The Streetwear Story: How Hip-hop Culture Transformed Fashion
In 2022, we live in a streetwear-obsessed society. In just a few decades, streetwear evolved from being predominantly a fringe sub-culture to one of the most significant forces in pop culture today. But to celebrate streetwear, we must first recognise how it was birthed - and pay homage to its hip-hop roots, which (unbeknownst to so many) has shaped everything we wear today whether we realise it or not.
Hip-hop has not only had a monumental influence on fashion culture, informing countless wider and micro fashion trends but is so much more than just style and music genre - its a lifestyle!
The Birth of Hip-Hop Culture
In 70's New York, a time when disco culture ruled the roost, hip-hop was first conceived as a reaction to this. Boroughs like the Bronx in New York City largely made up of Caribbean immigrants and young African-Americans began coming together for block parties - which is how hip-hop was born. People in New York would dress up in their finest outfits for the disco clubs, and the young people of low-income neighbourhoods adopted this mentality at block parties, showcasing their finest fits. They typically wore bomber jackets, tracksuits and sneakers with oversized laces. Baggy oversized clothing was worn, largely due to inner-city hand-me-downs.
Iconic Dj Kool Herc DJing in Blackpool, UK, 2000
Early pioneers started practising using two turntables to extend the dance break in funk and soul records - which created a seamless sound loop ideal for dancing to endlessly. Dj Kool Herc, and Grandmaster Flash were some of the first pioneers of the a 'breakbeat', a repetitive drum pattern, that essentially formed the backbone of hip-hop music. Later down the line, this led to the practice of sampling existing music to create something fresh and new.
Hip-hop here was so much more than a style genre but a holistic lifestyle, blending music, DJ-ing, dancing and graffiti art - providing a much-needed escape from a myriad of societal, economic, political and cultural forces. Much like it still is today, hip-hop in the 70s was an attitude that overcomes the limitations and boundaries society tries to enforce - it could be said that the wearer makes his clothing hip-hop. Rapper KRS-One infamously said "Rap is something you do! Hip hop is something you live!"
Within the counter-culture, b-boy culture (a breakdancer) had a huge influence with b-boys often donning matching tracksuits, gold chains and Kangol hats - which quickly impacted and brought an exciting new dynamic fashion culture to the thriving New York hip-hop scene.
Dapper Dan's Legacy
Run-DMC has to be one of the single most influential hip-hop groups that influenced the signature hip-hip style - rocking Adidas tracksuits and laceless shell toed-sneakers as their uniform. Although sportswear/ athletic wear are often synonymously associated with hip-hop fashion, high-end fashion started to integrate into the culture in the 80s. Daniel 'Dapper Dan' was a luxury knockoff king from Harlem, and opened up his atelier in 1982. He made his way to the top by incorporating haute couture labels such as Gucci, MCM, Fendi & Louie Vuitton and silhouettes into streetwear. His designs appeared on the likes of icons LL Cool J, and Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie. "He draws on a long legacy of black style as both a form of self-realisation and a statement of political-aesthetic resistance'
His creative fusion and vision, blending high-end luxury brands alongside New York street style has meant his legacy is still celebrated today - even by the houses that once found them offensive. Due to various lawsuits, Dapper Dan's store was shut down in 1992. His legacy still lives on and is recognised today - The Gucci-Dapper dan collection, an official collaboration that was released in 2019 took cue from the Dapper Dan Archive, and they shot the collection on young faces from Harlem.
Luxury & Streetwear
Not only did European luxury superbrands gain popularity within hip-hop culture, but all-american brands such as Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger started to become synonymous with hip-hop culture. Dapper Dan's downfall also coincided with a shift within style within the hip-hop community, becoming tired of luxury knockbacks, people were moving towards a more authentic style that felt truer to them. Rappers started to create their own labels - such as Run-D.M.C iconic Adidas 1 million dollar endorsement deal including a signature line for the group making serious waves within the fashion community.
