From the birth of street style to what the future holds, here’s all about the evolution of the streetwear culture through the decades.
The word streetwear is soaked in ambiguity. It generally means casual clothing of a style worn especially by members of the youth. But it is so much more than that. It is a representation of people, their taste in music, art, and fashion. Street style, for a majority, is a way to express the things they associate themselves with the most and flaunt their individuality. The essence of this style is the portrayal of the high-spirited youth community.
People were always seen to be wearing casual clothing on the streets. But when and why did it come to be called ‘streetwear’? In the 80s, the lines between casual wear and party wear were starting to get blurred. By the ’90s, people started to prefer wearing casual clothing not just for errands but for special occasions too. Popstars like Michael Jackson, LL Cool J, and Madonna wore casual wear in their music videos. This influenced the youth of the era. It set the trend of casual wear, now termed ‘streetwear’.
Evolution of Streetwear
Let us now look into how this style has evolved over the decades and where it’s going.
History – The Birth of Streetwear
Americans labeled as baby boomers are the generation born between 1946 and 1964. Numerous social movements and reforms were seen taking place when they came of age in the 1980s. This changed the perceptions of these young adults and made them very materialistic and focused on their careers. For the said reason, they were labeled as ‘yuppies’ – Young Urban Professionals. They lived and worked in metropolitan cities and dressed for success.
On the weekends, when they weren’t hustling in the office, they wore casual clothing while running errands. The yuppie culture of sophisticated clothing eventually subsided due to a couple of factors. During the end of the 1980s, African Americans were finally able to embrace and flaunt their culture. Hip-hop took root and flourished. The music gradually spread downtown, into Brooklyn, and eventually the rest of the world. Saggy pants, hoodies, and Air Jordan’s became popular among the African American community.
Hip hop artists like Public Enemy, and Queen Latifah adopted more militaristic looks, dreadlocks, and bright colors. Rapper Nelly made Grillz popular. Casual clothing was now worn during special occasions, too, and wasn’t limited to weekend errands. Other than hip-hop, the pop artists and celebrities of the late 80s and early 90s also influenced the growth of streetwear including denim, leather jackets, casual shoes and sneakers, leggings, and layered jewelry.
The origins of the streetwear brand that set the vibe of streetwear indefinitely trace back to Stussy. Initially selling the items from his car, Stussy expanded to exclusive sales to create product scarcity. This is what defined streetwear: graphic T-shirts and exclusivity. After the streets of Los Angles, streetwear set its mark in NYC. It became popular within the skateboarding and hip-hop community. Brands such as NYC-based Supreme, which started in 1994 propelled the trend further.
Trends of the Decades
While we look at how streetwear has evolved over the decades, let’s take a look at the exciting trends throughout the decades since it gained traction.
The style expression of this decade was bright and bold. At this point, graffiti became relatively important among streetwear enthusiasts. Apparels like printed t-shirts, baggy pants, velvet tracksuits, and tailored military suits were dominant during this decade. People wore clothing in dazzling colors and patterns, emblazoned with slogans. In addition, watches, jewelry, belts, and sneakers accessorized every outfit.
The 90s was a decade of the hip-hip fashion wardrobe. It was a decade that shaped the pop culture and street fashion today. B-boys and b-girls wore colored tracksuits and straight-legged denim with bomber jackets. They paired it with Puma Suede sneakers or Adidas Superstars customized with oversized laces. Kangol bucket hats, large sunglasses, multiple rings, and chains were commonplace.
The internet was the up-and-coming thing of the 2000s. Brands developed smarter ways of getting their products sold through increased celebrity endorsements. This was the decade where brands fused skatewear and hip-hop style into streetwear. They made their stride with great graphics and limited sneakers. Distressed jeans, loose-fitting t-shirts, loose or fitted tracksuits, track pants, hoodies, graphic t-shirts were commonplace.
Streetwear in this decade touched all parts of fashion. Casual wear, athletic wear, and even luxury. To cop or to not to cop? Several streetwear enthusiasts all around the world were eager to get their hands on the most exclusive items. Be it a limited pair of sneakers or the graphic drive t-shirt or hoodie. This decade saw a surge in luxury streetwear. Maximalism was a trend at its peak in this decade.
Utility vibes are the heart of 2021 streetwear trends. They provide comfort and functionality, which is what people all around are looking for. Coronavirus has paved way for sustainable fashion and multi-purpose styles. Runways all around the world have seen this trend. Bucket hats, boyfriend-fit jeans, and oversized graphic t-shirts are trending all over again.
