Sagging Time

As “fashion week” is splashed all over, I started thinking about styles that seem to resist the “time” of fashion, the habit of trendiness, the pull of now. About extended time, stretched time, persistent time. The time of sagging. Less abstractly, I was waiting for the bus and started thinking about the longevity of sagging: it’s been around for a long time, certainly far longer than “trend” or “fashion” would suggest. What accounts for this longevity? I ask this as one who cannot sag, lacking both the body shape and the aptitude.

Sagging also comes to mind because I’m writing about African prisons and re-reading sections of Regina Kunzel’s wonderful Criminal Intimacy, which begins with the insight that prisons are often considered “ahistorical” spaces, certainly according to the patterns of generational time (Halberstam) and chrononormativity (Freeman) through which we measure temporality (here one could also raise settlement over transience, following Nayan Shah). Given that so many of the ways we talk about time are measured not in coffee spoons, but in the patterns of birth, school, marriage, divorce, retirement, and death, the prison appears to be a spatial remove from time. A place governed not by change over time, but persistence and inevitability, strange and stranger intimacies.

I mention sagging and prison because histories of sagging join the two. I am not an expert in these histories—I am following internet crumbs. According to e-historians, sagging began as an act of necessity: prisons refused to let inmates wear belts. Sagging then spread from prisons to elsewhere.

Claiming “sagging spread” is dangerous.

Let me re-word it.

Sagging does not register the movement of a “style” from prison. Instead, sagging registers the movements of prison inmates in and out of the prison system. It is a material reminder of imprisonment in the U.S., a country that holds a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Sagging registers the temporality of prison living—the stretched time, the no time, the time of working out, the time of staying alive, the time of learning how not to kill oneself.

Sagging is about prison time. It’s about a time those outside the prison want to forget.

What would it mean to understand sagging as a rupture in normative time? What would it mean to frame sagging as an unpleasant, irritating, obnoxious reminder of the ideological and material violence required to participate in and support normative time?

Those against sagging have described it as “immoral” and “indecent,” as a rupture of shared spatial codes. Sagging introduces something unwanted into the atmosphere. It introduces prison materialities into spaces designed as non-prisons. I stretch, but only a little. One can certainly read protests against sagging as protests against the making public of prison materialities: we lock people away so we don’t have to engage them. We should not have to engage with their practices and styles and habits.

Sagging divides the world into the imprisoned and those who are not.

But sagging also emphasizes the porousness between the prison and the non-prison. It registers prison as a space of mobility and transience. It registers the time of prison that is not, cannot be, marked by “trend” or “fashion.” It registers the stubbornness of non-normative time. Prison time. Sagging time.

What might it mean to think of sagging as a theory and practice of temporality?

Sagging happens over time. In that sense, it is part of time’s effects. We want to imagine that it is “natural.” Or “inevitable.” Even though a judicious nip and tuck will slow it or prevent it. Sagging happens.

Sagging, as material practice, as stylization, breaks the rules of sagging as temporal inevitability. It suggests there are other ways of inhabiting time—it foregrounds those who slip in and out of chrononormativity, drawn into state systems that run on other kinds of times. Sagging pushes against the forgetting we are encouraged to embrace as normativity.

“The bad people have been put away. You can forget them.”

A line from many TV shows featuring cops. Many of whom hate sagging.

Sagging forbids forgetting. Those towns that have passed laws criminalizing sagging—which often means criminalizing young minority men—make my point about the forgetting that we desire. The towns want to uphold “morality” and “decency” and “gentlemanliness,” qualities whose normative weight is based on silence and forgetting. Against the violence of normative silence and forgetting, sagging.

If sagging is the pull of time, what might sagging as un-fashion, as persistence, as material practice, tell us about how time pulls and stretches, about the logics of prison temporalities as they leak out of prisons into our daily practices? I’m thinking of Oz, for instance, with its repetitions of what Dennis Brutus would call “love, strange love,” its fits of jealousy and frenetic sex, the cycles of boredom and violence, the sameness of minor variations. As I write this, I’m struck by the time of the soap, the non-events of the sitcom, the forms of unfreedom we term normal life, the disruptions we welcome and fear.

Sagging time.

I am not quite sure where this is heading. I wanted to think about fashion and time, about persistence and habit as practices that make time feel differently, about the impress of time on space, the precariousness of sagging—one fears and hopes that pants will fall down. Those who write about sagging describe it as a mode of resistance to normative fashion, a disruption of style, a hiccup in the visual field. I *think* this is right.

But what is one to make of the persistent disruption, of the hiccup that will not stop, that so disrupts breathing that speech becomes impossible? What is one to make of the sag of sagging, its long life?

I had hoped to make visible the time-work of sagging—to note its politics and erotics. To think of the bodies shaped by it, the atmospheres saturated with it, the public spaces fractured by it, and those created by it. I wanted to ask why sagging annoys and irritates, even as it inflames and excites. Perhaps I wanted to abstract the sharp pang of desire that sagging incited recently—one can think away feeling, or so the fool believes. Which is to say, I don’t yet have a handle on how to think about the time of sagging, but I’m interested in its cleavages and crevasses, its passages to thinking through and with other temporalities.