May 31, 2011

Fort Worth buses crack down on saggy pants

Drivers can now turn away passengers who violate the dress code. Some passengers say it's an affront to their personal expression.

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Residents who try to board a bus while exposing their rumps can expect to get bumped.

The Fort Worth Transportation Authority is enforcing a new dress code that allows bus drivers to turn away passengers whose pants sag below the waist.

Several riders interviewed took the change in stride, while others said it was an affront to personal expression and hip-hop-influenced fashion.

"People are still going to do it. They don't care about the rules," said Jesse Cardona, 20, who lives in north Fort Worth's Diamond Hill area. On Tuesday, Cardona wore baggy black shorts pulled up to the waist, although he said he occasionally wears pants that sag.

"It's me," he said. "I'm being me."

The T is putting posters in each bus that read: "Grandma says 'Pull 'em up' or find another ride." The advertisements feature caricatures of two grandmotherly figures -- one light-skinned and one dark-skinned -- and the lower half of a person wearing pants low enough for drawers to be seen.

"They'll mess with our freedom. Pretty soon they're going to ban dreadlocks, too," said Cory Shelby, 29, a tattoo artist and former Miami resident who is staying at a Salvation Army shelter in Fort Worth.

Shelby was told to pull up his pants before getting on a bus, even though he said his black cargo shorts were not drooping enough to be distasteful.

"They told me I had to pull up my pants ..." he said, "and my boxers weren't even showing."

An issue of respect

The campaign began in August 2008, but the T recently made an administrative change to its dress code giving bus drivers authority to deny boarding to violators, spokeswoman Joan Hunter said. On May 12, the day the policy took effect, boarding was delayed for about 50 riders until they pulled up their pants. All complied, she said.

"It's not like they have to go home," Hunter said. "They can just pull it up. It's to be respectful of other riders."

The T is acting with the encouragement of Councilman Frank Moss, who has been the local point man for an issue that has played out in cities nationwide. The fashion trend is widely believed to have roots in prisons, where inmates often aren't issued belts, causing their pants to sag. Some musicians adopted the look, and during the past 10 to 15 years, the fashion has spread to youths of various ethnicities and backgrounds.

Around Fort Worth, billboards will soon be put up with the same message as the T posters, said Moss, who has long argued that the saggy-pants look hurts youths' ability to land jobs.

"This shows we have taken the overall concept of pulling them up to a new level," Moss said during a recent City Council meeting, where he showed off the new T posters. "There are some real policies in place to say, if you don't pull 'em up, you can't ride."

Opposing viewpoint

But others say a policy prohibiting saggy pants may embolden young people to embrace the look as a sign of rebellion.

"Eventually, it will go out of style. It's hard to make somebody do something just because it's right," said Sam Raymond, owner of Munchie's Hot Dogs, which operates an outdoor stand at the Intermodal Transportation Center in downtown Fort Worth. "Even the hip-hop stars are starting to dress up and grow out of it, but it's going to take time."

Elvis King, 53, who was riding a bus home Tuesday in south Fort Worth after attending an appointment in Dallas, said he often sees younger riders on the bus with saggy pants, "but I don't think anything negative about it."

"People dress the way they feel on the inside," he said.

Jay Michael, 21, of east Fort Worth wore a backward Dallas Mavericks cap as he waited for a Trinity Railway Express train. Michael said he supports the ban on saggy pants.

"It's understandable," he said. "It's about respect."

As the train pulled up, Michael stood and stretched, revealing that his pants were sagging below the buttocks.

But as he stopped stretching and boarded the train, his saggy pants were covered by his untucked T-shirt.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

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