By: Jeffrey Ye
Streetwear started out as a simple idea, but grew increasingly broad and complex beyond the word’s dictionary definition. When we think of streetwear, the words “hype” and “exclusive” often come to mind. We think of brands like Supreme that take influences from skate, hip-hop and various other youth subcultures, all combined to make a potent mix of nostalgia and on-trend styles that makes hype beasts foam at the mouth. However, these notions of streetwear represent only one aspect of the word that seems so difficult to define these days.
In the past few years, an incredible number of youth are embracing streetwear without having any connection to the various subcultures that shaped it. Look at me: someone who didn’t have the faintest interest in hip-hop, skate culture or even fashion growing up, but now streetwear is one of my biggest interests. It’s a topic that I love sharing and learning more about. What is it about streetwear that draws millions of kids like me around the world to it – kids who have no connection whatsoever to streetwear culture?
For one, I think attitude plays a large role in the appeal of streetwear. Streetwear is expressive and personal, almost an escape from the path that I personally rarely ever stray from. Growing up as a first generation immigrant, there is a lot of pressure to work hard and find success quickly. There are times when I feel like I not only carry my own goals and expectations, but those of my parents as well, who left their previous lives for me. Similar themes of familial pressure and expectation are present in the backgrounds of many of my friends.
Some grew up in religious families, private education and generally the farthest things from what is traditionally considered streetwear culture. Attitude is taking a step away from the pressure and knowing what it means to be an individual. I’m not saying streetwear is a way of giving the finger to one’s upbringing, neither is it disdainfully stating, “You can’t tell me what to do.” What I feel streetwear represents is a medium to experiment and express yourself however you want to.
The second reason may come as a surprise, but I think that the endless possibilities of streetwear are key to its popularity. You might be thinking, “Wait, there’s more to streetwear than bogo tees and Jordan’s?” Yes, because streetwear isn’t just exclusive drops and the hype-beast uniform. Perhaps even deeper than its roots in skate/surf culture, streetwear embodies a haphazard melting pot of the myriad fashions on the streets. These other aesthetics range from high fashion looks inspired by streetwear (“Raf Simons, Rick Owens usually what I’m dressed in,” A$AP Rocky), to Japanese streetwear (Visvim, Undercover), to what seems like an entire cult dedicated to biting off Kanye’s latest fits. The point is that there isn’t really a particular look or wardrobe that you need in order to get into streetwear. You can really experiment with whatever you already have, take inspiration from magazines, blogs, or people, and build your wardrobe from there. This is a powerful idea and part of the reason many prefer streetwear over the uniformity and rigidity of classical menswear—don’t forget to leave the bottom button unbuttoned!
It seems now prudent to address the issue of cultural appropriation and whether or not taking pieces of basketball history (or any other subculture) such as Chuck Taylor’s, and turning it into a fashion statement dilutes the significance of the object. I can relate this to seeing others adopting aspects of my own culture, but as long as it’s not done in a mocking manner I personally cannot see any harm. Hopefully that doesn’t stop anyone from experimenting and developing their personal style.
Sometimes I look back and see how different I look and feel since I got into streetwear, even if I’m the same kid trying to decide what looks good and what looks bad. As Rachel Zoe said, “Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.”