Baggy pants on young men could be spotted early in the 1990s, but they remained a largely "underground" style, worn only by a limited number of people pushing the edge of style, until hiphop replaced grunge as the dominant music form among urban teenagers. By the mid-1990s long baggy shorts became common. Youngsters now demanded that jeans, which had long been a major part of casual dress, be as baggy as possible, with waists several sizes too large revealing the upper band of underwear. Retailers like Gap and Old Navy introduced baggy lines of jeans. Designer Tommy Hilfiger (1951–) created an "urban prep" line, copying a street style he observed in which baggy denim was paired with crisp white button-up shirts.
Explanations vary as to why baggy jeans became so popular. Some claim that trendsetters in the hip-hop community adopted the style to copy the pants that prisoners are issued when they are incarcerated. Sagging pants, according to this theory, reflect the fact that prison inmates are not allowed to have belts, for fear they will hang themselves in their cells. Others contend that the fashion for baggy jeans originated with black basketball stars like Michael Jordan (1963–), who objected to the short shorts mandated for many years by the National Basketball Association and began to wear longer, baggier shorts. Still others believe that baggy jeans have their roots in the skateboarding and snowboarding communities, where participants needed freedom of movement but also wanted to look different from other people.
Whatever their origins, the baggy jeans trend had a profound effect on the sportswear industry. Jeans maker Levi's, which was slow to offer baggy jeans, saw its sales fall 15 percent from 1996 to 1998. While hip-hop fashions remained popular into 2003, signs emerged that the style was shifting back to formfitting and low-rise boot cut jeans, jeans that fit low on the waist and flare out at the ankle.
George, Nelson. Hip Hop America. New York: Penguin, 1999.
Westbrook, Alonzo. Hip Hoptionary: The Dictionary of Hip Hop Culture. New York: Broadway Books, 2002.
[ See also Volume 3, Nineteenth Century: Blue Jeans ]