We throw a lot of terms around when it comes to fashion, but “streetwear” is indelibly one of the most common words used in the industry. This type of fashion is the definition of popular among consumers, but where did this term come from? Why does it have such a hold on society and where is the trend going in the future? There is a lot of commentary on the trend recently, with many brand owners and veterans in the scene stating that it is dead, stagnant or in need of a facelift. We might be inclined to agree based on the fact that many people took 2020 as a sign to start their business dreams. Let's take a look at the history of the word and find out if streetwear is on its way out.
There is a lot of buzz in the blog world about the origins of streetwear. Some state it was birthed with hip-hop and informed by the punks, while others say it was a west coast trend that eventually moved East. Wow the age old battle between the two coasts continues. Turns out both are true to some degree. We definitely know streetwear sprouted in the late 70s and by the end of 80s became a full on movement that started with fashion but is so much more than that.
We are talking about a fashion revolution if you think about it! During this time, fashionistas are sporting bell bottoms, tight T’s while smoothly moving into black, extremely skinny leather and hair metal. In the late 80s Shawn Stussy was well onto his next entrepreneurial adventure. For those of you unaware of Stussy or his history let's fill you in. Stussy, before he became a fashion innovator, was a California boy making a name in the surf industry crafting boards and introducing his trademark logo to the surf scene. During an Action Sports Retailer event in 1892 Shawn sold about a thousand T’s but only 24 boards. That got him thinking and two year later he officially opened Stussy with his business partner Frank Sinatra Jr. Surf style at the time was neon and had little room for an alternative look, the clothes and style didn't reflect the culture and it was Shawn’s Stussy that created some competition. Although streetwear has no explicit guidelines, because of Stussy T-shirts was and still is a staple in the scene. For the West Coast, this new fashion scene was birthed from the people and made for the people. Stussy’s clothes had a vintage quality, it was highly urban and extremely exclusive. The great thing about streetwear was the “buy it while we have it mentality.” Once an item was sold out it was gone for good. Youth culture finally had a brand that represented their individualism and desire to be unique.
Although Stussy gets a lot of credit in the early years of the trend, other prominent brands like Supreme (ever heard of em? eh), and Dapper Dan played pivotal roles, introducing the scene to other parts of the US and into the luxury brand universe. Street fashion also exploded in another part of the world, one well known for its bold neon city, ramen and anime. Yes Japan. Hiroshi Fujiwara and Nigo brought the scene to Japan in the early years and elevated its status in the US infusing Japanese culture into the style.
A Bathing Ape, created by Nigo in 1993, sold shirts, hats, accessories and much more. They opened in New York in the mid 80s. Hip Hop was still in its early years as well but those cutting edge individuals in-tune with the music, culture and the global fashion scene started brands to offset the lack of representation the scene was getting in the mainstream. Fujiwara was living his best life at the center of Tokyo’s Harajuku district where fashion and music collided. He was obsessed with the London punk scene, and eventually visited New York where he fell in love with Hip Hop. Both served as major sources of inspiration for his pioneering streetwear brand GOODENOUGH. He is often seen as the godfather of streetwear because of his vanguard thinking. He along with Niro pioneered and fueled this streetwear scene in Tokyo that, under their joint shop NOWHERE, house brands like A Bathing Ape among others. They were inspired by Stussy as well and at this point the relationships between both coasts in the US and overseas propelled this really bold, anarchist and above reproach mentality.
Fujiwara is known for mixing fashion and art, particularly installation art to convey his ideas with clothes. One of the most interesting pieces to date is the “The Parking Gaiza'' where he renovated a parking garage into a store. Although the project was short lived, the ethos behind streetwear and his ability to take a piece of clothes and make meaning is there.
Of course brands like Burberry and Ralph Lauren wanted to capitalize on this movement and eventually they did by collaborating with these brands. Remember our blog about Fila? Sounds familiar yes? As early as the late 80s, streetwear had luxury fashion brands dipping their toes in the scene. If you're interested in reading about all the lawsuits that streetwear brands and luxury brands have gone through in the past 30+ years maybe we will get a blog going about it! At this point streetwear was a mix of vintage finds with a mindfulness on contemporary fashion and T’s, definitely Ts. But more than the clothes, it represented ideas. It’s not an understatement to say that streetwear is and always has been a white male dominated enterprise. Make no mistake, POC have laid paths inward and created many subsections of the movement, but it is a through and through white, male, thing. Streetwear remained this way till about the mid 2010s and beyond. In the last decade we have seen a huge increase in “streetwear” fashion, the shift to mainstream and major corporations and luxury brands having a serious grip on a once average joe movement. We blame the internet. Kidding, but only slightly.
Streetwear in 2020 and frankly for the past 5 years, gets a bad rep because it lacks culture and necessity. Everyone wants to slap their design or their digital painting on a t- shirt and call it art but the dire need and necessity of a culture yearning for fashion expression is not as immediate as it once was. The internet and online culture has shifted what it means to wear and create streetwear. The surgence in luxury brands dominating streetwear has really placed the ball in their court in many ways taking away the DIY roots and “for the people” ethos. But one could argue that the rise in athleisure wear and vintage-resurgence is the most streetwear thing to happen. Athleisurewear made pullover sweaters and your moms dinky sweats cool again. Last year was the year for making staying at home look enticing. It's no surprise, especially when Yezzus made its debut that everyone would want to hop on the trend. Or the fact that Supreme, Off-White, and Nike are seen as the key players who represent streetwear best. In this age it seems that streetwear is less about exclusivity and more about inclusivity. It is also less about that DIY ethos and more about meshing those vintage brands like Supreme with high fashion, like Louis Vitton. It's also innately tied to social media, the trends that go viral and the global impact of other countries. For example, the Kpop community, whose many followers are inspired by idol fashion among many things. Streetwear isn’t going anywhere, it is more global, powerful and fashionable than ever. The future is yet to be seen but we can expect the face of this phenomenon changing again. Does that mean that streetwear has become nothing but fast fashion with a trendy umbrella term to make it seem cool to the next generation?