Dadeville, Alabama, a sleepy town of about 3,200, has made headlines in the past few weeks. Dadeville City Council proposed to ban saggy pants, mini-skirts, and short-shorts in the name of mutual respect. This is not new type of legislation; towns all along the Bible Belt have proposed similar laws policing the outfits of their citizens. Dadeville’s proposed fine is $25 dollars for the first offense, eventually leading up to $200 dollars per following offense and potential jail time.
Why was Councilman Frank Goodman, one of two African-Americans on the council, behind the law? Two reasons: first, the move was inspired by God, and second, he wants his citizens to be respected.
Religious inspiration aside, when I heard the news, I immediately wondered why the city council wasn’t pushing to fine other styles of dress that are not considered “respectable.” Frank Leon Roberts, part-time professor at NYU and accomplished scholar, comments to BTR: “[They] certainly are not regulating college students on the University of Alabama’s campus from wearing sweatpants to class. So one has to ask, maybe, why would [the city] be regulating a person’s style of dress?”
It seems to me that if a societal dogma dictates that certain styles of dress aren’t respectable, sweatpants and pajamas are also potential offenders. Workout clothes, not professional in the slightest, could be an offender. Not wearing a bra to the grocery store could be an offender. So why aren’t authorities fining people who wear those types of clothing in public? Who is Dadeville targeting?
Sagging pants have been a popular style of dress largely among minority populations since the garment’s insurgence in popular culture, namely hip-hop music videos. Mini-skirts and short-shorts, however, can apply to any socioeconomic and racial population, as long as that population is female.
It’s questionable why Goodman isn’t focusing on other forms of law that would actually help these supposedly “abject” populations. Roberts reiterates, “No one is going to actually have access to fair housing because of this. No one is going to have access to a job because of this… No one is going to be less likely of being killed by the police because of this.”
Moreover, not wearing a mini-skirt won’t give a woman equal pay on the dollar. Not wearing sagging pants won’t give a man of color access to equal education and protection under the law. So what does this law actually do for its targeted population? Probably nothing, except load them with punitive fines that many will have difficulty paying.
As Americans, it is also our civic responsibility to recognize the problematic nature of a government that polices our morality. With this law, the very morality of the population it affects is being questioned. Just take councilwoman Kelly’s comment to the Daily Beast that, “When you got on short shorts or a short skirt, leaving nothing to the imagination… it’s like you’re advertising.”
To Kelly, I must ask: advertising what, exactly? These small, seemingly inconsequential laws often feed into a more insidious form of discrimination and enforced racism that is harder to see and fight. A population that is policed down to their very style of dress inevitably faces other forms of oppression and exclusion that go beyond sagging pants.
Roberts continues that the biggest legality issue with this ordinance is its unconstitutionality. We are guaranteed the right to freedom of speech, which could easily blanket the right to freedom of expression. When our clothing is somehow offensive to others, for whatever reason, and is thus policed, our freedom of speech is inhibited. Our own existence is criminalized and rendered “inappropriate.”
Beyond its many problematic and discriminatory layers, I feel that the biggest issue remaining is what Dadeville, Alabama, will do–and what denizens of other localities will do, when more laws like this come to the forefront.
As Roberts explains, “There’s always [going to] be some nut politician who proposes any sort of law. The question is now, how does the community respond?”
Featured photo courtesy of Paul Sableman.