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Streetwear is a style of casual clothing which became global in the 1990s.[1] It grew from Californian surf and skate culture to encompass elements of sportswear, hip hop, punk and Japanese street fashion. Eventually haute couture became an influence.[2] It commonly centers on "casual, comfortable pieces such as jeans, T-shirts, baseball caps, and sneakers".[3] Enthusiasts follow particular brands and try to obtain limited edition releases.[4][5]


The style is generally accepted to have been born out of the Los Angeles surf culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Brands include BlauGrun, Ocean Pacific, Hobie, Off Shore, Gotcha and Life's a Beach.

Surfboard designer Shawn Stussy began selling printed T-shirts featuring the same trademark signature he placed on his custom surfboards. Initially selling the items from his own car, Stussy expanded sales to boutiques once popularity increased.[6][7][8] Stüssy's move into exclusive sales firmed up the baseline definition of streetwear: taking "a multi-faceted, subculturally diverse, Southern California lifestyle-based T-shirt brand and [mimicking] the limited feel of a high-end luxury brand...those are the two most integral components of what makes a brand streetwear: T-shirts and exclusivity."[9]

Early streetwear brands took inspiration from the DIY aesthetic of punk, new wave, heavy metal and hip hop. Established sportswear and fashion brands such as Kangol and Adidas attached themselves to the early 1980s hip hop scene

Nike's capture of soon-to-be basketball superstar Michael Jordan from rival Adidas in 1984 was a turning point, with Nike dominating the urban streetwear sneaker market in the late 80's and early 90's.[citation needed] 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 Mobb Deep sporting the look.[citation needed]

In the mid to late 1990's, professional American sports franchises had a big impact on the scene, with Los Angeles Raiders and Chicago Bulls caps and jackets, and oversized team jerseys.

Clothing manufacturers began to release limited edition items, using social media and product scarcity as marketing tools.[10]

With the advent of "bling" culture, the turn of the century saw established luxury brands make inroads into the market, with Burberry, Gucci and Fendi making appearances in hip hop videos and films. The most popular shoe of the era was the Nike Air Force 1, immortalized in the song by Nelly.[11]

Brand launches by the chief executives of record companies followed, with Russell Simmons of Def Jam launching his Phat Farm label, Sean Combs of Bad Boy with Sean John, and Jay-Z and Damon Dash of Roc-a-Fella Records launching Rocawear. Rap superstar 50 Cent a few years later launched his G-Unit clothing label, with the sneaker rights given to Reebok.

In 2011, Complex Magazine named Stüssy, Supreme and A Bathing Ape as the top streetwear brands.[3]


Timberland boots are a common shoe in streetwear

Common sportswear worn in contemporary street styles include hoodies, bomber jackets, tennis-style skirts, track pants, leggings, and sneakers. Some of these are a revival of 1990s hip-hop fashion, which also favoured bomber jackets and baseball caps.

Contemporary streetwear is usually influenced by the generic sporty twists and sleek athletic lines. In earlier stages of sportswear fashion, femininity was usually expressed with the lines becoming cleaner, and silhouettes becoming minimal. Later, bold volumes in sportswear started to develop, hi-tech fabrics and old-school approaches were used in styling. In general, relaxed silhouettes, clean shapes, little embellishments, and an overall sophisticated feel would be observed in the looks of the trend.

Contemporary streetwear has also become much more influential in the world of haute couture influencing and in turn being influenced by runway shows by prominent designers. Raf Simons has made a large impact on streetwear stlyings as it has evolved over the years, this might be attributed by the designers influence in hip hop and popular culture.[12] [13] Other designers such as Demna Gvasalia, creative director of Vetements and Balenciaga, have also had an impact in recent years championing trends such as the chunky sneaker[14] and the oversized hoodie[15], which have slowly become streetwear staples.

Luxury sportswear[edit]

Alexander Wang developed “luxury sportswear” in his eponymous brand

The decline of formal wear led to the rise of streetwear fashion. High-end and luxury brands began to develop “luxury sportswear”, for example Alexander Wang, Gucci, and DKNY. Among this type of “luxury sportswear”, luxe fabrics were used to produce their sportswear fashion for a high contrast on the sporty silhouette. Fabrics like silk organza, washed satin, leather, neoprene, and wool crepe were used to produce the “luxury sportswear”. These types of fabrics may help experiment a garment with texture, and may assist in capturing a modern-sports spirit of the season.

Details of the designs in “luxury sportswear” looks are pulled directly from actual active wear. The two words, “luxury” and “minimalism” were first used together for sportswear in fashion, to interpret a fresh sports look which is sleek and clean, but bearing recognizable athletic influences.

Common mix-and-match combination of “luxury sportswear” on streetwear are track pants under basketball shorts, with bold patterns and sumptuous fabrics for men; and light colored pencil skirts, with bomber jackets and sleek tops, cut in satin or tweed, for women.

Seasonal sportswear[edit]

Sportswear in streetwear designs changes according to season.

In winter, sports silhouette tends to turn slouchier and volumes are exaggerated. Solid fabrics such as fur, velvet, wool and leather become predominant, and quilted detailing on windbreakers, sporty skirts and vests can be seen. A typical winter look might be a voluminous sweatshirt with satin boxer shorts, or a brocade bomber jacket worn on top of a laid-back dress featuring mesh detailing.

In summer, the look is usually light-weight and simple, with a combination of crop tops, sleek dresses and gym-shorts.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Laux, Cameron (9 January 2019). "Who decides what is cool?". BBC designed. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  2. ^ Yotka, Steff (12 January 2019). "Think Streetwear Is a New Phenomenon? Meet Luca Benini, Who Started the Hype 30 Years Ago". Vogue. Condé Nast. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  3. ^ a b "Bobby Hundreds' 50 Greatest Streetwear Brands of All Time". Complex Magazine. June 21, 2011.
  4. ^ Baggs, Michael (10 December 2018). "Rental fashion: How luxury streetwear is changing the industry". BBC Newsbeat. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  5. ^ "What is Street Wear?". Wisegeek.
  6. ^ Sande, Steve (2005-11-06). "Street Threads". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-08-12.
  7. ^ "Style: Where Surf Meets Rap". Time. 1991-02-11. Retrieved 2009-09-10.
  8. ^ Breinholt, Jacob (2009-08-05). "Throwback Comeback: Stussy". SoJones. Retrieved 2009-08-12.
  9. ^ Hundreds, Bobby (2011-06-21). "The 50 Greatest Streetwear Brands". Complex. Retrieved 2013-02-02.
  10. ^ Fowler, Damian (5 February 2018). "The hype machine: Streetwear and the business of scarcity". BBC Capital. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  11. ^ Warnett, Gary (January 25, 2017). "The Forgotten History of the White on White Air Force 1, Nike's Perfect Sneaker". Complex. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
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