WILDWOOD, N.J. — Mayor Ernest Troiano Jr. thinks he's found a way to put one of this Jersey shore resort town's problems behind it. Wildwood is ready to ban overly saggy pants, no ifs, ands or butts.
The city is set to pass a law Wednesday regulating how people dress on its boardwalk. It bans going shirtless, as well as walking on the boardwalk with bare feet.
But the provision that has gained widespread attention is a prohibition on pants that sag more than 3 inches below the hips, exposing either skin or underwear. Troiano said Wildwood has been inundated with complaints from tourists upon whose money the popular beach town depends for its survival.
"When you have good families who call you up and say, 'I've been coming here 20 years, 30 years, 40 years and I'm not going to any longer because I'm not going to subject my children or my parents or grandparents to seeing some kid walk down the boardwalk with their butt hanging out,' you have to do something," he said. "I'm not one of the Fruit of the Loom underwear inspectors; I'm not one of the grapes. I don't want to see it."
Neither does Frank Krueger, of Gloucester City, N.J., who has been coming to Wildwood with his wife, Denise, for decades. Together, they had spent about $80 on pizza and games of chance in two hours of strolling the boards.
"You want a family atmosphere here," he said. "You don't want to see someone walking around with their butt crack hanging out. On the beach is one thing, but not here on the boardwalk."
"It's disgusting," his wife added. "I don't want to see someone's bare butt. It just looks terrible. They walk around with their legs spread, and their crotch is down around their knees."
John Peters was not sporting his pants quite that low Monday on the boardwalk. But they were still low enough that half his navy blue briefs were exposed. He had not heard of the proposed law but said he was unconcerned about it.
"That's not low, compared to some of the others," he said.
Known popularly as "sagging," the trend originated in the U.S. prison system, where inmates are not allowed to wear belts. It was popularized by hip-hop artists and embraced by youths.
The issue has cropped up — or rather, drooped down — in towns across the country. Authorities in suburbs of New Orleans, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit and Miami and Jacksonville, Fla., are among those who have passed laws banning overly droopy pants.
The proposed Wildwood law would set fines of $25 to $100 for a first offense and $200 for subsequent offenses. Having to do 40 hours of community service is also a possibility.
Bathing suits are already prohibited for both sexes on the boardwalk, unless covered up by other clothing.
Ruthann Robson, a City University of New York law professor and author of the upcoming book "Dressing Constitutionally," says the Wildwood law appears to be unconstitutional.
"Courts have struck down attempts to ban saggy pants if what is exposed is underwear rather than 'private parts,'" she said. "As for municipalities requiring men to wear shirts, at least one federal appellate court has said that is 'irrational.'"
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey declined to comment on the proposed law, but other ACLU chapters elsewhere in the country have denounced similar bans as unconstitutional.
Troiano said the city's legal department has reviewed the proposed law and is confident it will withstand a court challenge, which he conceded will probably happen at some point. He promised police won't be out with measuring tapes, relying instead on common sense when evaluating a person's attire.
"They say it's a fashion statement and this is America and they have the right to dress how they want," Troiano said of those who wear their pants low. "Well, I have the right to decency. My right is not to have to look at your (rear end) if I don't want to. I find that offensive. Go somewhere else and do it, and for every one person I lose, I'll gain 10 more who will be glad."