From Parachute Pants To Skinny Jeans: The Evolution Of Hip Hop Fashion
Since it's inception way back in the 80s, Hip Hop has shared a symbiotic relationship with the fashion world. What started as a way to showcasing local trends and fashion staples has bloomed into a powerhouse influence of haberdashery over the years.
Originally fashion in hip hop was merely a way to show fans that you had money and you were dope boy fresh, or to turn the world on to the your local sneaker of choice. But as rap grew in popularity, more and more civilians began to take notice of the styling of their fav rapper. I'm Nate the Great from Flight 214 and this is a brief history of fashion and the rap game. Make sure you hit the like button and then subscript for updates on all new content. Complex magazine published a piece on titled A History of Style Trends Started By Rappers. We'll post a link in the description box, but in this article they highlight several fashion trends popularized by hip hop icons over the years.
Though there were rappers with their own sense of style before 1985, trends like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's wrestling singlet paired with fur coat and safari hat never quit caught on in the streets, understandably so I might add.
But when Slick Rick the Ruler and Doug E. Fresh dropped "La Di Da Di in 85," Rick runs down his entire outfit and grooming regimen in one verse. Notably siting "the Bally shoes he wears with fly green socks". And When he appeared on the cover of his debut album The Great Adventures of Slick Rick rocking the bright red versions, other rappers like Rakim followed suite and so did fans snatching them up and launching the Swiss company's footwear into the hip hop lexicon. In the mid 80s needless to say streetwear didn't exist, so what did guys in the hood do? They got creative. Legend has it, there were these diy iron-on Cooper Black letters that could be purchased from arts and craft stores. When young b-boys and girls wanted to rep their crew or personalize their gear, they did it themselves using these. Biz Markie is immortalized the type face with his off-kilter "BIZ" hat and the font is still being used by Tyler the Creator and Wolf Gang.
Some may not know but Adidas was arguably the 1st official sneaker of Hip hop so to speak. We have Run D.M.C. to thank for this, they were such stans of the brand it was pretty much all they wore. Culminating in a 1986 song titled "My Adidas". By this time the Greman brand spotted the obvious market value, and signed the group to an endorsement deal. A then first in hip hop history.
Sugar Hill Gang's Big Bank Hank actually has the honor of being the first rapper to wear a bucket hat in a rap video the very first rap music video I might add. Run D.M.C. switched up to Kangol bucket hats from time to time, but the fuzzy Kangol bucket hat was sononmus with LL Cool J for some time in the late 80s. Though he sometimes switched it up ti the canvas version the Kangol hat has LL to thank for introducing them to the masses of hip hop fans.
Speaking of hats, the late 80s also saw the introduction of a new style of rap, roaring out of the west coast like a tsunami. Gangsta rap, And leading the charge was NWA.NWA blazed a trail in several different lanes including fashion, forcing the world to take note of the black Compton snapbacks and raider gear. The late 80s introduced us to to west coast look, all be it a taste. In 1989, Tommy Hilfiger was making whooping $100 million in annual sales. During a random encounter at Kennedy Airport, Tommy Hilfiger noticed a group of hip-hop heads walking through the airport wearing his brand. His brother Andy, who was a former rocker, recognized Grand Puba and his crew and introduced them.
It wasn't really until Snoop was spotted in a Hilfiger rugby on SNL in 1994 that the brand truly sized a spot in hip hop stratosphere. All of a sudden hip hop went prep, Hilfiger endorsed artist such as Aaliyah and Usher for commercials and magazine ads. But the brand fell from hip hop grace when Tommy admired what was well true in saying he had never envisioned his brand for the hip hop community or something to that effect, when how could he? Remember he was only made aware that hip hop guys were into his stuff by his brother in the 80s. But non the less Hilfiger went from cop to drop for those in the lifestyle.
If any brand owes a debt of gratitude to hip hop influencing its Clark. In 1993, the Clarks business was on the verge of bankruptcy believe it or not. So far gone that they were considering selling to an investor, but they held out for one reason, The Wu tang Clan. Thanks to Enter the 36 Chambers, the hip-hop supergroup's endorsement of Wallabees saved the company, and oh yea lots of corporate restructuring and smart business decisions. With this Clarks wound up moving from being a manufacturing-based company to being driven more by consumer marketing.
