Embraced (and in some cases designed and manufactured) by artists like Kanye West, A$AP Rocky, and more, streetwear design has occupied an important place in modern fashion. The style has grabbed the attention of trendsetters around the world.
The trend was fueled by the output of premium streetwear apparel labels, from big names like Supreme and Vetements, to unique and smaller brands like OtherLinks. Despite the popularity, there are still some people who wonder what streetwear actually is.
How did this seemingly new style come out of the blue to take over the runways at Fashion Weeks around the world? For a style that to some may look like a thrown-together mix of influences and looks, there is much more to streetwear’s evolution and current domination than meets the eye. How did we get here?
An All-Encompassing Umbrella
People usually describe streetwear as contemporary and casual clothing most preferred by urban youth subcultures. The aesthetic style of the clothing is distinct from others and has roots in skate culture and Californian street-style fashion. However, this explanation is still vague. Since streetwear and urban style vary from person to person, a more holistic definition of streetwear would describe it as an all-encompassing umbrella.
Streetwear has influences and elements from various thematic styles and genres of fashion. It liberally borrows from disparate influences like haute couture, hip-hop, and utilitarian clothing. Enthusiasts and followers of the streetwear genre are more likely to take a style and put their own stamp on it. The reinvention of something pre-existing by merging it with the street subculture is a defining quality of streetwear.
Designers poach diverging elements from influences like high fashion, Japanese street fashion, and surf and skate culture, and incorporate them into sportswear. Streetwear is an amalgamation of different flavors that allows people to individualize it.
More than flavors, streetwear is about diverse voices making themselves heard. Fashion has always been a closed-off society with a high bar set for entry. Longstanding fashion houses (with decades or sometimes a century of history and old money behind them) didn’t start many of the current streetwear brands. These small labels come from young upstarts and mavericks from more diverse backgrounds than the old world of fashion. Runways are now becoming a more democratic place, as a wider diaspora can show off the styles that inspire them.
Even though there is no absolute way to trace the origins of streetwear or urban style, some speculate that seeds were planted in the 70s. With the punk rock and early hip-hop movements beginning to gain momentum in the broader cultural zeitgeist, various brands began marketing what can be considered the very earliest versions of streetwear.
These brands borrowed their aesthetics from cultural movements that were popular with the youth of that time. Eventually, heavy metal aesthetics bled into streetwear to create an entirely different look. Following the same principle, skate culture also became a point of inspiration for streetwear. Skate culture’s DIY aesthetics gave streetwear an urban edge and helped the style become popular with the youth.
This popularity gave birth to the very notable streetwear style that took the fashion industry in the late 80s and early 90s by storm. Brands like Nike and Champion continued to innovate and bring forth collections that made them the de facto faces of streetwear. These ‘athleisure’ flavors can still be seen in streetwear to this day.
The 90s ushered an era of bling and flashy opulence. This period gave luxury brands an opportunity to test the waters of streetwear. Due to these developments, streetwear continues to dominate conversations in fashion to this day.
The streetwear that we see now became popular with hip-hop. That is why
streetwear became more popular globally as hip-hop became more mainstream in the 2000s.
A People’s Movement
Despite the involvement of big names in high fashion and apparel, streetwear is a movement that began with passionate people and is kept alive by those same people. And while there are clear origins as to where it came from, the future of streetwear remains very much open-ended. This wide-open nature allows individuals to interpret and express their distinct style. It also gives an opportunity to more obscure brands to make their mark. These are the factors that will no doubt keep streetwear a fresh and vital part of the fashion landscape for years to come.
Streetwear gives people the liberty to break from the monotony of mass-produced fashion and add an element of individuality that genuinely represents their aesthetics.