Celebrity Endorsements and Collaboration
Luxury streetwear products speak for themselves through their product scarcity, exclusivity, and the people who wear them. Celebrity endorsements and influences further popularized this style. Hip-hop artists wearing streetwear increased the hype and the products became more valuable, leaving an everlasting influence on streetwear. The first inkling of today’s barrage of rapper/sneaker brand collaborations occurred in 1986. Adidas signed Run-D.M.C. to a $1 million endorsement deal.
In 2005, one of the loudest rapper voices was Eminem and the Air Jordan brand was all ears. This partnership led to one of the greatest sneaker collaborations of The Air Jordan 4 Encore. Adidas Yeezy is another fashion collaboration. It was between German sportswear company Adidas and American designer, rapper, and entrepreneur Kanye West. In this collection of 2015, they released Shoes, jackets, shirts, track pants, and slides.
Designers started getting creative and leaned further into collaborations to make the most of the challenging moments. It could be a celebrity x brand dynamic or a rare brand x brand bond. Collaboration is a way for brands to stand out in the vast and diverse industry. It helped show a different and unique interpretation of the brands involved. It also gave their consumers something new and exciting to look forward to and purchase.
Idolized by both hypebeast fanatics and luxury diehards, Louis Vuitton and Supreme dropped a staggering collaboration in 2017. Supreme’s signature red flooded the runway with monogrammed bags, shoes, and accessories. The Dior x Nike collaboration still has our hearts. They disclosed their Air Jordan Dior sneakers in the Fall/Winter 2020 show that created major hype among hypebeast fanatics. They launched limited capacity sneakers worldwide – around 8000 only.
Streetwear on the Runway
Luxury brands in the recent past have flooded the runways with casual looks. For example, Kim Jones and Travis Scott team up for Dior men’s Spring 2022 collection. Graphics are seen throughout. On prints, on embroidery, on patches that mix Scott’s drawings and images from the Dior archives. Francesco Ragazzi took his popular Palm Angels streetwear brand underground in the Milan Fashion Week of 2019. He staged his runway show for his SS2020 collection in the Porta Venezia subway station. Retro codes, skateboarding scenes, and technological streetwear inspired his collection focus.
The growth of social media was a game-changer for the streetwear industry. Several celebrities and influencers took over social media. Celebrities started posting their casual off-duty looks, which swayed their followers. Influencers put together outfits and created their own unique depictions of streetwear. They have embraced this style in their own little ways encouraging their followers to do the same. It gave the commoners a platform to showcase and flaunt their personal style.
In a survey conducted by strategyand.hypebeast in 2019, 56% of the respondents reported spending an average of $100-$300 on a single item of streetwear. The lower-income respondents were willing to spend up to five times as much on streetwear per month as they were on non-streetwear products. 62% of the respondents believe streetwear products are always in style. Casualwear has become a more acceptable attire in social settings all around the world including offices. This style has transitioned into more of an everyday practice that people are willing to spend money on.
Subcultures within Streetwear
What exactly does qualify as streetwear style? It has a wide range of influences and subcultures. It includes skate and surf culture, athleisure, haute couture fashion, K-Pop, and technical wear. Its consumer base is quite diverse, spanning across every income level, socioeconomic status, and corner of the globe. Let us look into the different subcultures within streetwear.
Techwear is clothing for everyday life, it provides both utility and comfort. Made from special fabrics, its construction and properties allow for breathability, movement, water resistance, and comfort. Cyberpunk on the other hand is the way you style your clothing. There is a thin line between them and overlapping similarities. Specific garments could be techwear, streetwear fashion, or some other type. Although by styling them in a certain way, they can become part of a cyberpunk outfit.
The outer layer is usually a windbreaker-type jacket. This is waterproof, durable, and designed for movement. Then comes your middle layer which is an additional layer to keep you warm. At last, the primary or base layer usually consists of a basic neutral t-shirt. For the bottoms, it’s all about cargo pants. It offers functionality with multiple pockets. Sneakers and sunglasses that have visible tech features or one made from cutting edge material, water-resistant, are crucial in techwear.
Athleisure is made up of two words, ‘athletic’ and ‘leisure. Athleisure as a trend began surfacing when health and fitness started gaining people’s attention. It wasn’t soon after that people started prioritizing comfort in their everyday work. It is a hybrid style that simply means that the outfits aren’t limited to just working out. They can be worn for a casual day out, to work, college or school. It’s where sports meets streetwear.