No one knows who the 1st guy to say, you know I'm going to wear a pair of warehouse work boots, but to be fresh though. But we do know it caught on, and more specifically Timberland boots have been a part of east coast street style ever since.
Their was even a time where just about any surplus army gear was fashionably desirable, and no group embodied this like the Boot Camp Click. The whole crew made a case for rocking camo with Timberlands—and not just the wheat's either, they were strong proponents of stomping around in the less-appreciated-yet-still-classic "Beef and Broccoli" boots. Timberland still runs strong in the streetwear community, producing new drops each year and raining supreme in their industry.
DMX was the archetype of the angry, roughneck rapper of the late '90s. That's why his simple wardrobe of tank tops, baggy jeans, and boots were such a prevalent outfit at the time—the stuff was affordable and made you look tough.
By the late 90s fitted hats had taken over for snapbacks and doo rags, a simple silk man head wrap sold at any local beauty supply store came into popularity. Actually wearing the 2 together was more a case of function because at this time 360 waves were in style. What are 360 waves you may ask? Pretty self explanatory, guys would apply various wave grease coupled with coupons hours of brushing of the hair, in order to acheave a look in which the hair was completely wavy all the way around the head hence the term 360 waves.
Anyway, why do all this work only to loose it at night? This is where the doo rag was used to hold the waves in place while the party sleeps. Which brings us back to how it is functional with fitted hats, catastrophic would it have been to spend this many man hours perfecting your wave pattern only to have you hat ruffle them up, so you just wear a wave cap. Many a rapper adopted the trend from time to time, but no one road harder for the doo rag and fitted cap like Roc a Fella's Memphis Bleek. To this day I do not know what Memp looks like with out a wave cap and fitted.
While on fitteds, Bleeks Boss and lablemate Jay Z was at one point known for his New York Yankee fitted, for years we watched Jigga put in work and cement a hip hop legacy for one the MLB's most hated teams.
The Brooklyn born rapper repped super hard for the home team, so much so that at one point Jay-Z branded Yankee gear was actually being sold in Yankee stadium. Rocawear followed that up in 2012 with another co-branded collaboration. It got so crazy that at one point Jay-Z was said to be moving more gear in Yankee Stadium than Jeter. So when Hov boated that he "made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can" you can argue that in the hip hop world at least, that was true.
In the early 2000s hip hop went throwback crazy, your wardrobe wasn't on point if you didn't have a few throwbacks in it. At upwards of $600 per jersey just about any team or player flew off the shelves. But one rapper seemingly owned each and every throwback ever released. In the early 2000s whenever you saw Fabolous he was in a different jersey. The extreme hype helped drive the throwback industry into the billions and and launched Mitchell and Ness into the house hold name category.
Throwbacks raged on right up to the time Jay Z renounced them as a symbol of hood rich immaturity. Mind you, Jay Z was huge on throwbacks himself, hell the whole of the east coast was along with the rest of the country. As ridiculously oversized jerseys and super baggy jeans accompanied by even larger fitted hats sound, they were a hip hop staple.
Until jay Z's black album released in 2003, Mr. Carter he was preparing to transition from rapper to "business, man and as such decided to retire his throwback collection in favor of a "fresh pair of kicks and a button up". The resulting look from the "Change Clothes" music video caught on, and some of the exact same stores that stocked throwbacks began rolling out random button down shirts.
Purple Haze-era Cam'ron was known for his candy references and bright colored apparel, like his Laffy Taffy-looking Range Rover. The "Killa Cam" music video was a testament to his then color of choice, and his wardrobe at the time was known for furry accents also done up in pepto pink. So it's no surprise that pastel tones would soon pop-up on limited sneakers and streetwear gear down the line.
Its hard to pin point exactly who started the tall tee trend, but we can chalk it up to the south's 1st official contribution to hip hop style. These could be bought at malls, swap meets, and corner stores nationwide, and they were dirt cheap so guys would often buy tons of them at once. In fact, it even became sort of a side trend to leave the "tall tee" sticker on the shirt to show that your tee was fresh.
This is one of those trends that in hindsight, look pretty ridicules. Specially when you consider that you have guys walking around now that wear a small or medium tee shirt who once perched shirts in size 5 or 6 xl.
Although grills have almost become sunonamus with Houston hip hop culture, and presumably discriminated throughout the masses by Houstonian rapper Paul Wall, the grill actually has it roots on the east coast.
