The triumphant return of sagging pants

Like most trends of the early 2020s so far, it may have started with Miu Miu, or a Hadid sister. Or some mysterious mind meld of both.

In late 2021, Miuccia Prada’s eponymous label sent models down a runway in Paris wearing skirts with a boxers-style waistband visible at the hips. Around the same time, the German brand Hugo Boss announced its pivot from suits to streetwear at Milan Fashion Week with supermodel Gigi Hadid sporting what looked to be a pair of boxer briefs peeking out over gym shorts.

It only takes a quick search on TikTok to confirm that the style has been spreading through stylish cities across the globe ever since. Of course, it’s not a novel look: Male hip-hop musicians (and some women, notably the singer Aaliyah) made it ubiquitous in the 1990s and 2000s. Its widespread popularity as casual, comfortable streetwear for young people was complicated by a constellation of different concerns from grown-ups (as youth fashions so often are). But the themes working their way down from runways to sidewalks have converged, and the decree is clear: Sagging is back in style, and this time it’s for everyone.

Elianna Arvizu, a 25-year-old content creator, often wears boxer shorts under her baggy jeans as she ambles around Los Angeles on weekdays: running errands, grabbing coffee, going to flea markets. Boxers provide a worry-free way to move around in pants that sit low on her hips: “You don’t have to worry about, like, … I don’t know, anything hanging out,” she says with a laugh.

Hailey Teo, a 24-year-old presenter-host in Singapore, saw one of the members of the K-pop group Blackpink model the style in a 2022 Calvin Klein ad. Now, Teo wears Calvin Kleins the same way — and enjoys being able to wear low-riding pants with the convenient extra midriff coverage that boxer shorts provide. “I love the idea of low-waisted jeans, but my lower belly pooch makes it hard to pull off that Y2K style,” she says.

As menswear-inspired pieces and actual menswear have come into vogue for women, many have enjoyed the boxers-and-baggy-jeans look as one more way to incorporate the stereotypically masculine into their daily dressing. Siena Filippi, a 25-year-old vintage-clothing entrepreneur based in Brooklyn, loves wearing baggy jeans and Speltham boxers with a cropped shirt or a lacy hair accessory, adding a masculine touch to the bottom of outfits that read as more stereotypically feminine up top.

“Traditionally, the boxer has been seen as, like, a masculine clothing item,” she says. “I love that girls are kind of taking it and making it their own.

Dancer Kara Cannella, 25, struggled at first to make her boxers fit neatly under her jeans. But after some trial and error, she now likes the extra pop of color or pattern that a boxer waistband can add to her outfits, as well as the comfort the style offers when she’s out with friends or going to dance classes. Cannella, who is gay, also frequently sees sagging within the lesbian and queer-femme community in L.A. The community already helped relax the rules of gendered dressing in the 20th century — and the boxers-and-baggy-jeans combination can comfortably fit (and flatter) a person of any biological sex and gender identity.

Of course, Cannella recognizes that the look wasn’t always accepted everywhere — and still isn’t. “My family’s from Texas,” she says, “and my grandparents, if I wore my boxers out with my jeans, they’d be like, ‘Pull your pants up,’ or like, ‘What’s happening here?’”

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, a number of puritanically minded authority figures of the day criticized young men, and especially young Black men, for wearing sagging pants, in part because doing so showed one’s undergarments (and occasionally butt cheeks) to the world. Adding to the concerns of parents and middle-school principals, sagging was often said to have originated in prisons, where inmates were often prohibited from wearing belts. (That theory has been called into question.)

Soon, local officials in some U.S. communities were stretching to find a connection between sagging pants and crime; as a city council member who wanted to ban sagging in Ocean City, Md., told The Washington Post in 2013, “If you dress like a thug and think like a thug, chances are you’re going to act like a thug.” Cities in Tennessee, Louisiana and Texas, among others, tried to enact laws in the 2000s that would punish pants-saggers with fines, penalties or even potential jail time. Transit agencies and school systems also took measures against sagging.

In the book “The Persistence of Taste: Art, Museums and Everyday Life After Bourdieu,” Susan B. Kaiser and Maxine Leeds Craig theorized that the controversy may have contributed to the longevity of the style, still seen today. Many people “persist in wearing a style with which they strongly identify,” they wrote. “The panic displaces the blame for social inequality onto youths’ stylistic choices while it implores youth to signal, by pulling up their pants, their allegiance to institutions and a dominant culture that have failed and rejected them.”

In a recent interview, Kaiser, a professor emerita at the University of California at Davis who has taught courses on design, gender and clothing, posited that this new era of sagging hasn’t stirred the same sort of controversy as the last one because it looks more modest. Historically, men’s underwear was completely out of view until sagging arrived in the 1990s. Women’s underwear, on the other hand, hasn’t been; hip-hugging pants have caused panic in the past when they exposed thongs or G-strings (sometimes called the “whale tail” style). A boxer short can seem discreet by comparison. “There might not be as much anxiety because it’s not as sexualized,” Kaiser says.

In recent years, as more and more Americans abandon the idea of genitalia as an automatic marker of gender, the rigid norms around “men’s” and “women’s” underwear have started to blur. In response, start-ups and existing underwear brands have increased the availability of boxers designed specifically for female anatomy. (That is, without an open fly or support pouch.)

The chaos theory of Gen Z fashion

Underwear and clothing label TomboyX, for example, aims to provide “underwear that any body could feel comfortable in, regardless of where they fell on the size or gender spectrum,” according to its website. So it offers the standard bikini, thong and brief cuts — but it also offers period underwear, boxer briefs without a fly, and gender-expressive garments such as tucking underwear and binders. Household-name brands such as Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, J.Crew, Skims, Alo and Lululemon, among others, also produce versions of the classic boxer or boxer-brief silhouette for women. Hanes introduced its women’s boxer brief in 2005, according to a spokesperson.

Alexandra Fuente, CEO and founder of the women’s underwear brand Woxer, recognized a similar need back in 2017 when she started developing her line of women’s boxers. “It’s been a defining decade, really. Gender norms have changed, and apparel doesn’t need to have a gender,” she says.

She also notes that the coronavirus pandemic, ushering in a period in which clothing’s main goal has been comfort, may have also given rise to a new sagging trend among women. “Post-pandemic dressing, comfort is the new priority: baggy jeans versus skinny jeans. Comfortable boxers or boxer briefs instead of thongs,” she says.

Of course, fashion’s ever-churning cycle of novelty may best explain why pants have gotten baggier and lower while undie waistlines have climbed up over top. Broadly speaking, the 2020s’ Gen Z-driven fashion tends to resurrect ’90s and 2000s styles but with a more inclusive view of who wears what. As Emma McClendon, a professor of fashion studies at St. John’s University in Queens, noted to The Post in 2022: “What we’re seeing are clothes that typically we would consider hyper-gendered, but they’re being played with in a way to eschew gender.”

Perhaps it’s no wonder, then, that those sagging Miu Miu silhouettes were so immediately resonant with young, fashion-conscious women. A turn-of-the-millennium style, revived with a gender-expansive twist? The age of female sagging, you might say, has arrived right on schedule.

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