'No Saggy Pants': A Review of the First Amendment Issues Presented by the State's Regulation of Fashion in Public Streets
52 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2008 Last revised: 6 Feb 2009
Date Written: July 29, 2008
In an effort to restrain a popular fashion - saggy pants - and to remedy the problems allegedly associated with that fashion, cities across the nation are passing so-called "anti-sag ordinances." These ordinances prohibit the wearing of pants in a manner that reveals one's undergarments or skin. Violations of these ordinances can result in fines or imprisonment. Atlanta, Georgia, has been considering the passage of just such an ordinance since last August.
Critics have protested the bans on saggy pants, including the proposed ordinance in Atlanta, claiming that these laws violate the wearer's First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and expression. The critics rely on the idea that the First Amendment guarantees citizens the right to freely express themselves: Individuals' choice of clothing, as well as other decisions relating to their personal appearance, is a form of expressing individuals' values, beliefs, identity and personality. According to the critics, then, by criminalizing the wearing of saggy pants, a municipality impermissibly regulates an individual's freedom of expression. However, a constitutional challenge to the anti-sag ordinances under current First Amendment law is likely to fail, leaving the ordinances in place.
This Comment sets out the First Amendment legal framework as it relates to anti-sag ordinances, particularly Atlanta's proposed law, and considers the potential First Amendment issues faced by challengers of the ordinances.
Keywords: First Amendment, clothing, appearance
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