Derrick Shepherd ( http://senate.legis.state.la.us/Shepherd/) is
an attorney, a state senator for Louisiana’s 3rd District and a major
in the U.S. Army Reserve Judge Advocate General’s Corps. In 2004
he drafted House Bill 1626, also known as the “Baggy Pants Bill.”
MY LEGISLATION PROHIBITING the showing of underwear or
buttocks was prompted by several pastors in my legislative district. They
were both offended and deeply concerned that styles flaunting underwear and bare flesh were being seen on the streets of our community.
The pastors said these offensive “fashion statements” evolved at least in part from the culture of
our prison system, and they felt the styles were not only inappropriate but intended to convey a
rejection of all societal norms. They considered them to be a bad influence on young children.
As an attorney, I believe that American law is constantly evolving to reflect the changing
norms of our society. In the 1950s in Louisiana, there were actually laws on the books that
required a wife to get her husband’s written permission before she could purchase an automobile in her own name. Of course, anyone proposing such a law today would be laughed out of
In the same way that you do not have the right to shout “Fire” in a crowded theater, I do
not believe individuals should be able to violate community norms by wearing clothing in a
manner that shows their underwear or parts of their bare bottom. I believe that the concept
of community norms should be allowed to shape our laws.
However, I am also the first to say that community standards change, and my opposition
to showing one’s underwear may one day be a minority position. My parents like to remind me
that in the late 1950s Elvis Presley was threatened with jail—until it became clear within a few
years that Americans loved rock-and-roll. There came a moment when Elvis’ gyrating hips no
longer seemed a threat to overthrow the elected government of the United States.
Personally, I hope the day never comes when showing one’s underwear or bare butt is
considered to be American high fashion. If that day ever comes, you’ll find me lining up with
the old reprobates, the old fogies and those who claim the sky is falling. C
from experts in the field:
RECENTLY, A MEMBER of our town council proposed an ordinance
that would have made it unlawful for people to wear pants that fall
below the waist, exposing their undergarments. Had the ordinance
passed, it would have carried a fine of $250. The council member
proposed the ordinance because several citizens in his district were
offended by going to the supermarket, or walking down the street,
and seeing people’s undergarments.
The proposal was rejected in a 6– 2 vote.
As mayor of the town of Stratford, I did not support this initiative for several reasons—
philosophical, legal and practical. I believe that legislating a public dress code of any kind is not
the role of government and is, in my opinion, an infringement on people’s personal freedoms.
Attempting to ban this particular fashion trend raises numerous questions from the perspective of municipal government. First, how do we as a community decide what styles are
“offensive”? Bare midriffs, bathing suits in public, bare feet, spandex and any other tight-fitting,
provocative or generally unflattering clothing might also be considered “offensive.”
In addition, how do we as a government handle new trends that have yet to emerge?
Yet another question, and one that has a major impact on the day-to-day role of government, is the enforcement of this type of ordinance. “Baggy” would have to be defined for our
police officers, our teachers and the community at large. As Stratford’s chief elected official, I
find the idea that town resources would be spent both defining and enforcing this ordinance
unconscionable—especially because the majority of the baggy-pants offenders are minors.
I believe that police officers put themselves in harm’s way each and every day to protect
our community’s health and safety. They are not the “fashion police.” Ultimately, style is a
matter of taste, family values and personal responsibility, and reflects the image a person
chooses to project. C
James R. Miron is mayor of the town of Stratford, Connecticut
OCTOBER DEBATE RESULTS:
Should public works be operated
by private interests?
Percentage reflects votes
received by October 8, 2007.
SEPTEMBER DEBATE UPDATE:
Should we rely more on nuclear
power to meet our energy needs?
YES: 48% NO: 52%
Percentage reflects votes
received by September 28, 2007.
Opinions expressed are those of the
individuals or organizations represented and
are presented to foster discussion. Costco
and The Costco Connection take no position
on any Debate topic.