Baggy Pants: A Constitutional Right or a Crime?

Droopy pants are a fashion statement. Many young men wear their pants low, with a bit of boxer showing at the top. This is normal – it’s the style, and some say it’s a constitutional right.

In Florida, lawmakers have said it’s not freedom of expression – it’s a crime. Julius Hart, 18, was arrested last September in Riviera Beach, Florida.

His crime?

His pants were too low and four inches of his boxer shorts were exposed. He wasn’t arrested by the fashion police; he was arrested by real police officers with an eye for illegal fashion. A bylaw in Riviera Beach prohibits the exposure of underwear.

Hart spent the night in jail and faced community service or a $150 fine. He decided to take his case to court and fight the charge by challenging the law. Several men charged under the ordinance are arguing that the law is unconstitutional because it violates their constitutional rights to freedom of expression. Criminal defense lawyers argued that droopy pants are a part of modern culture, so much so that Prince Harry, David Beckham, Zac Efron and other celebrities also wear their pants low.

The claim is that anyone who doesn’t realize this is simply out of touch. This style is a freedom of expression that harms no one and as such, is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Chelsea Rousso, of the Fort Lauderdale Art Institute, served as an expert witness at the trial. Rousso showed the court pictures of celebrities in low-slung pants, with boxer shorts exposed at the top. These celebrities are frequently photographed and photos of them are widely circulated. People don’t seem overly alarmed or offended by the style. It’s mainstream fashion.

If any of these celebrities showed up in Riviera Beach dressed as they were in the photographs, they would risk being arrested under the by-law. Officials in Riviera Beach passed the ordinance out of concern that the fashion trend was associated with gang activity. Oddly enough, the trend is rooted in prison culture, where inmates are not allowed to wear belts.

The case is pending in the West Palm Beach court.