Friday, February 3, 2012
Jeans and Ethics
In recent years two trends in male fashion have been very troubling for some sectors of our societies. Call them fitted jeans, pencil pants or skinny jeans they have some people uncomfortable. The other is the low waist style which allows varying degree of underwear to show. I find them troubling because they always draw my attention. The problem is a little graver for others. The former is a perceived threat to masculinity and consequently the domain of women and the latter speaks to this sense of decency that black men must subscribe to as they must do nothing to further their marginalization in societies that have more reasons to deny them work, respect, love and acceptance than not.
I remember after my trip to Suriname in about 2004 someone explained the slim fitting pants that were everywhere there then, as the Dutch influence, it was an expression of the liberal male found in all of Europe least so England. Holland is known for its liberal attitudes, in France the men kiss, in Italy they walk down the streets hugging each other. The closer silhouette naturally followed the flat-front pant, just as a point of interest. In Suriname, though, the young men were all wearing close fitting pants. It stood in stark contrast to the still pervasive baggy finish associated with the global Hip Hop image elsewhere, it was therefore not American.
After Suriname I spent three years in Jamaica. The fitted silhouette was there before it was in Trinidad and Tobago by my observation. One of the things that I believe influences Jamaican trends is its proximity to Miami. Many boutique owners shop in Miami.
By now the L.A. punk style that really some say ushered in the age of skinny jeans, had reached New York, Miami and London. They were no longer in types of denim but now bright colors in the these places. It was around then too that metrosexuals went mainstream, a characteristic of this being a new masculinity that put taste before allegiance to norms of accepted men’s attire.
I see less of them being used to “dress up” as we say here, and more so casually, it suggests that the trend is running its course. One person even commented to me last weekend that skinny jeans were out of fashion. This despite another person recently complaining about men wearing a women’s brand, PJ’s which seem to be made of stretch denim, giving an even closer fit.
Emerging trends in jeans seem to be the stone- washed grey which is more a color statement than one of fit and partially bleached blue denim. It must be also noted that some high end brands post True Religion and Evisu have also been capturing a market that is loyal and visible.
The other trend of the sagging pants speaks to values. Some are to a degree repulsed on one level to be seeing a man’s underwear. He is said to have no self-respect, no ambition, be appropriating a foreign culture with roots in the jails where belts are taken away and so pants sag. I even saw a campaign by an U.S. politician to have it banned. President Barack Obama has spoken against it. I heard, too, that male some tourists disembarking a cruise ship in Grenada were sent back on board by Prime Ministerial decree because their underwear was showing. I can’t confirm it but I took no time to doubt it.
From as far back as the 90’s Mark Whalberg, then Marky Mark modeled Calvin Klein in magazines with his underwear showing. I can’t say I remember the response of the politically correct but fact is that that was over 20 years ago, we don’t yet accept it and still make it a problem.
Perhaps even earlier male Rock musicians and Punk stars were wearing skin fitting jeans.
I read in a historical account of “gayness” in Trinidad and Tobago of some of the ways the community existed. It described same sex sexual relations among men as “a gentleman’s vice”. The term "gentleman" was reserved for certain members of the society, we know we were not all considered gentlemen. It speaks of a man of stature, a man with a lady, a man of society. So in examining the history of homosexuality in Trinidad and Tobago some are outside the notes of history. Even if those interactions were between “gentlemen’ and those of a lower class the article does not mention any other sector of Trinidad and Tobago in that period.
Its Carnival and Singing Francine has a song I’m sure we’ll hear at Calypso Fiesta warning about the societal ill that wining is when done by children. Ok, not sure what my position is on that. One Red Cross official has also been known to admonish against lewd behavior by children at the junior parades of the bands.
Yes it is a disturbing sight for me to see young girls, particularly, gyrating as they parade. However, there is a part of me that doesn’t see wining as vulgar, despite how it looks. The fact is it feels good to do it. What it connotes is really imaginary to the person doing it almost. Too, most times I have seen a young girl wining a female guardian was close by. I may protest too much but while I don’t think it something to encourage I’m not sure the reasons why it should not be encouraged should be encouraged either, as silently articulated as they are or may be.
For me this Carnival I’d like to wine. I have tried to “wuk up” as the men do in Barbados and realized how bound I was by the Trinidad and Tobago limitation on how much a man can wine before becoming suspect of partaking in the vices of gentlemen. I don’t need anyone’s permission but I would say that I too find myself trapped by ideas about how I should behave. I’m not sure though if how I wine and wear my jeans are not in fact genetics.