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Birney Imes: Offensive to some, fashionable to others


Birney Imes



Saturday morning around 10:30 15-year-old Tyrone "Mojo" Tillman happened to be crossing the railroad tracks on 10th Avenue North on the way to his sister's house. Tillman had just walked up the street to the neighborhood convenience store, L.Z. Grocery, or, as he calls it, the Arab store. 


The Columbus Middle School eighth-grader was almost blinding in the spring sunlight. He wore a new red baseball cap turned sideways (Charlotte Hornets) with it's $29.95 price tag attached; a bright red T-shirt, a heavy silver chain necklace; an oversized watch with a red band; almost-new red All-Star tennis shoes and blue jeans low on his hips revealing purple satin gym shorts. He was also wearing dice earrings. In other words, he was splendid head to toe. 


For a long time I've wanted to speak with young black men about this fashion convention of low-riding pants. With the Tupelo City Council in February passing an ordinance against such, the subject has become more relevant. (Get caught wearing pants or skirts that ride more than three inches below the top of the hips and expose skin or underwear in Tupelo and it will cost you $50 for the first "offense" and $200 for each subsequent violation. Repeat offenders could end up doing community service.) 


Tillman was happy to talk. The term is "bustin' a sag." 


"It's an expression of freedom," he exclaimed. "This is a free country. I want to be free. It don't make you a bad person." 


Tillman says the look comes out of hip-hop culture of the early 90s. The Urban Dictionary says it comes from the prison system where males amenable to being approached for sex would wear their pants low as a signal to other prisoners. 


"It's not like we're killing anybody," said Tillman. "It's just fashion." 


Tillman says his weekend look is not one he can wear to school, and he's not happy about it. 


"We got females wearing tight pants, showing everything they got," he said. "I don't think it's fair for us (guys)." 


Around the corner at Ashley's Grocery at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 15th Street, K.J. Wilson, 35, echoes Tillman's sentiments. Wilson was wearing a white and green Fila soccer style overshirt and a green baseball cap. As far as I could tell, his jeans were pulled up. "I don't see nothing wrong with it," Wilson said. "If you don't like it, just don't look at it." 


Geneva Rice, a soft-spoken mother of four, who happened to be passing by agreed. "It's just a fashion statement," she said. 


But Rice has her limits. "It's something wrong if you're showing your underwear or body parts." 


That said, I doubt Ms. Rice would have approved of two fellows hoofing it up Lee High Hill (18th Avenue North) late Saturday afternoon. The shirtless one had a spray of red lips tattooed across his torso and wore jeans low enough to expose every bit of his blue spandex boxer briefs. His companion, dressed in black T-shirt and jeans, waddled like a duck, one hand by his side and the other holding up his jeans. 


I'd guess these fellows to be about 20 and neither was as confident or well-spoken as the 15-year-old I'd talked with earlier. They wouldn't give their names. 


"We feel more comfortable this way," one of them explained. He was talking about his pants. 


What do you say about these two without sounding like an old fogey? It's a curious thing. Maybe they were attractive to girls -- both were nice looking guys. If there was something fashionable about their look, something esthetically pleasing, it was lost on me. 


But, hey, my generation had long hair, rock and roll music and mini skirts. Since then we've had spiked hair, afros, shaved heads, tattoos, piercings. For the most part, those things have come and gone as will bustin' a sag. Maybe the fad is already fading. 


Readers of a certain age will remember a baby-face singer in tight pants, who Ed Sullivan would only let cameras show from the waist up. He happened to be from Tupelo and was shocking to many. Good thing, I suppose, no one thought to pass an ordinance. 


Birney Imes is the publisher of The Dispatch. E-mail him at [email protected]


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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