below their waist appears to be more than just a fad. When I was growing up, we simply wouldn’t even think about wearing sagging pants. We took pride in the way we looked. I suspect the number one reason for our pants not dragging the ground was our parents. I can’t fathom leaving or coming into my house with my pants “saggin’” and draggin’.” I suspect we weren’t influenced by popular culture as much as the youth are today. Back in the day of no color televisions and chickens in the backyard, there wasn’t the peer pressure that there is today. Can you imagine wearing your drooping pants with chickens roaming around in the backyard? Finally, there were social factors to consider. I don’t think girls would have taken too kindly to guys wearing their pants down to the ground. While Sean John and Tommy Hilfiger weren’t around, we were still quite conscious about a “look” that we wanted to convey.

Young men have succumbed to the no-rules dress code. This social phenomenon, jumpstarted by the hip-hop culture, has men behaving badly, at least from a clothing perspective. First off, the mantra for many young men is “the bigger, the better.” If your regular size is medium, then why are you wearing an extra large shirt? If your waist size is 32, then why are you wearing size 38?

I am reminded of the expression, “If your mind can conceive it and your heart can believe it, then you can achieve it.” Many young men between the ages of 15-28 can’t conceive of success. It is simply not in their mindset to think that their futures can be bright. Television has only exacerbated the problem. They see rap stars parading around with their pants falling off of them and they believe that this is reality. What kind of job interview can you go to wearing jeans five sizes too big? And when you don’t get the job, you blame “the man” or the “system.”

In spite of this dismal forecast, we still must be proactive and find some solutions. We must use our places of worship to help to provide home training lessons for our young men. We must teach them how to talk to other adults and children without swearing and otherwise being incoherent. In addition, we can sponsor dress-for-success seminars so that young men can become acquainted with suits, shirts and ties.  Understand that the wing-tip shoe or the penny loafer can replace Timberland boots. If more young women accepted this type of dress, young men would change their behavior quickly. Our fraternities, sororities and social clubs must get serious if we are to save this next generation. In some ways, we must meet them on their own terms. Music is a compelling force in the lives of the young. Let us sponsor some contests that also have some life lessons attached to them. As adults, we have to also think about our own rationale self interests. Many of us can’t retire because of the young men and women that we see each day acting irresponsibly. Would a survey show that more jails than schools are being built across the country? I am afraid of the answer. The exterior problem of sagging pants is only part of the challenge. The bigger problem is turning hopelessness into hope. We have got to speak up and speak out unless we want a generation of young men with no direction and with no purpose.

Dr. James Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs for Miami University Middletown in Middletown, Ohio.


Reader comments on this story:

There are currently 5 reader comments on this story:

“educate the parents”
Dr. Ewers,

While I agree with most of what you’re saying, I have some reservations about your article.  First of all, the youth of the fifties, sixties and seventies, were definitely influenced by the artists of their time -, why else did they wear afros, and bell bottoms?  If the artists of those times were sagging their pants, then some of the youth of that time would sag their pants, it’s that simple.  The media has been known to shape the minds of youth, because they are impressionable.  Not all young male youths sag their pants, it’s all based on your home life.  For instance, I have a twenty-six year old brother who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, and was young when the sagging pants phenomenon started.  My brother tried to sag his pants, tried to convince my parents to buy him bigger jeans, but my father wouldn’t have it; and that was the end of that.  Just like my brother tried to walk with a limp in his step, my father, who does not walk like that, wouldn’t have it, and that ended that. 
     If young black males have a male role-model to tell them what is right and what is wrong, what looks good and what doesn’t, then they will act accordingly and ignore the media fads of their times.  Why don’t we stop trying to change our youth, and start trying to reach and out and change the parents?  If were to educate the parents, we wouldn’t have any problems with our youth.  The problem with youth is their parents.  Their parents let them get away with a lot of things.  Parents who allow their kids to sag their parents, and use curse words, and use ebonics, over-shadow the intelligent youth from good homes, who have home training.  The problem with youth is their parents’ lack of education – an education many of them lack, but which they are desperate and eager to have.

     You can be a single parent and not have an extensive education, but want better for yourself, and seek after what’s better, and raise strong youth.  But, if you’re a single parent, who has kid after kid, smokes, curses, sag your own pants, do all kinds of ungodly things in front of your children, your children will mimic that behavior.  The children, who are our future, are their parents.  We need to look to the parents to get their acts together, we need to educate them as well as the kids.  Because, it’s one thing to mentor a child from a troubled home, but when they go home they see something different, that’s what they may continue to mimic – the behavior they see at home.  It’s well known that kids’ biggest influences are their parents.  Let’s start holding these parents accountable for their actions.

-Shaunda A. Sullivan,

Hampton, VA

“carrying a load”
Thanks to Dr. Ewers for his article on sagging pants. I agree with him wholeheartedly about the message this is sending and the plight of our youth.  I hope we can somehow get our youth to recognize that in many cases it appears that they are carrying a “load” in their pants.

-Larry R. Shannon, Ph.D.
Bowie, MD

“the prison look as street fashion”
I teach African and African American History at an HBCU; I also teach those subjects in a college program in a prison nearby. I am struck by the fact that the young men in my classrooms in each institution dress and groom themselves identically: young men with visible tattoos, cornrows, and oversized clothing.  I realized that the guys in prison look this way because they are in prison.  The guys on the outside look this way because the prison look has become street fashion. This came on the scene with early rap, Run DMC for example, with their no belts and no shoelaces in homage to incarcerated brothers. Now I really wonder if the 19 year olds in my non-prison classrooms realize that they are indeed dressing like convicts.

-Kathryn Barrett-Gaines,

Bowie, MD

“right on target”
Dr. Ewers’comments about this ubiquitous fashion trend among our younger generation are right on target.  As he points out, this trend is all the more troubling because it is reflective of the numerous unhealthy influences to which the youth of today are exposed in our modern multi-media environment.  I count myself quite fortunate not to be a young male in today’s society, because I’m not sure that I would have the courage or strength of character needed to resist the fads fostered by the hip-hop culture___ fads which pander to the lesser beings in all of us and distract one’s focus from the daunting task of preparing for competition in the real world.  Dr. Ewers’ article should serve as a clarion call to each of us as parents and educators to shield our youth from the phenomenon of oversized pants and undersized goals.

-William J. Earl,

Washington, D.C.

“highlight our children’s accomplishments”
As I continue to see more emphasis is placed on the negative stereotypes and leaving our youths with a clouded picture. All over the country we see youth portraying the life styles of the media and their community. Wearing clothing labeled State Property vs. identifying with positive figures.  Wearing clothing similar to the prison population is a dangerous message. Yes some of us do understand to stance that the clothing may portray. However, how much will we accept?  There is not one answer. However, we must not concede to think our youth are not aware of alternatives. The case is Popular vs. Right. POOR SELF ESTEEM  and THE WRONG SELF ESTEEM are TWO DIFFERENT things. Some of our children have the wrong value system and feel their image is positive. I must emphasize I SAID SOME!

     We tend to parade when a youth is killed. How about looking to celebrate our youth’s accomplishments in a major way! Students are graduating from school, selecting to further their education through Colleges, Universities, Trade  School , Armed services, etc. – and the lists goes on. What if those with the power to influence organized a salute to our children nationwide by having a day in which children wearing shirts indicating where they are going after high school joined with youths who have started their journey to their career goals. We tend to see more parties organized for people returning from incarceration. We need to really begin to highlight our children’s accomplishments.

-Michael Sturgis,

Philadelphia, PA

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