Streetwear is a style of street fashion rooted in Californian surf and skate culture. It has grown to encompass elements of hip hop fashion, Japanese street fashion, and modern haute couture fashion.
Streetwear commonly centers on “casual, comfortable pieces such as jeans, t-shirts, baseball caps, and sneakers”.
The movement is generally accepted to have been born out of the Los Angeles surf culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Brands included BlauGrun, Ocean Pacific, Hobie, Off Shore, Gotcha and Life’s a Beach. Local surfboard designer Shawn Stussy began selling printed T-shirts featuring the same trademark signature he placed on his custom surfboards. Initially selling the items from his own car, Stussy expanded sales to boutiques once popularity increased.
Stussy’s move into exclusive sales firmed up the baseline definition of streetwear: taking “a multi-faceted, subculturally diverse, Southern California lifestyle-based T-shirt brand and [mimicking] the limited feel of a high-end luxury brand….those are the two most integral components of what makes a brand streetwear: T-shirts and exclusivity.”
Early streetwear brands took inspiration from the DIY aesthetic of punk, new wave, heavy metal and later hip hop cultures. Established sportswear and fashion brands attached themselves to the emerging early 1980s hip hop scene such as Kangol and Adidas.
Nike’s capture of soon-to-be basketball superstar Michael Jordan from rival Adidas in 1984 proved to be a huge turning point, as Nike dominated the urban streetwear sneaker market in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Other clothing brands such as Champion, Carhartt and Timberland were very closely associated with the scene, particularly on the East coast with hip hop acts such as Wu-Tang Clan and Gang Starr sporting the look.
The mid to late 90’s saw the professional American sports franchises have a huge impact on the look of the scene, from the Los Angeles Raiders and Chicago Bulls caps and jackets in the early to the oversized team jerseys.
With the advent of “bling” culture, the turn of the century saw an increase in established luxury brands beginning to make in roads into the market such as Burberry, Gucci and Fendi all making appearances in hip hop videos and films. The most popular shoe of the era was undoubtedly the Nike Air Force One, immortalized in the song by Nelly.
Brand launches by the chief execs of record company’s were the next fad in the scene with Russell Simmons of Def Jam launching his Phat Farm label, Sean Combs of Bad Boy with Sean John, and Jay-Z and Damon Dash of Roc-a-Fella Records launching Rocawear. Rap superstar 50 Cent a few years later launched his G-Unit clothing label, with the sneaker rights given to Reebok.