The Sag Has Lost Its Swag
By Robert Lilly | October 1, 2009
According to onlineslangdictionary.com, the word swag, which derives from swagger to have style has been popularly used mostly in Los Angeles, but due to the art form of rap music and the medium of music videos it is becoming more regularly used in other geographic locations. Another popular fad or tradition deriving out of Los Angeles, California is the practice of wearing ones pants or trousers below waist level, also commonly known as sagging. One is said to be ‘getting there sag on’ when their pants are riding low off the buttocks area. I believe this bit of linguistic and cultural breakdown is necessary for you, our reader, because although most of you have either seen this display of fashion sense or you have practiced in at some time in your life, if not now; you perhaps may know little to nothing of its origin and background.The exact origination of this practice is hotly disputed and the intent of this article is not to conjure up the old arguments that it started in prisons as a method by which homosexuals displayed their femininity to other heterosexual males. Nor is it to disparage the youth and/or adults who might perform it and believe it to be a legitimate manner of self-expression. Rather the purpose of this article is to make the claim that for whatever the reason a person does it s/he should be aware that sagging has lost its swag. It has now been commandeered, taken over by everybody and so I assert that due to it now being so all-pervasive, present everywhere, it means nothing anymore, anywhere.My reason for this claim is due to an observation I happened to make the other day as I was going about my daily routine. It all began with a trip to the mall. I had finished my shopping and as I was exiting Best Buy I noticed a young white male, possibly in his twenties, walking in front of me and he stood out to me because he had on a uniform from the Best Buy store, . What struck me as unusual was when I glanced down at his attire I noticed that he was tugging at his pants in a way that seemed eerily familiar to me. The method he was employing was customary for youth, particularly African American youth or more specifically those who might have been influenced by the LA gang culture, this, mind you, is from my personal life experience; when they sag and their pants fall too low they are given to tugging at them just enough to make them sit high enough to walk comfortably or without tripping on the bottoms or letting them ride too low so as to present a problem for them when they need to run.This young white male was doing the same thing! He was adjusting his pants because he was soon to be sitting in his car and sagging pants, when too low pose a problem for the driver. Or they just might be pressing tightly to the buttocks area. This was my first observation of the day. The second one came when I was at the market. While exiting at the register I glanced a look at what I thought of first impression was a man but was actually a Mexican American or Hispanic woman, I could see the form of her breasts under her oversized T-shirt. She, after a more discreet but focused examination was apparently the other half of a lesbian couple, another woman with slightly more feminine qualities paid the price for their items. Her mate stood by, as if on guard, and what made her presence so notable was the fact that her jeans were extremely low off of her ‘booty’, another slang word for backside. I thought to myself, my God, what in the world happened to the sag? My thoughts may have been impacted because of my perception of her sexuality but it was more related to her gender than it was my presumption of her sexual preferences. I continued on with my mind now making a connection to the sights of earlier that day seeing this white guy, with a respectable company outfit on, sagging on his way home. This was observation # 2 of the day.The final observation came while I was visiting a friend who lived on the NE side of town. As I approached her home I noticed a young boy, maybe 6 or 7 walking down the block; this young man too was- you guessed it, sagging. He was walking with one hand gripping a ice cream bar and the other one holding his pants up that were falling down, one side more than the other. I ventured to call out to the lad and I suggested he get a belt before he lost his trousers and he looked over at me with a bit of concern and what seemed to be intimidation and kept moving on. As I recollect I have seen similar sights in the past but with these events occurring all in one day it made me cognizant of something that I thought absolutely important to commentate upon. Most of the youth I grew up with who were given to sagging, would have considered themselves gangsters or hardcore thugs. When I was in high school looking like a gangster would not make you popular with the girls nor endear you to the rest of the student body. You were seen as an outcast and we preferred it that way, it made us feel special. Social psychology teaches us that how we dress can be understood as important identity markers- ways of informing others of who we are and who we identify with. These men, so-called gangsters were examples of this principle. They saw themselves as a group and began to formulate ways to set themselves apart from others; hand signals, colors, hats tilted, tattoos, dances, however, the sag became one of the most prominent and easily imitable methods of doing such. Everyone couldn’t get a tattoo or endure the pain of piercing. Colors ran a second best. But little effort was involved in loosing ones belt and letting you jeans or khakis hang low. I can only imagine what these men would say today to my observations. Would they embrace the idea of sagging being open to all to practice? Would they stop sagging so as to reverse their being seen as similar to the popular culture? Or maybe they would invent some new way of sagging, for example, designing pants that hung down only in the front! Wow! What a thought.I don’t rightfully know what they would do but I know what I have done. I used to sag in my younger years and it took me years to break myself of this practice in prison when I began to associate with a certain religious group. As a leader I was called to set an example for the other men and I kept being plagued by disappointing thoughts when I realized I was standing in front of these men leading prayer, supposedly to God, and my pants were riding low off of my behind. I instinctively knew there was something inconsistent with my actions. Gradually I unlearned this habit, one that my identity had hinged on for nearly 12 years of my youthful life. Looking back I can see how I got where I was, being young, immature, and impressionable all made following the crowd seem reasonable. However, today, at 39 years of age, I would appear foolish within my own heart if I found myself submitting to this practice knowing what I now know of life. And so I offer this word of advice to my peers, brothers and sisters, all whom I love so deeply and want to see become free to live on terms that they are comfortable with; learn to direct your own hearts in the way that you want your life to go. Be slow to adopt, promote and pass on ways that seem fashionable, these ways are fleeting, here today and gone tomorrow, but the effects of them might be around for generations to come. Remember the scripture that advises us wisely in this manner: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up my childish ways” . Meditate on these words and seek to find it in you to apply them to your life and see if you are in need of their reasonable counsel. I bid you peace and prosperity, wisdom and good health.