Peter proffered a theory over Sunday breakfast a while back. 'Gangsta' rappers and their imitators are aping the sartorial disarray of prison inductees. When you arrive at the slammer, the Man takes away your belt, so your pants fall down. So 'gangsta' rappers and their imitators are preparing themselves for prison life or else showing their solidarity with their incarcerated brothers.
Thinking that this might just be an urban legend, I headed over to Snopes, where I find Peter's theory confirmed. The droopy drawers dudes in prisons are not advertising their availability for sodomy, as some have surmised, but expose their butts because of over-sized beltless prison garb , the belts having been taken away to keep the miscreants from hanging themselves.
The question remains, however, why the rappers and their acolytes would choose criminals as their role models.
In all my years of blogging, this is only my third sartorial post. The other two are lodged, appropriately enough, in the category, Sartorial Matters. One mentions Montaigne, the other Adorno.
In Chapter 42 of his Essays, Montaigne remarks that
We praise a horse for its strength and speed, not on account of its harness; a greyhound for its swiftness and not its collar; a hawk for its wing and not for its jesses and bells. Why then do we not value a man for what is his? . . . If you bargain over a horse, you remove its trappings, you see it bare and uncovered . . . . Why, when estimating a man, do you estimate him all wrapped and muffled up? . . . We must judge him by himself, not by his attire. (Tr. E. J. Trechmann)
I am tempted to agree by saying what I once said to my mother when she told me that clothes make the man, namely, that if clothes make the man, then the kind of man that clothes make is not the kind of man I want to be. (Women are undeniably more sensitive than men to the fact that the world runs on appearances. They have a deep intuitive understanding of the truth that the Germans express when they say, Der Schein regiert die Welt.)
But there is another side to the problem, one that the excellent Montaigne ignores. A horse does not choose its bit and harness, but has them imposed on it. A man, however, chooses how he will appear to his fellows, and so choosing makes a statement as to his values and disvalues. It follows that there is some justification in judging by externals. For the externals we choose, unlike the externals imposed on a horse, are defeasible indicators of what is internal. In the case of human beings, the external is not merely external: the external is also an expression of the internal. Our outer trappings express our attitudes and beliefs, our allegiances and alignments.
That being said, I remain a proud sartorial functionalist who pays no attention to what Thoreau’s "head monkey in Paris" is up to. Practicality and utility rule. Footwear, for example, must be such as to enable the climbing of a mountain should a mountain present itself to be climbed. Bandannas serve as handkerchiefs given their muti-utility for signalling, going incognito, protecting the nasal passages should one find oneself in the midst of an Arizona dust devil, stanching nosebleeds consequent upon overzealous cleaning operations, impeding circulation in case of snakebite . . . .
Pants in summer, that is, during seven months of the year in these parts, must be short to allow proper ventilation despite their ridiculous appearance. Belts must be sturdy enough to support a shootin’ ahrn. A shirt without pockets is worthless, and optimally comes equipped with two deep ones. One needs space for notebook, pen, compass, and what all else. Long ‘geek pants’ that are zipper-enabled for quick transmogrification into short pants are not looked at askance. And so on.
To allow fashion to dictate one's attire shows a lack of independence. Be a man, be yourself, and to hell with the Parisian head monkey.
The beard is the oppositionist costume of juveniles acting like cavemen who refuse to play along with the cultural swindle, while in fact they merely don the old-fashioned emblem of the patriarchal dignity of their grandfathers.
It seems fair to observe, however, that Adorno and the men of his generation were just as oppositionist in refusing to sport the beards that graced the jowls of their fathers.