Virginia is for lovers, but not underpants

In a crusade against the "coarsening" of culture, the state's House of Delegates passes a bill that would levy a $50 fine for exposing one's undergarments in an offensive manner.

By Suzanne Goldenberg

Published February 10, 2005 2:34PM (EST)

It is a trend that has baffled parents, delighted teenagers everywhere and created a raging business for Calvin Klein. And it has got up the nose of Algie Howell, a lawmaker from Virginia, who has launched a crusade to have it banned.

Howell's ire is directed against publicly visible boxers, briefs and thongs. His targets are those who follow the trend of wearing low-rise or baggy trousers that put such garments on display. Earlier this week, Virginia's House of Delegates signed on to Howell's campaign, passing a bill that would levy a $50 fine on anyone who "exposes his below-waist undergarments in an offensive manner."

Howell, 67, told local reporters that his campaign was inspired by a visit to his barber shop where customers complained bitterly about the fashion sense of a younger generation that favors low-slung trousers. "That's why they're called undergarments," he told the Virginian-Pilot. "They're supposed to be worn under something else."

Virginia's lawmakers apparently agreed, adopting Howell's bill by a margin of 60-34, in what they described as a blow against the "coarsening" of American culture. The bill still has to clear the state Senate to become law.

Howell's sartorial crusade was not supported, however, by civil libertarians or by some of his fellow Democrats. Del. Lionell Spruill appealed to his fellow politicians to cast their minds back to their own fashion faux pas -- such as shell suits, Afros and platform shoes. "Please, let these kids express themselves," he urged.

One campaigner against the measure, Kent Willis of the American Civil Liberties Union, said: "Banning low-riding pants with exposed underwear is likely to have a disproportionate effect on racial minorities."

Howell, who is African-American, rejects such claims. "It's not an attack on baggy pants. It's not about Janet Jackson," he said. "To vote for this bill would be to do something good not only for Virginia but for this entire country."

Suzanne Goldenberg

MORE FROM Suzanne Goldenberg

Related Topics ------------------------------------------