It all really starts with New Yorker Eddie Plein, who outfitted gold caps for the likes of Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane, and Flavor Flav as far back as the late 80s. He later moved his business to Atlanta where he worked with the likes of OutKast, Ludacris, and Lil Jon.
It was however in the south that grills gained infamy, and wound up being catapulted into the mainstream attention span. The trend got so huge at one point that everyone wanted one, even Brook Hogan. Needless to say, sights like this soon after tanked the cool factor and today only the hardest of core proponents still rock em.
It was also around this time that the size of clothes in hip hop srank back to reality. It's hard to say who really ushered in the fitted clothing look but Lil Wayne comes to mind. It was at this time he seemingly went through this skater phase and all of a sudden everyone owned skinny jeans, supras and various other skater apparel.
Gone were the days where guys favored over sized clothing 3 and 4 sizes larger than required, and this is also where the fashion demographic lines began to be blurred. Pryor to this, there were clear cut border lines drawn between fashion and racial and cultural demographics, it was clear to decipher what type of music a person listened to by the clothes they wore. Grunge alternative wear, probably lessened to rock, the preppy look, defiantly pop and or folk, and hip hop head could be identified because no matter the size of the individual, they always shopped in the big and tall section.
But it was around this time that "streetwear" was born, a mixture of grunge, prep, skater, and hip hop came together and formed this all encompassing Chimera of fashion that had a little something for everyone.
In the mid 2000s we were introduced to Nigo and his Japanese clothing brand A Bathing Ape, thanks largely in part to his friend Pharrell Williams. Pharrell went through a presumable phase of obsessing for all-over print hoodies, graphic tees and the Air Force 1 copying Bapesta sneakers. We were also introduced to the now iconic Baby Milo character, and he became iconic because we saw him all over the place, literally. The All over print look raged for quite some time before we finally got a bit feed up on it. Although a version of all over print design did make a comeback in the form of sublimation tees and socks but we'll get to that later. Debuting in his 2006 music video and album art for "Stronger," Kanye West rocked a pair of custom Alain Mikli shutter shades that became the de facto symbol of his style at the time. He continued to wear them through 2008's Glow In the Dark Tour. It wasn't long before companies started knocking off the silhouette, and today you can find them at any mall keoisk that sells sunglasses. They perhaps reached a level of all time corny when in 2012 the Obama campaign team used them in his re election bid, safe to say that by them hypebeast has long since discarded them and there was no turning back.
The late 2000s saw a return of the snapback hat, groups like Public Enamy (namely Chuck D)and NWA had previously rocked snapbacks pretty hard in the 80s and early 90s but they were stocked away in favor of the fitted hat. But sometime around 2011 they made their triumphant comeback. Suddenly people rushed to snap up any snapback they could, no matter the team, no matter the logo they commanded a premium price, and the older the hat the more it fetched at resell. Mac Miller documented the craze with his 2011 song "You can wear my hat", and though tons of people cashed in on the trend, I'm sure no one was happier than Mitchell & Ness. Because Once the throwback jersey died, Mitchell & Ness fell off with it, but they managed to surf the snapback wave back into hip hop relevancy, and to this day they still produce new team snapbacks each year.
Supreme has actually been around since 1994, and to be fair the New York based skateboard company did gained quite a cult following before all the hype hit. But in 2009 when Tyler the Creator first started rocking the now legendary box logo 5 panel, things got crazy. Today, Supreme is the prenuptial streetwear leader inciting hypebeast to line up for blocks every Thursday ready and willing to spend top dollar on anything, and I do mean anything bearing the now iconic box logo.
While Jay-Z has been a longtime proponent of the "all-black everything" look, A$AP Rocky is the guy who took that into the future. His relationships with streetwear brands like Black Scale led to an awesome collaboration that drew on their mutual love of Gothic imagery, predating brands like PYREX and setting the direction of streetwear from hip-hop oriented references and skate-friendly graphics to a more directional, fashion-forward aesthetic. Brands like Fear of God and Hood By Air wouldn't have been what they were and are without A$AP Rocky putting in fashion work.
Today the internet has made it so much easier to decimate personal style and spark trends. Because of this tends come and go much faster, where as before a trend would pop and last several years in some cases. Today a popular trend can be here today and gone tomorrow. From dad hats to tour merch and now ugly bulky dad sneakers, hip hop fashion is more fluid than ever, and depending on your perspective that could good or bad.