N.W.A - Straight Outta Compton
Hip-hop style differed massively coast to coast, and on the West Coast, groups such as Public Enemy and N.W.A became known for there unique sounds and sense of style. They became synonymous with a more stripped-back streetwear dress sense consisting of baseball jackets, caps and a nod to military aesthetic. Hip-hop was still not part of popular culture, and the East/West Coast rap rivalry, coupled with N.W.A's gangster self identification and popular hip-hop artists being killed such as Tu-pac meant that hip-hop was associated with a dangerous lifestyle. In turn, luxury brands still didn't want to be associated with the hip-hop lifestyle.
Wu-Tang clan launched their own brand in 1995 - Wu Wear, in turn inspiring a generation of artists who realised they could control what they wore, what they promoted and how this could benefit them. Fashion brands failed to speak to their listeners and audiences, so they took this rejection and turned this into a powerful statement - creating clothing for fans who also resonated with the lifestyle and were authentic to the world they lived in.
In the 90's and early 00's, more streetwear/urban brands were born out of hip-hop culture. Sean John by Diddy popped up, and we saw a rise in urban fashion, where rappers tapped into creating designs that could authentically convey the creativity and ingenuity of the hip-hop world. We also saw a focus on Afrocentric colours and sports teams being woven into the scene, and early streetwear labels such as the now iconic Stussy became part of landscape.
The NBA basketball stars also had a huge impact on the streetwear scene - just look at Michael Jordan! The Jordan brand line of sneakers garnered him style icon status, and these were status of symbol on the streets, and still are just as culturally relevant today!
From sub-culture to mainstream
In the early 00's, Hip-hop style icons such as Pharell, as part of N.E.R.D, brought colour and vibrancy to the hip-hop style scene, by merging punk, Japenese streetwear and punk - bringing a eclectic mix of new style notes into the hip-hop style genre. Rap music started climbing charts more and more, and hip-hop finally lost its outsider status as a sub-culture, becoming firmly weaved into popular culture.
This started the momentum of a huge rise of celebrity rap brands and collaborations, from ASAP Rocky and Dior's collaboration to Pharell's Billionaire Boys Club, to Golf Wang by Tyler the Creator to Kayne West's hugely influential Yeezy collection. In fact, Kayne West's Yeezy first line had such a powerful hook on mainstream society that the line's minimalistic silhouettes, stripped-back neutrals and cycle shorts had people and fashion brands all over the world taking inspiration and styling in the Yeezy aesthetic.
By 2017, Nielson Music published that rap had surpassed rock to become the most popular music genre in the U.S, only further propelling luxury designers to just how they need to embrace hip-hop style to remain relevant. This is especially key as Millenials and elder Gen Z are quickly becoming spenders within the luxury industry, and are predicted to account for 45% of the global persona luxury goods mindset.
This cultural shift also saw Virgil Abloh become the first black designer to creatively direct a major luxury house. His work at Louis Vuitton, transformed the brand and he reshaped what it meant to be a creative director, bringing streetwear to the highest level of luxury market but blending in the hip-hop love of 'remixing' and a strong desire to make social progress. Founder of Off-white, he found a beautiful way of blending fashion, music, art, luxury and travel and cemented himself as a true fashion icon, 'the Karl Largerfield' of his time.
Ultimately, everything we wear - from our trainers to our casual tees and hoodies to caps has been influenced by hip-hop culture, but now streetwear is woven deeply into mainstream society, it can be easy for people to forget to pay homage to its inspirational roots.
How we dress, how we express ourselves and the art we choose to wear on our bodies have all been impacted by hip-hop in one way or another, from luxury to fast fashion, to crepes and even nail art.
As a streetwear brand, we always want to celebrate the cultural significance of streetwear + hip-hop culture - we wouldn't be here without it! Huck quotes "Making something out of nothing is the ethos of hip hop, and it underscores why and how the culture continues to inspire, influence, and shape mainstream fashion houses." Today, in a world where both luxury fashion and hip-hop have a truly symbiotic relationship, it is key to note that hip-hop has always been the place for marginalised voices, especially in more divided times where society turned away. A strong, united voice and powerful statement that challenges the system, this empowerment that allowed hip-hop to first birth is just as powerful today, if not stronger. As Biggie Smalls said 'We cant change the world unless we change ourselves". Let's raise a glass to the hip-hop lifestyle.
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