Hip-hop fashion is a distinctive style of dress originating with the African-American and Latino youth in The Bronx (New York City), and later influenced by the hip-hop scenes of Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, East Bay (San Francisco Bay Area), and The Dirty South among others. Each city contributed various elements to its overall style seen worldwide today. Hip hop fashion complements the expressions and attitudes of hip hop culture in general. Hip hop fashion has changed significantly during its history, and today it is a prominent part of popular fashion as a whole across the world and for all ethnicities.
coats buttonsIn the early 1980s, established sportswear and fashion brands, such as Le Coq Sportif, Kangol, Adidas and Nike Inc attached themselves to the emerging hip hop scene.
During the 1980s, hip-hop icons wore clothing items such as brightly colored name-brand tracksuits, sheepskin and leather bomber jackets, Clarks shoes, Dr. Martens boots and sneakers (usually Adidas-brand shelltoes and often with “phat” or oversized shoelaces). Popular haircuts ranged from the early-1980s Jheri curl to the late-1980s hi-top fade popularized by Will Smith (The Fresh Prince) and Christopher “Kid” Reid of Kid ‘n Play, among others.
Popular accessories included large eyeglasses (Cazals or Gazelles), Kangol bucket hats, nameplates, name belts, and multiple rings. Heavy gold jewelry was also popular in the 1980s; heavy jewelry in general would become an enduring element of hip hop fashion. In general, men’s jewelry focused on heavy gold chains and women’s jewelry on large gold earrings. Performers such as Kurtis Blow and Big Daddy Kane helped popularize gold necklaces and other such jewelry, and female rappers such as Roxanne Shant? and the group Salt-N-Pepa helped popularize oversized gold door-knocker earrings. The heavy jewelry was suggestive of prestige and wealth, and some have connected the style to Africanism.
Black nationalism was increasingly influential in rap during the late 1980s, and fashions and hairstyles reflected traditional African influences. Blousy pants were popular among dance-oriented rappers like MC Hammer. Fezzes, kufis decorated with the Kemetic ankh, Kente cloth hats, Africa chains, dreadlocks, and red, black, and green clothing became popular as well, promoted by artists such as Queen Latifah, KRS-One, Public Enemy, and X-Clan). In the early 1990s, pop rappers such as The Fresh Prince, Kid ‘n Play, and Left Eye of TLC popularized baseball caps and bright, often neon-colored, clothing. Kris Kross also established the fad of wearing clothes backwards. Kwam? sparked the brief trend of polka-dot clothing as well, while others continued wearing their mid-80’s attire.
The Nike capture of soon to be superstar basketball protege Michael Jordan from rivals 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 Gangstarr sporting the look.
Gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A. popularized an early form of gangsta style in the late 1980s, consisting of Dickies pants, plaid shirts and jackets, Chuck Taylors sneakers, and black Raiders baseball caps and Raiders Starter jackets. Starter jackets, in addition, were also a popular trend in their own right during the late 1980s and early 90s. They became something of a status-symbol, with incidents of robberies of the jackets reported in the media.
Hip hop fashion in this period also influenced high fashion designs. In the late 1980s, Isaac Mizrahi, inspired by his elevator operator who wore a heavy gold chain, showed a collection deeply influenced by hip hop fashion. Models wore black catsuits, “gold chains, big gold nameplate-inspired belts, and black bomber jackets with fur-trimmed hoods.” Womenswear Daily called the look “homeboy chic. In the early 1990s, Chanel showed hip-hop-inspired fashion in several shows. In one, models wore black leather jackets and piles of gold chains. In another, they wore long black dresses, accessorized with heavy, padlocked silver chains.(These silver chains were remarkably similar to the metal chain-link and padlock worn by Treach of Naughty by Nature, who said he did so in solidarity with “all the brothers who are locked down.”) The hip hop trend, however, did not last; fickle designers quickly moved on to new influences.