Fashion house in backlash over ‘racist’ $1,190 sweatpants

Balenciaga's Trompe-L'Oeil sweatpants in red
Balenciaga’s Trompe-L’Oeil sweatpants in red

High end fashion label Balenciaga is facing a backlash, after critics said that a $1,190 (£860) pair of sweatpants it sells rips off black culture.

The Trompe L’Oeil pants feature a built-in pair of boxer shorts peeking out from the waistband, mimicking a style popularised by hip hop musicians.

A TikTok post which called the pants racist was viewed 1.6m times and black culture experts have raised concerns. Balenciaga said it often combined wardrobe pieces into a single garment.

Examples include “jeans layered over tracksuit pants [and] button-up shirts layered over t-shirts”, said chief marketing officer Ludivine Pont. “These Trompe L’Oeil trousers were an extension of that vision,” she said.

The trend for wearing low slung pants was popularised in the 1990s and 2000s.
The trend for wearing low slung pants was popularised in the 1990s and 2000s

The trend of wearing “sagging” pants, which allow your boxer shorts to be exposed, was popularised by skaters and hip hop artists in the 1990s. However, during the 2000s some US states passed laws banning the practice, which critics say unfairly discriminated against black people.

Some have since been repealed, such as an order in Shreveport, Louisiana, which turned local law enforcement into “fashion police who used saggy pants as a pretext to target, search, and imprison black people”, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. TikTok user Mr200m saw Balenciaga’s sweatpants on sale in London and posted a video in which someone is heard saying: “This feels very racist… They have woven the boxers inside the trousers.”

Some social media users said the pants amounted to double standards, but others said the design was not racist. One pointed out that boxers sown into pants was “a really common thing in the 90s”. However, Marquita Gammage, an associate professor of Africana Studies at California State University, told CNN the pants had “cultural appropriation written all over them.”

“Sagging attire has been consequential for African Americans; yet companies like Balenciaga seek to capitalise off of blacks and black cultural styles while failing to challenge systematic racism that criminalises blacks and black clothing trends.”

In 2018, Balenciaga apologised after a video posted online appeared to show a Chinese customer being assaulted at the Balenciaga shop in the Printemps department store in Paris. It sparked a backlash on Chinese social media where the hashtag #BoycottBalenciagaDiscriminatesAgainstChinese was viewed at least 29 million times.

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