Pants to fashion! Virginia to ban `indecent' low-slung jeans

LOVERS OF low-riding jeans, visible thongs and exposed boxer shorts may be obliged to avoid the state of Virginia in the future, or risk a $50 (pounds 27) fine as the cost of their exhibitionism.

Long known to be one of the most conservative bodies in the United States, the Virginian State House of Representatives has broken new legal ground by voting to outlaw exposed underwear, in an attempt to restore sartorial standards in suburban towns such as Richmond and Norfolk.

In the era of low-slung jeans, a flash of black lace or g-string has become a common sight in both America and Europe. But the Virginian "droopy drawers" bill, as it is known to its mainly middle-aged supporters, forbids the intentional exposing of underwear in a way that is "lewd or indecent".

By a 60-34 majority, delegates ruled that the proposed fine was necessary to prevent the youth trend threatening the moral fibre of mainstream America.

"Most of us would identify [exposed underwear] as the coarsening of society," said John Reid, a Republican delegate. "Underwear is called underwear for a reason.'' The bill's sponsor, Algie Howell, told the house: "To vote for this bill would be a vote for character, to uplift your community and to do something good not only for the state of Virginia, but for this entire country."

Although the state's senators must ratify the fine for it to pass into law, opponents of the fashion for wearing trousers well below the hips are already acclaiming a landmark success.

The bill has quickly attracted nationwide publicity, and viewers of ABC's Good Morning America found themselves immersed in an earnest debate yesterday about how low trousers should be allowed to go. Other states are expected to follow Virginia's example.

But liberals have denounced a shameless attempt by middle-aged politicians to clamp down on contemporary youth fashions, while forgetting their own sartorial excesses in the past.

Lionell Spruill, a Virginia Democrat, asked his fellow delegates to remember the follies of Afro haircuts, platform shoes and shell-suits, before making the more serious allegation that the new fine would principally be aimed at the black communities, where the fashion originated.

"Please let these kids express themselves," said Mr Spruill. "This is going to be a bill that targets blacks. You know who they are going to stop."

The American Civil Liberties Union has also condemned the underwear bill as unconstitutional and critics have pointed out that some jeans are now sold with boxer shorts stitched into the fabric. But supporters of the bill were unrepentant. The baggy-pants mode of dress is "disrespectful", said Mr Howell. "The vote this morning was a vote that Virginia does want to set an example of what character should be."

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