As I reflect on the past five decades of hip hop and its undeniable impact on style, I am struck by the profound evolution that has occurred within both the music genre and the fashion world. Hip hop, born from the streets of the Bronx in the 1970s, has not only given birth to a global musical phenomenon but has also transformed the very fabric of our culture, influencing industries far beyond the realm of music.
The importance of fashion, the look, the style, the swag originates from hip hop royalty from the 80s all the way to modern days. What you wear tells a story, a story worth 1,000 words. What you wear tells who you are, where you’re from, and what you want to be.
The early days of hip hop were marked by an eclectic blend of styles that reflected the gritty urban environment from which it emerged. Artists like LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa, N.W.A, and more not only captivated audiences with their lyrical prowess but also introduced a new sense of swag to fashion. Baggy jeans, oversized hoodies, and bold accessories became the visual language of a rebellious and self-assured generation. These artists embraced an authentic street style that resonated with their audience and paved the way for the hip hop fashion revolution.
To be seen with chunky gold chains was a status symbol long before it was televised on TV. These hip hop artists brought it to the mainstage which influenced luxury fashion brands such as Chanel to be possessed with gold accessories through a majority of their 90s collections and fashion campaigns.
Luxury fashion existence can be thanked a lot to the hip hop community. Logo mania is derived from Fashion curators such as Dapper Dan who used to create masterful pieces of “Hood elegance” that incorporated Gucci, Louis Vuitton monogram, and more for the hustlers and entertainers of the 80s. His influence in fashion was not later recognized by luxury fashion until the late 2010s.
Adding streetwear-inspired looks and brands come from the designers of the late 80s and 90s. Hip hop-infused fashion brands include Fubu, Karl Kani, Sean Jean, Walker Wear, Baby Phat, Cross Colours, Rocawear, and so much more. These brands were essential to one’s wardrobe back in the day due to its relatability, style, and the entertainers that were wearing them at the time.
Among the pioneers who shaped the hip hop fashion landscape, Run-D.M.C. stands tall. Their signature look of Adidas tracksuits, bucket hats, and untied sneakers became a defining aesthetic of the era. This laid the foundation for the fusion of sportswear and music culture, a trend that would later become a cornerstone of modern fashion.
Due to sportswear and fashion colliding, this influenced professional athletes to take charge of their style and embrace what they were listening to and seeing on the daily for their respective communities. Athletes that introduced “swagger” fashion-wise would have to be Allen Iverson. The baggy jeans, oversized tees, excessive jewelry, and braids were pivotal in that time period. Allen Iverson is the reason that many NBA stars take their fashion sense seriously.
Back to hip hop, The 1990s marked a pivotal point in hip hop fashion, with the emergence of iconic figures who elevated style to an art form. Enter the curator of Harlem swagger, Dapper Dan, who took luxury fashion labels and remixed them into bespoke, ostentatious creations that captured the essence of hip hop culture. His designs, worn by hip hop royalty, blurred the lines between street style and high fashion, challenging conventional notions of what constituted luxury.
The role of stylists and curators continued to evolve as hip hop gained further prominence. Visionaries like Misa Hylton and June Ambrose, who collaborated with artists like Jay-Z and Missy Elliott, brought a new level of sophistication to hip hop fashion. Their ability to seamlessly blend streetwear with haute couture contributed to the genre’s enduring influence on style.
The torch was then passed to a new generation of stylists who embraced the legacy of their predecessors while pushing the boundaries even further. Kollin Carter, Zerina Akers, and former stylist Law Roach are just a few of the creative minds who have seamlessly integrated hip hop culture into the fashion mainstream. Their work has been instrumental in elevating artists like Cardi B, Beyoncé, and Zendaya to fashion icon status.
Women in hip hop have also left an indelible mark on fashion, using their outfits as a means of self-expression and empowerment. Hip hop queens like Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, and Missy Elliott used their bold and boundary-pushing style to complement and enhance their lyrical narratives. These women demonstrated that fashion could be a powerful tool for storytelling, allowing their outfits to amplify their music’s messages.
In recent years, a new wave of female hip hop artists has continued this tradition of using fashion to convey their unique personas. Artists such as Mulatto, Saweetie, Megan Thee Stallion, City Girls, and Flo Milli have embraced a diverse range of styles that reflect their individuality. They effortlessly blend high fashion with streetwear, creating looks that mirror their multifaceted identities and sending a message of empowerment to their fans.
Due to the demand and popularity of fashion in the hip hop space, many have been granted opportunities to head luxury fashion houses such as Pharrell Williams. Pharrell, men’s creative director of Louis Vuitton, is someone who has contributed to the hip hop fashion scene since the early 2000s. His colorful, streetwear-inspired, and electric style was pivotal and pushed boundaries at the time. How vibrant and in your face his style was, his music matched that same energy. What truly set Pharrell’s early 2000s fashion sense apart was his commitment to authenticity. He wore what he loved, embracing his individuality and encouraging others to do the same. His style choices exuded confidence and self-assuredness, inspiring a generation to express themselves fearlessly through fashion. His ability to open the door to a whole new genre of fashion was intriguing to see. Partnering with brands such as Bathing Ape, Billionaire Boys Club, Adidas, Chanel, and so much more opened up the opportunity for musicians to start doing collaborations with fashion brands. (Pharrell, if you are reading this, you are my dream person to interview from a fashion standpoint.)
As I think about the intertwined evolution of hip hop and style over the past half-century, I am reminded that fashion has been much more than mere clothing; it has been a reflection of culture, identity, and a medium of artistic expression. From the early days of baggy jeans and oversized hoodies to the contemporary fusion of luxury and streetwear, hip hop style has continued to challenge norms, break down barriers, and shape the very essence of our global culture.
As we move forward, it’s exciting to imagine what the next 50 years will bring for hip hop and its ongoing relationship with fashion. One thing is certain: the journey is far from over, and the ever-evolving partnership between music and style will undoubtedly continue to captivate, inspire, and define generations to come.
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