Luxury fashion brand Balenciaga has been condemned for cultural appropriation over its $1,190 sweatpants that seemingly have a pair of boxers woven above the waistline to make them appear like sagging pants.
A video of the grey Trompe-L’Oeil sweatpants was shared on TikTok on September 2 by a user with the name @mr200m__, CNN reported. “This feels racist,” a user said in reference to the pants in the video. “They’ve woven the boxers inside the trouser.”
Responding to the pants in question, Marquita Gammage, an associate professor of Africana Studies at California State University, expressed worry over it and said it’s a manifestation of the exploitation of “Black culture with the hopes of securing major profits.”
And though pant sagging has been historically synonymous to hip hop culture, Gammage told the news outlet that style of dressing has equally “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,” Gammage added. “The trousers have commercial cultural appropriation written all over them; branded with the name Balenciaga.”
But despite the backlash, Balenciaga’s chief marketing officer, Ludivine Pont, claimed the controversial sweatpants “were an extension” of a creative “vision.”
“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,” Pont claimed.
In 2019, a 31-year-old Black man, Anthony Childs, was fatally shot by a Shreveport police officer after he was approached for sagging his pants – which was in contravention of the city’s 2007 ordinance on “saggy pants.” Childs, who was armed at the time, tried fleeing from the scene. But the officer opened fire after realizing Childs had a gun, The Washington Post reported.
Following backlash over the fatal encounter, the ordinance was scrapped by the Shreveport City Council.
In September last year, it was reported that the city of Opa-Locka was going to repeal a 13-year saggy pants ban that allegedly targeted Blacks. Per the law, offenders who were caught “improperly dressed” in city buildings and parks either received fines or a community service sentences.
And though activists complained the 2007 legislation unfairly targeted young Black men, an ordinance passed by the city in 2013 further expanded the ban to include women and public spaces.
“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,” Gammage said.
Stella Jean, a fashion designer, also told CNN these kinds of incidents are prevalent in the industry. “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,” Jean said.
“In Black culture, there’s a thing we refer to as the ‘Black tax.’ This refers to the extra amount of effort, sweat, and nonsense you’re going to have to put forth and put up with to get even half of the success that someone else with your talent and skills who happens to be white might attain.”