What is streetwear?
What is streetwear? The answer to this is more complicated than you might think but in brief, streetwear refers to casual clothes worn by certain youth subcultures. But there’s a lot more to it than that. Read on to find out about the history of streetwear and how it came to be the global phenomenon it is today.
The origins of streetwear
Streetwear originated in the US, and spread to much of the rest of the world in the 90s. It combines aspects of skate, surf, and hip-hop fashion. In recent years, streetwear has also incorporated elements of haute couture, with a number of premium fashion brands joining up with ‘authentic’ streetwear brands to enter the market.
Fundamentally, streetwear’s originators were independent brands that grew up without the backing of the big, corporate fashion houses. These brands started ‘on the street’, with small labels manufacturing short runs, and selling from the back of cars. They were available only to those in the know, on a relatively local scale. But streetwear hasn’t exactly stayed that way. Over the years, it’s taken on new meanings as streetwear trends have grown and spread around the world.
The birth of hypebeast
It’s pretty much human nature to want what you can’t have. So what happened - fairly early on in the history of streetwear - is that the exclusivity of small-scale streetwear brands created an increase in demand, and therefore an increase in price. This spelled the birth of ‘hypebeast culture’ - fashion-conscious streetwear consumers who obsess over the minutiae of exclusive streetwear products, often going to great financial lengths to bag them.
From there, it’s easy to see how luxury brands were able to partner up with sportswear brands. Using exclusivity and hype, a whole swathe of youth culture got swept up with rare, prized items. Through hyped-up product ‘drops’, exclusive mailing lists, and deliberate scarcity, streetwear brands managed to get thousands of kids going crazy - and paying big - for t-shirts, hoodies, and trainers. But is that really what streetwear is all about?
Streetwear and culture
Streetwear puritans insist that streetwear is about much more than just clothes - it’s about culture. For hypebeasts, streetwear might be about owning exclusive, expensive, aspirational products. But at its origins, streetwear is about the cultural activities that give young people their identity. Streetwear is about the music, the sports, and the lifestyle that grant meaning and purpose. And let’s not forget - it also has a lot to do with globalisation and the spread of American culture.
The powerful aesthetics of 90s streetwear come from a merging of youth cultures from the opposite sides of the US. On the one hand, there was the 80s and 90s hip-hop culture of New York, and it’s close connection with basketball. From the West coast of the continent, there was surf and skate culture, and it’s crossover with grunge. In streetwear, these two worlds collide and combine to create a rich palette of textures, and styles that encapsulate the feeling of these two American youth subcultures - and which have found resonance across the globe ever since.
What does streetwear look like?
So what does streetwear actually look like? In both grunge and hip-hop style, baggy or ‘oversized’ fits are the norm. Comfortable and casual, jeans, sweatshirts, and trainers are fundamental. But it doesn’t stop there. The streetwear palette is vast, and can include everything from sportswear, to plaid shirts, to camouflage. While sportswear makes up a sizeable portion of streetwear, elements of workwear and military styles can also feature heavily.
We can talk about hip-hop and grunge culture both having a distinct influence, but it’s important to note that the two styles fundamentally coalesce in streetwear. At least to begin with, streetwear was a melting pot that saw these two styles mixed up together. This has arguably shifted slightly in recent years, as hip-hop has overtaken rock as the most popular music genre in the US, and the most powerful vehicle for fashion.
Streetwear in 2020
Streetwear should be about what happens organically within youth culture, away from the machinations and manipulations of fashion giants. True, our lives today are tied up with brands. But as authenticity is harder and harder to come by, streetwear should continue to be a place of freedom and self-expression, stemming from culture, from the bottom up.
BACK TO ALL ARTICLES