Significance to rolling up one sweatpant leg?
January 6, 2004 10:13 AM   Subscribe

What's the story behind rolling one leg of sweatpants/warm-up pants up? Is it just fashion, or does it signify something?

It seems to be an urban/hip-hop thing, but I'm a little too chicken to go up to some baller and ask. Anyone know what it means, and if so, where it came from?
posted by me3dia to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (26 answers total)
Right leg up is buying, left leg up is selling. (or visa-versa, i can never remember....)
posted by Dr_Octavius at 10:16 AM on January 6, 2004

It's kinda like whether you wear your earring in the right earlobe or left earlobe, I think.
posted by rocketman at 10:19 AM on January 6, 2004

You're "cool", or is that now "sick" least you know which leg is'nt hiding the "gat".
posted by thomcatspike at 10:20 AM on January 6, 2004

which leg pants
posted by thomcatspike at 10:20 AM on January 6, 2004

No, no, no... left side means your Bloods and right side means your Crips. Or something like that. When I go to Compton, I usually just wear shorts.

I don't even know if those "old skool" gangs are still around (or as big as they once were), at least I stopped getting my monthly newsletter from them.
posted by geoff. at 10:22 AM on January 6, 2004

I was told by a policeman that this started out in prisons. This was awhile back so I forget what it signified. I think Rocketman may have the gist of it, tho.
posted by konolia at 10:37 AM on January 6, 2004

When I was in high school (late 80s), my understanding as a middle class white kid in a small beach resort town was that it signified buying or holding. But, and maybe I'm just no good at spotting drug dealers any more, that doesn't seem to apply so much now, or there are a lot of clean cut little dope dealers attending the middle school across the street from my house. I'm guessing it's a fashion statement stemming from the prison/gang/drug dealing branch of urban culture.
posted by jennyb at 11:06 AM on January 6, 2004

Here's my philosophy on sweats:

If the person is wearing them while exercizing, it really doesn't matter if they're rolled up, rolled down, or rolled sideways.

If the person is wearing them as casual attire... well, it's impolite to stare.
posted by Shane at 11:12 AM on January 6, 2004

I roll up the right cuff of my pants while cycling so the fabric doesn't get caught up in the chain. Sheesh, I've been broadcasting "buying" without realizing it for years.
posted by bonheur at 11:21 AM on January 6, 2004

First time I saw it was LL Cool J.
posted by yerfatma at 11:32 AM on January 6, 2004

This is totally out of my field, so the following is wild conjecture that may masquerade as the truth in some parts:

Rolled up pant legs probably originated in the prison system (maybe Illinois?) as an identification between larger "nations" of gangs. In general, Folk (incl. Crips) tends to pull right and People (incl. Bloods) tends to pull left. It's an easy identifier that does not require any extra paraphenalia (you won't be wearing your kings jersey in prison) and is just subversive enough to prevent being completely stamped out.

This of course spilled over into street activity (or may have originated there, but there are plenty of other ways to signal your affiliation in the street without it) and then into popular culture (esp. music). Favoring one side or the other (such as rolling up one pant leg) is but one of many different signifiers within a sometimes elaborate identification system.

Kids hanging at the local megamall with a rolled up pant leg most likely have no gang affiliation and probably fall somewhere in between poseurs and chumps.

I have never heard of it being used to identify buying vs. selling (there are plenty of other ways to do that). I imagine it is a misreading of the identification by outsiders, but it is certainly a possibility.
posted by ahughey at 11:39 AM on January 6, 2004

Best answer: o my knowledge, it has nothing to do with buying or selling or which gang you're in.

It is a simple way for the person to indicate that they are not under house arrest--they are not wearing an ankle bracelet.

This serves two purposes:

1. Says to cops "don't harrass me. i'm not the house arrest flee-er you're looking for" and

2. indicates that the person thinks they're cool enough to have been arrested (meaning, "the cops think i'm a thug (which is cool) and keep stopping me--don't you think that makes me cool?").

Now... about the tag on the hat thing from a decade or so back...
posted by dobbs at 12:25 PM on January 6, 2004

I believe that:

When you ride a bike you have to keep your pant rolled up or it will get caught in your chain. So then sometimes when you get off your bike you don't bother to roll down your pant leg and you walk around with it that way, looking cool. and then other people see you looking cool and they want to look cool too, so they roll their pants up, but perhaps they don't ride a bike so they don't know that the chain is always on the right, and they roll their pants up on the left.

If you go somewhere like critical mass everyone will have their right pant leg rolled up, and feel proud of it. I've noticed people who ride tricked out low-rider bikes in the NYC critical mass keeping their right sides up.

