Hip-Hop’s influence on fashion is as prevalent as ever, but it certainly has not always been that way. In fact, although the history of hip-hop dates back to the 1970s, it took quite a bit of time for mainstream fashion labels to fully embrace the cultural phenomenon. Hip Hop music was a small flame which ignited in New York, but it has spread globally like wildfire. With the genre reaching worldwide recognition, hip hop clothing and urban clothing have also become vastly popular and experienced major transformations from its early days.
To understand how hip-hop came into the mainstream dialogue we must first go back to its origins. Hip-hop was born out of major adversities experienced by the African-American and Puerto Rican residents of the South Bronx in New York City. Urban decay was reaching its peak and many of the residents were living in incredibly harsh conditions. Running water, heat, and electricity were all among the basic needs which were unavailable to a large portion of the South Bronx community. Abandoned or burnt down buildings made up over 40% of the area between the 70s and 80s.
Bronx, New York 1970
The harsh realities of life in the South Bronx are what led to the original voice of hip-hop, which was one of frustration and protest. As the genre of music started to evolve, so did its role in the mainstream dialogue.
Hip-hop has four original elements which define its culture and much of its earliest influence in fashion was influenced by B-boying. B-boying (also referred to as breakdancing) led to the prevalence of sportswear brands within the community. With the progression and mainstream adaptation of hip-hop, brands such as Adidas, Nike, Puma, and FILA started to become synonymous with a certain lifestyle.
Although the genre was adopted rather quickly across the United States, it did not have the potential to reach a global audience until the 80’s. Throughout this time period is when the genre saw a rise of hip-hop-specific record labels which would allow the sound to reach a much larger audience.
The majority of global retailers and marketers failed to see the potential that this growing movement pertained, but the ones who jumped on the bandwagon early on, saw tremendous returns. Adidas was one of the brands that wasted no time in establishing relationships with hip-hop artists, DJ’s, and producers.
Run DMC Mid 80s
As hip-hop artists experienced an increase in wealth and stardom, many of them started to gravitate towards more expensive lifestyle brands. Fashion retailer giants such as Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger had never before marketed to minorities within their ad campaigns and thus their clothes became a symbol of exclusivity and indicators of financial success.
It became more and more important for hip-hop artists to be spotted wearing luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci as it gave them the feeling of having escaped the adversities which were the birthing environment of the culture. Hip-hop had previously given communities an escape from the harsh realities of life, but with its newfound love for luxury and fashion, it gave them an opportunity to have a piece of that (or to at least live vicariously through their favourite rappers lifestyle).
Biggie Smalls in Versace Glasses and COOGIE Jumper
Although lifestyle and luxury brands were starting to become prevalent within the hip-hop community, other brands such as The North Face, Timberland, and Carhartt also saw major adaptation. Many of these brands took notice, however they did not chase after the urban communities, as they believed that with all its adversities, it would cheapen their brand names.
This is what led to another breakthrough for the hip-hop community, which was the introduction of brands created directly by its pioneering artists. Artists realized their own marketing potential by dropping brand names in their lyrics, so instead of promoting brands which had no interest in working with them, they decided to start their own labels. Brands such as Rocawear, FUBU, Phat Farm, and Wu-Wear are among the earliest labels to be founded by artists of the genre. Jay-Z and Sean Combs are two of the first artists to have proven their marketing potential within the fashion world.
Jay-Z’s Clothing Label “Rocawear”
During the late 80s to 90s was when rap music started to stray away from work-wear and sportswear and started to focus heavily on luxury brands and large gold chains. The genre started to experience more and more of a duality as rap became more popular. On one end, original rap provided their earliest pioneers with a platform to talk about issues within their communities, but on the other the genre started to become more and more materialistic. This was due to the immense fame and fortune that some of these rap stars were starting to experience.
As far as hip-hop’s influence in fashion has come, it has shown no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Today, one of rap music’s most prevalent artists Kanye West, who time and time again has proclaimed himself as “more than just a musician”, is truly pushing the envelope.
Kanye West Debuting Yeezy Season 2
Other artists such as Pharell Williams, Tyler, The Creator, and Drake are all examples of the importance of hip-hop/rap music within the fashion industry. The phenomenon of hip-hop has definitely proven that the culture is a major lifestyle tastemaker, even if it wasn’t officially accepted or perceived as such.
Written by: Boys’Co