Learn how streetwear, once the domain of skaters and rappers, became one of the most influential movements in the fashion world, and discover ways to incorporate it into your own style.
What Is Streetwear?
Streetwear is a casual fashion style that first became popular in the 1990s. It incorporates comfortable yet trendy clothing such as graphic tees, hoodies, sweatpants, and expensive sneakers.
Streetwear takes inspiration from both hip-hop culture and skater style, with the added element of intentional product scarcity. Followers of the latest trends in streetwear are known as hypebeasts, and many go to great lengths to procure limited-edition designer baseball caps, hoodies, sneakers, and more.
A Brief History of Streetwear
The first streetwear brands emerged in Southern California in the 1980s, when surfers sold screen-printed T-shirts to promote their hand-shaped surfboards. Inspired by the street style of Los Angeles skateboarders and surfers as well as hip-hop fashion, boutique skateboarding shops in New York City started producing their own designs in the 1990s.
In the 2000s, sneaker culture—which centers around collectors of expensive sneakers—overlapped with and influenced streetwear fashion. Hypebeasts paired their graphic tees with athletic sneakers, and collaborations abounded.
In the 2010s, luxury streetwear was born. As young people and social influencers made streetwear an important part of pop culture, the fashion industry—from mainstream sportswear brands to high fashion brands—got in on the action.
4 Characteristics of Streetwear Style
Although streetwear can encompass a wide variety of fashion styles, streetwear looks often focus on four basic elements.
- Comfort: Streetwear clothing consists of casual clothing and athleisure staples like sweatshirts and joggers. If you can’t skate in it, it’s probably not streetwear.
- Scarcity: Hypebeast culture is all about limited-edition items. This perceived scarcity can make sought-after items seem more fashionable. It’s the same principle that underlies to haute couture, but streetwear is more accessible.
- Menswear styles: Although streetwear is popular among people of all genders, it is closely tied to menswear and traditionally masculine items such as bomber jackets and workwear.
- Contemporary art: Some of the most successful graphic tees and streetwear logos borrow from the work of contemporary artists or poke fun at classic pieces. Sometimes these are sanctioned collaborations, and sometimes they’re not.
4 Tips for Styling Streetwear
A big part of streetwear fashion is buying and selling limited-edition items. While that may not be feasible for everyone, there are still ways to incorporate streetwear fashion into your look.
- Invest in sneakers. Sneakers are often the most important (and most expensive) part of a hypebeast’s look. If you want to make a big style impact with just one clothing item, sneakers are the move.
- Stick to a single logo. Brand loyalty is an important part of streetwear culture, so it’s rare to see a true fan layering different streetwear brands in a single look. If you have a limited number of items from different streetwear labels, try showing off one logo at a time, and supplement the rest of your look with workwear and athletic clothing.
- Play with proportions. One of streetwear’s biggest fashion wins was bringing sweatshirts into the realm of high fashion. Streetwear aficionados often wear baggy denim, oversize sweatshirts, and other loose-fitting garments, breaking the rules of proportion to fashionable effect.
- Be yourself. Streetwear’s origins lie in counterculture and DIY. While it may seem full of rules right now, true streetwear is about being yourself. Don’t be afraid to put together unexpected combinations—you may find yourself ahead of the curve.