The term streetwear, or streetstyle, has been around for decades, and like all styles in the fashion world, it has changed and evolved with the times. Historically, streetwear has its origins in the counterculture movement; now, modern high fashion and haute couture have also joined in, though the basic elements of streetwear remain the same: cultural design, exclusivity, and hype.
If a brand is looking to leverage the movement of streetwear, they’d be wise to learn what it is, where it came from, and where it’s going. We dive in here.
The Origins of Streetwear
Defining streetwear can a be tricky, but looking towards its origins can help. Streetwear originated in the late 1970s in California as the counterculture movements of hip-hop, punk rock, and skating were also emerging. Because of this, original streetwear trends heavily used the aesthetic of punk, metal, and new wave, while also uniting sportswear and military looks. While streetstyle formed to speak to a spectrum of subcultures, it was not, and still is not, exclusively dedicated to one subculture or the other.
Current Streetwear Trend
The staples of streetwear from the past haven’t changed much, and its main products still include tees, baseball caps, sneakers, hoodies, jackets, and bags. And because of its history and origin in counterculture, streetwear fashion has been primarily a niche interest... Until now.
Streetwear fashion is being embraced and touted by brands of all kinds, mainly due to its attraction and appeal to the highly influential consumer base of Millennials and Generation Z. It the hype, exclusivity, and trendiness of streetwear that have driven luxury brands to collaborate with famous streetwear designers and icons, including Burberry’s partnership with streetwear designer Gosha Rubchinskiy, Tommy Hilfiger’s partnership with the label Vetements, and Louis Vuitton's partnership with the famous brand Supreme.
While the staples of streetwear haven’t changed much, its subject matter has. Due to its counterculture slant as well as the mindset of its younger target audience, streetwear designs are often fraught with one of their favorite devices: irony. Many streetwear brands utilize logos from cigarette companies, corporations, and pop culture images in the style of Andy Warhol. Take a look at the examples below, including Rhude’s Marlboro shirt and Elliot Giffis and Chambrone’s collaboration on their “Air Jordan Ikea Sneakers.”
The Power of Social Media + Streetwear
In the past, there was almost only one way to obtain hyped up streetwear - one would have to live in a city and see people wearing it. Now, social media has changed all of that. It has made streetwear more accessible to the average consumer -- they no longer have to invest the time, or even the passion, to know as much about the brand or the counterculture community.
This can work well for brands hoping to harness the excitement of the streetwear movement, as Digiday stated: “What the Internet taketh away in exclusivity, it giveth back in hype.” Brands can capitalize when they release, or “drop” a new streetwear item, allowing them to build up the hype, keep scarcity with limited runs, and above all, keep the conversation going. Social media tactics such as this contribute to the exclusive feel and hype associated with streetwear. As Tim Nolan, a former writer for Hypebeast states, “Today’s streetwear brands just need social and the power of word of mouth.”
It would be wise for brands to remember that streetwear remains a counterculture movement at its core, even with the collaboration of high fashion. Because it is a complex genre of fashion that can sometimes be difficult to define, brands have opportunities to experiment as streetwear is constantly changing and evolving.
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