History of Streetwear

  • by Societal .

What is Streetwear?

Streetwear is a style of casual fashion that was first popularized in the mainstream in the 1990’s. As the name indicates, it is simply described as clothing that is made to be worn in the “street”. Consider this a different fashion category than office, home, or work clothing.

The style originated in NYC surrounding the culture of hip hop artists and fans. Today, streetwear has expanded to include influence from skateboarding culture and japanese streetwear. Even the biggest names of the couture fashion world now have streetwear lines or show the influence in their other runway designs.

Streetwear History


The earliest documented streetwear designers are from the late 1970s. It was based on the aesthetic of the earliest hip hop artists. At the time, New York City was the hub for hip hop music and so that is where streetwear fashion was first seen.


By the early years of the 1980’s streetwear was beginning to appear on the East Coast. In California there was a growing surfing culture. Both of these casual fashion styles merged together to create what was becoming Los Angeles streetwear.

Shawn Stussy designed surfboards in California in the 80’s. He started selling T-shirts with his surf logo on it as casualwear. This is where one of the truly defining aspects of streetwear became evident. To create a higher value with his T-shirts Shawn Stussy employed the scarcity marketing strategy.

This works by only selling a limited amount of an item which jacks up the value. Exclusive casual fashion designs are a keystone of streetwear. MTV, or Music Video TV, broadcast their first music video in 1981. The transition into music video culture further bridged the gap between music and fashion.


The 1990’s were the years that streetwear began to break out in the mainstream. Streetwear grew out of its subculture status when “gangsta rap” took over NYC, and then the world. Record labels that represented popular rappers began to sell branded clothing items like denim and work jackets with their logos. The growing demand for exclusive branded streetwear helped to expand the reach of streetwear in the mainstream culture of the 1990’s.

Another subculture, skateboarders, also began to show their influence in streetwear fashion. Skater fashion is also considered streetwear, since most skateboarding happens on the street. It has casual and urban elements which are common in streetwear.

By the late 1990’s streetwear was beginning to catch on in other ways. American sports teams began to sell their branded merchandise. Sports hats, jerseys, and T-shirts were made to be worn casually on the street to show your support for the team.

You can see the integration of sports streetwear into other kinds of streetwear. For example with jerseys being made that do not represent a sports team, but instead exist as a statement fashion piece of streetwear.


By the 2000’s, almost every popular rapper or hip hop artist had their own line of exclusive merchandise. The fashion trend had taken hold in other subcultures and in the main culture. In the 2000’s a new wave of streetwear trends began to appear. Fashion began to be fixated on “bling”, as evident in the popular fashions with rhinestones and shiny elements.

Top haute couture and luxury fashion design brands began to hop on the streetwear bandwagon, mostly as their brands were beginning to show up in hip hop and rap music videos. The influence of social media marketing also began to appear around this time.

Tennis shoe brands like Nike began to adapt to the streetwear culture of scarcity and exclusivity by coining the term/practice of “drops”, which means releasing a limited number of shoes or fashion items on a specific day.


One of the first streetwear brands, Stussy, collaborated with haute couture fashion brand Dior in the 2010’s. This shows how streetwear had come to be not just accepted, but sought after in the most elite of fashion communities. The Supreme and Louis Vuitton collaboration is another crossover of note from the 2010’s. 


Streetwear continues to grow in value and scope in the 2020’s. It is a prevailing influence across the board with fashion communities. The demands of modern life lend more freedom to wearing casual wear more often, and the marketing opportunity surrounding the concept of “dropping” limited edition items to jack up the value is very appealing to companies.

Popular Modern Streetwear Items

  • Athletic wear/athleisure
  • Sweatshirts and hoodies
  • Tennis shoes/sneakers
  • Work and bomber jackets

Luxury Streetwear

Streetwear has evolved to include haute couture and luxury design brands. Luxury streetwear uses the influence of traditional streetwear, but introduces luxury fabrics and design elements. Balenciaga is one of the most famous brands for modern luxury streetwear with statement pieces like oversized sneakers and hoodies/sweatshirts.

A lot of the influence for luxury streetwear comes from a combination of hip hop culture and sports wear. There are usually clean lines and simplicity in the design. Colors can vary for streetwear, but a key element is high contrast.

  • Leather
  • Silk
  • Luxury fabrics
  • Minimalism
  • Sporty
  • Oversized

What is a Hypebeast?

The origin of the word hypebeast is that it was used as an insult. The derogatory term was later used as a fashion blog title by a Chinese journalist. From there it gained popular usage as a term for people who were streetwear fans and sought after the latest drops.

Even though the insult has been reclaimed by streetwear fans, it still has some negative associations. People use hypebeast to make fun of people who only wear the latest streetwear drops, but some people claim the title proudly. Because being a hypebeast includes keeping up with the latest trends, some people interpret hypebeasts of being unoriginal and conformist.

Streetwear Sneakers

One of the most expensive items in a Hypebeast’s closet is sure to be their sneakers. Sneakers are a key element of streetwear and are another defining aspect of the influence of sportswear in streetwear.

The sneaker market is on a steady increase in value, a trend that started in the early 2000’s and continues to this day. Yeezy’s, Nike, and Adidas are just a few of the notable names in sneakers for streetwear.



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