By: Alexis Schroeder
“Hip Hop gave a generation a common ground that didn’t require either race to lose anything; everyone gained.” Jay-Z couldn’t have said it better. Not only has the world been exposed to such a genre that relies heavily on self-expression and ground-breaking music, but it has also influenced the changing wardrobes of artists and fans. The capriciousness of hip hop fashion has constantly dictated new styles throughout the decades, playing a prominent role worldwide and across all ethnicities.
In the early 1980s, hip hop fashion trends sparked a follower phenomenon. Run DMC started the black leather jackets and pants paired with a Kangol hat, thick chains and Adidas athletic sneakers, which eventually gave way to the brightly colored nylon tracksuit era. Industry icons started wearing these along with sheepskin, leather bomber jackets, and sneakers such as Converse’s Chuck Taylor All-Stars. During the 1980s, accessories ranged from heavy, chunky, gold jewelry such as necklaces, and door-knocker earrings, popularized by Roxanna Shante and Salt-N-Pepa. Long, gold chains, which have become staples in hip hop fashion for both men and women, gained mass appeal through Big Daddy Kane. The Jheri curl also sprang its way into 80s hair trends.
In the 1980s, widespread loyalty to hip hop fashion trends began as artists pushed the limits even further. Now, this era is remembered as “old school hip hop,” which many rappers celebrate through their songs such as Missy Elliot’s, “Back in the Day.”
As the years progressed, so did the hairstyles, fashion, and accessories. During the late 1980s and early 1990s Black Nationalism influenced the styles of artists and fans alike. Queen Latifah, KRS-One, and Public Enemy were just a few of the many who incorporated fezzes, kufis detailed with Kemetic ankh, and Kente hats into their clothing. Rappers and fans also showed support by wearing reds, blacks, and greens. Dreadlocks were also infused with the late 1980s.
The 1990s took a new approach to hip hop fashion. The Fresh Prince, Will Smith, helped to commercialize baseball caps, neon sweatshirts and pants, and geometric prints. Female rappers during this time assimilated their clothing styles to that of male artists. TLC and Aaliyah wore baggy, oversized pants and flannel shirts; however, they were the first to deviate from the male trend by coupling a flannel shirt with a tight undershirt or sports bra. Hip hop fashion proved its versatility through other artists such as Kris Kross founding the fade of wearing clothing backwards and Kwame inspiring a polka-dot sensation.
During this time, gangsta rappers emerged as a new genre in the hip hop world, especially on the West Coast. They kept it simple and tough, predominantly wearing khakis and white t-shirts with gold chains.
Hip hop fashion garnered so much attention that it even accrued credibility with high fashion designers. Designers such as, Isaac Mizrahi and Chanel sent their models down the runway in gold chains, nameplate belts, black bombers, and heavy jewelry. However, like everything in the fashion world, its presence on the catwalk was short lived.
As the hip hop industry became more widely known across all cultures, female artists digressed from the “tough-guy” baggy pants and work boots, venturing to create their own iconic hip hop style. Lil Kim helped pave the way for a more feminine and sexy wardrobes with the assistance from such lines as Baby Phat. Eve decided to keep a more conservative, but still very sultry look and hip hop inspiration. One of Eve’s most differentiating and permanent fashion trend is the two paw print tattoos, one on each breast. Tattoos are nothing foreign to the music industry, but many artists exhibit this art on obscure and seemingly painful body parts. For instance, Lil Wayne has tattoos on each eyelid and Birdman “Baby” Williams boosts a star tattoo on top of his head. Even though tattoos have already infiltrated society, regardless of music’s influence, the hip hop industry’s emergence of head-to-toe tattoos has still yet to widely catch on, if ever.
As more and more hip hop artists realized the tidal wave of fashion trends they were waving over the world, many realized their commercial potential, not only as performers, but as designers. In the 1990s and so forth, the public was introduced to many fashion labels from their favorite artists. Now, for the first time fans could further emulate their idols. Rappers such as Wu-Tang Clan featuring Wu-Wear, Nelly’s, Apple Bottom Jeans, Jay’Z and Dame Dash’s Roc a Wear, 50 Cent’s, G-Unit, and Diddy’s, Sean John are just a few of the labels that are available.
In today’s world of hip hop, if an artist proves great enough to make it, he or she will most likely have their own fashion label at some point in their career. Performers have commercialized and materialized much of the fashion trends they sport so much so that their fans are willing to pay exorbitant prices for such items. For instance, back in the late 1980s and transcending into the 1990s snapback hats were worn by many rappers. Was there any underlying meaning behind these hats, other than supporting a sports team? No, and they ranged anywhere from $10 to $15. Today, snapbacks and flat brimmed hats can range from $25 to $70. The hip hop industry’s emphasis on expensive hip hop brands deviates from its predecessors’ colloquial fashion presence. However, we do live in a capitalistic society and who is to say this should be criticized when trying to expand your business potential?
With the evolution of hip hop fashion, starting with baggy pants, Converse, and heavy gold chains, to grills, scantily dressed women, tight jeans, and blazers, this genre continues and will always have a prominent influence in the world of apparel. Several artists take hip hop fashion to an unparalleled level. Kanye West’s infatuation with high fashion has taken the industry to a sleekly sexy and luxe aesthetic, while Pharrell continues to popularize bright neons and a nerdy fashion sense. Hip hop not only provides common ground with its music across all cultures, but because of the amount of diverse artists within the industry, there are many different fashion options for fans to emulate and influence our wardrobes.