When it comes to styling athleisure, creating a balance is important. The key elements in an athleisure outfit would be joggers or leggings. It would also comprise pieces such as yoga pants, sneakers, hoodies, sports bras. You could pair your sweatpants with something less casual such as a leather jacket and sneakers. Accessories include sports sunglasses, caps, backpacks, etc. A pair of joggers and a fitted cropped top with sneakers is my go-to fit!
Skatewear has existed for years. Its origins date back to the start of Stussy, Supreme, and Vans that started as skatewear brands. Skaters in the early years took inspiration from anywhere but the luxury runways. But now, luxury designers have taken inspiration and embraced the skater influence. They made their way into the global market in their own unique ways. In 2018, Ralph Lauren released a collection with British skate brand Palace.
People following skater style styled themselves with beanies, baseball caps, flannels, wide-leg shorts, loose-fit jeans, skate sneakers. In the skating rink, thick trousers and jeans were worn. They were to prevent concrete from scrapping too much skin. With that, hoodies and baseball caps hide their faces. Footwear is kept casual with the classics – Vans, or Converse.
We’ve all seen the girl with the classic Gucci belt. Or someone wearing the Jordan 1 Chicago’s walking down the streets. This is what hypebeast is. It’s anyone who collects or ‘cops’ the most trendy items to fit in with the crowd. Conversely, anyone who just goes with any hyped trend that appears. In the early 2000s, hypebeast wasn’t about owning the most expensive item and showing off. People started buying known-offs and fakes. It was about making a statement that if someone really rich can have it, well so can I.
But this isn’t the case for hypebeast anymore in this generation. Hypbeasts now consider their fashion as streetwear, which is more often than not. But streetwear is something that anyone can wear according to their comfort and make their own individual fashion statement. The irony lies in the fact that these outfits and accessories are highly expensive. While most hypebeast outfits consist of the designer on the designer, it isn’t bad to own a few hyped items. I know I love the Jordan 1 Chicago’s and would be hyped to get my hands on it!
Korean Street Style
The trendiest cities of Korea are the streets of Hongdae. You can see people in sporty items, loose unisex clothing that is more often than not one size, and a great deal of black. The most common footwear worn are boots and sneakers. The Seoul Fashion Week Spring 2020 flooded the streets with the most mind-blowing outfits. From madras skirts to three-piece suits, and mixed plaids—and lots of utility pieces, from cargo pants to boilersuits. Seoul saw plenty of oversized fits which was a common factor in all outfits.
Kpop has had a significant influence on Korean street fashion that helped spread globally. Fashion icons like Jennie (Blackpink), G-Dragon (Big Bang), Kim Tae-Hyung (BTS), The8 (Seventeen), Joy (Red Velvet) set the mark for street style. V’s effortless looks with color, prints, textures, layers, and of course, Gucci. Colors, layers, accessories G-Dragon has tried it all. He’s never afraid to experiment, breaking the traditional norms and always succeeding.
What is the Future of Streetwear?
Streetwear has the largest fashion style variety worn by men and women all year round. You can choose what caters to you and your budget. It is a style that can be worn for a casual day out, not just for special occasions. This culture is all about individuality and creating unique styles. This makes it easier for you to mix and match your old pieces and create something completely different and unique. As long as you’re comfortable, it doesn’t necessarily have to be from expensive or hyped brands.
With the changing times and the increased need for inclusivity, there will be a greater need for genderless clothing. It will make its way further into streetwear than it already is. Coronavirus has given a fresh list of demands by the consumers to the brands. In the post-pandemic era, people would want comfort and functionality in their everyday clothing. Be it be for work, college, or even a special occasion.
Personally, I think we would see an even greater surge in luxury and streetwear collaborations. Collaborations create a new and exciting space for their consumers. There are plenty of brands and designers keeping the essence of streetwear alive. They would carry that essence well into the future. They would evolve more into the sustainability lines because that is exactly what consumers are willing to buy now. I believe that streetwear as a ‘trend’ or ideology is here to stay and wouldn’t die down. What are your opinions on the same? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us at @shilpa1ahuja.
Shreya Jain is a Fashion Journalist Intern at ShilpaAhuja.com. She is from Bangalore and currently doing her undergraduate in Fashion Communication and Styling from ISDI School of Design and Innovation, Mumbai. She aspires to build her career in fashion writing and fashion styling and make her mark in the industry.
She has a fashion blog and runs an online thrift store. She is interested in photography, sketching, and also runs her personal account on Instagram where she regularly shares how she styles her wardrobe.
She is passionate about traveling and meeting new people. An adrenaline junkie, she has been skydiving and cannot wait for her first scuba diving experience. She firmly believes that people create their own destinies.