I don't think people actually advertise the buying and selling of drugs or gang affiliations in manners such as these.
posted by goneill at 2:57 PM on January 6, 2004

Goneill, there ain't that many bicycle riders down here where I live, unless they have a death wish. And I have NEVER seen one that had a pant leg hitched up. Just thuggy looking young people.
posted by konolia at 3:16 PM on January 6, 2004

amongst the juvie thugs i often represent, it signifies exactly what dobbs says it does: "i have no house arrest anklet and i'm tuff enuff that cops will assume i do."

in my experience, there are no "i'm holding" "i'm selling" or "i'm buying" signals beyond the conversation and gang emblems are never as subtle as the distinction between left leg/right leg. you don't want yourself getting shot because of someone's dyslexia, actual stupidity, or lack of subtlety. getting shot because of your (or someone else's) braggadocio, machismo and general agression, now that makes you a man.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:31 PM on January 6, 2004

Wouldn't you need both cuffs up to show no anklet? Or are they always attached to the right (left?) leg?
posted by five fresh fish at 4:23 PM on January 6, 2004

It is a simple way for the person to indicate that they are not under house arrest--they are not wearing an ankle bracelet.

Sorry, i don't get it. Surely this only makes sense for one-legged, non-house arrest flee-ers? If one ankle is shown, couldn't the other have a tag bracelet on it?
posted by dash_slot- at 4:25 PM on January 6, 2004

What FFF said.
posted by dash_slot- at 4:26 PM on January 6, 2004

The answer may be, all of the above. Just go ask a "baller". Play reporter, just make sure he seems friendly before approaching, has a smile and no hands down his pants. Worse he'll do is laugh at you.
posted by thomcatspike at 4:37 PM on January 6, 2004

Goneill, I've known cyclists who do that, so I just assumed it was cyclist thing too.

If it was started by cyclists or adopted by cyclists, I have no idea.
posted by bobo123 at 5:22 PM on January 6, 2004

Best answer: I believe they're always attached to the same leg, the right. If you see someone with the left leg up, you can assume that they are living the "stupid thug" life and haven't a clue why their own pant leg is rolled up. I'd bet that if you asked most people who do it, they wouldn't know and cite "fashion" by talking out of the side of their neck: "Cuz I'm a bad motherfucker and you my bitch for asking."

Further to the, "Why don't you just ask one of them?"... here's a story: when I was a youngster, I did ask some tagged hat wearin' goons what was with the new stylie. The majority of them didn't have a clue and just answered that it was "bad!" (aka fashion). After asking around for months, I gave up, never finding a satisfactory answer.

I've since learned that the tagged hat thing has two purposes:

1. Shows I can afford new shit--not wearing hand me downs.
2. Allows for easy theft of new stuff... for instance, if everyone's walking around with a baseball cap with the tag still hanging off of it, it's going to take one ballsy store keeper to call me a thief when I leave his shop wearing one I grabbed from the rack. "Of course it's still got the tag hanging from it, dawg! That's the style!" (Or in the words of Richard Price, "If everybody's doing it... that's a lot of guys doing it.")

I was told the second reason by a ballsy store keeper.

Of course, I could be full of shit. I've never been on house arrest and I look like a fool when I wear a hat.
posted by dobbs at 5:50 PM on January 6, 2004

It's your stompin' leg, son.
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:34 PM on January 6, 2004

Best answer: Yes, it's most likely a gang affiliation thing. Your local street gang is affiliated with larger gang "families" which then are affiliated with the two gang "nations" (or "unities"), i.e. Folks or People. Though the nations began in Chicago, today the Crips and the Bloods of LA have some nominal primacy within these two nations respectively. Each nation has a set of consistent signifiers.

The left and right rule; gang clothing including colors, sports teams, letters and other symbols. If you don't like those law'n'order sites, try Folks & Peoples dress code. These can sometimes lead to looks that I find ludicrous, such as the farmer-johns held up by one strap (hilarious cab-ride with a friend-of-a-friend who insisted they were $300 (!) and he shouldn't have been kicked out of the club), or the tough, black street kid I saw in a duck-bill tennis visor pointing all the way left (and a jeans leg rolled up on the same side), or the 30ish guy I saw washing his car in the bay next to mine with his pants carefully belted about two inches below his testicles (I just watched, it was practically ballet), with his Bulls boxers apparently sewed up in front. But they are real.

That said, ahughey's right that the food court is possibly somewhere you'd find more wannabes. But wannabes in gang-infested areas often find that wearing colors without the affiliation is likely to get them jumped.

As for pricetags, personally I think they're implying the goods were boosted, and the wearer is ballsy. But then I somewhat doubt the supposed origins of baggy pants as from one-size-fits-all prison garb (or belt confiscation).

I keep track of this because, alas, we have drug activity right up the street here in my hometown, and I like to keep an eye on it. The cops say it's one of the busiest one-block stretches in the city for them (but it's also said the local mall is the worst of all!). Mostly the overt gang symbols were more visible in the summer, when we have the phenomenon of city families sending their kids to relatives away from the hard life (but of course this means that to our local wannabes, these kids are worshipped as hardcore).
posted by dhartung at 1:48 AM on January 7, 2004

one ballsy store keeper to call me a thief when I leave his shop wearing one I grabbed from the rack
That's why "we have cameras".
posted by thomcatspike at 9:29 AM on January 7, 2004

I was told that when a man is going to the electric chair, they roll up one pant leg to attach a "ground wire" to assue current flows through the body effectively. Death row, yo.
posted by Hackworth at 9:59 AM on January 7, 2004

posted by Hackworth at 10:01 AM on January 7, 2004

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