- But if you are a Black American, retailing such a clothing item may be construed as prejudicially offensive.
- What is about these particular sweatpants that are rubbing so many people the wrong way?
- Does history explain the stance that some are taking against the clothing designer for its decision to market these pants, explaining the social turbulence?
What makes the sweatpants so offensive? Let’s go back in history a little bit to explain this.
The design takes the fashion of having one’s boxer shorts peeking out from the waistband and makes it one cohesive garment, meaning it is built in.
This fashion statement started back in the 1990s, specifically with the musical hip hop duo Kriss Kross who wore their pants – backwards – below their boxers that were not built in, but it did catch on. Not the backward pants part but the sagging pants with the boxers showing part.
Soon it became a fashion symbol for young Black Americans. In the 2000s, however, some US states passed laws banning the practice of wearing clothing this way, but critics said this unfairly discriminated against Black people.
Some of those laws have been repealed as the American Civil Liberties Union found that for example in Shreveport, Louisiana, law enforcement was using this saggy pants law as a pretext to target Black people and search and potentially imprison them.
Getting to the Racist Part
So when high-end fashion designer Balenciaga put a pair of these built-in boxers in a pair of pants of its Trompe L’Oeil line, it wasn’t so much the $1,190 sticker price that people were offended by, although some on twitter accused the label of double standards and questioned the trousers’ high price tag.
What one TikTok user said is that the pants “feel racist” because it is ripping off Black culture. This particular TikTok, by the way, has at last count been viewed over 1.6 million times. When TikTok user Mr200m saw Balenciaga’s sweatpants on sale in London and posted a video, someone can be heard saying: “This feels very racist… They have woven the boxers inside the trousers,” to which someone commented, “They’ve gentrified sagging.”
There were others though that said they did not find the sweatpants to be racist. One comment said that sewing boxers into pants was a common thing in the 90s.
Balenciaga said it often combined wardrobe pieces into a single garment and cited examples that include “jeans layered over tracksuit pants [and] button-up shirts layered over t-shirts,” explained the Chief Marketing Officer, Ludivine Pont. “These Trompe L’Oeil trousers were an extension of that vision.”
When exploring the Balenciaga website, it does indeed have other combined wardrobe items such as the Knotted Sweatpants with a built-in sweatshirt tied-at-the-waist look… for $1,250. The potentially offending sweatpants, by the way, seem to have disappeared from the website overnight.
More History to Consider
The true origin of this fashion statement of sagging pants actually has a very dark history. It began when Blacks were first enslaved in America and was derived from a custom referred to as “buck busting” or “buck breaking.” While these terms initially referred to taming wild horses, southern plantation owners used these phrases to also refer to the practice of “breaking in” defiant Black male slaves.
These Black men would be taken to a public location where all the slaves were made to watch as he was ordered to lower his pants and bend forward. The “master” would brutally rape the man and take his belt afterwards to purposefully have his pants sag. This made him a symbol of being “busted” or “broken in” to deter other slaves from acts of defiance.
Not the First Time
This isn’t the first time a fashion designer has stepped over the moral boundary line. A few years back, Spanish luxury fashion powerhouse Loewe introduced a black and white striped shirt and trousers set (with the shirt alone retailing for $950) as part of a special capsule collection. It was described as being inspired by 19th century English ceramicist William De Morgan.
The outfit, however, drew immediate controversy when people said it was too uncomfortably similar to uniforms worn by inmates of the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War.