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Balenciaga accused of cultural appropriation over $1k sweatpants

Sagging pants have ‘been used to criminalize Blacks, especially Black males as thugs and a threat to American society,’ professor argues

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Monday 13 September 2021 21:17 BST
Balenciaga sagging pants under fire for racism
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Upscale fashion brand Balenciaga has been accused of cultural appropriation by fashion and history experts over a pair of sweatpants priced at $1,190 (£860).

The grey sweatpants appear to have the top of a pair of boxers peeking out above the waistband.

TikTok user mr200m__ posted a video of the sweatpants from what appeared to be a store on 2 September, saying “this feels racist ... they’ve woven the boxers inside the trouser”.

Associate professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Marquita Gammage, told CNN that the sweatpants exploit “Black culture with the hopes of securing major profits”.

Dr Gammage wrote in Cultural Appropriation as ‘Agency Reduction’, published in 2018 in the International Journal of Africana Studies, that Black culture is misappropriated in a way that erodes its ingenuity, functionality, and beauty. It also delegitimized Black experiences of injustice for capital gain, Dr Gammage argued.

Sagging pants – jeans, or sweatpants lowered to sit below the waist to show the waistline of the boxers has been popularized within hip hop culture, but Dr Gammage told CNN that it has also “been used to criminalize Blacks, especially Black males as thugs and a threat to American society”.

“Balenciaga men’s Trompe-L’Oeil sweatpants in red triggers immediate concern given the grotesque similarity to the iconic African American hip hop aesthetic worn by Black Americans for decades that has resulted in the imprisonment and death of Black men,” Dr Gammage told CNN. “The trousers have commercial cultural appropriation written all over them; branded with the name Balenciaga.”

The chief marketing officer for Balenciaga, Ludivine Pont, told the outlet: “In many of our collections, we combine different wardrobe pieces into a single garment, such as denim jeans layered over tracksuit pants, cargo shorts merged with jeans and button-up shirts layered over t-shirts.”

“These Trompe L’Oeil trousers were an extension of that vision,” she added.

In 2007, the city of Shreveport, Louisiana passed an ordinance banning “saggy pants”. On February 5, 2019, 31-year-old Anthony Childs was seen running by a police vehicle, holding on to his sagging shorts. A violation of the ordinance was punishable by at most a $100 fine and as much as eight hours of community service, The Washington Post reported in 2019.

The ordinance was removed by June 2019 following outrage over Mr Childs’ death. A similar law banning sagging pants was repealed in Opa-locka, Florida in 2020.

“Sagging attire has been consequential for African Americans; yet companies like Balenciaga seek to capitalize off of Blacks and Black cultural styles while failing to challenge systematic racism that criminalizes Blacks and Black clothing trends,” Dr Gammage told CNN.

“Black culture is so often sampled, but rarely ever cited. And beyond giving credit where credit is overdue, the payout for those who have created and selflessly shared their genius, creativity, risk-taking, and innovation, rarely if ever comes,” fashion designer Stella Jean told CNN.

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