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An Introduction to Streetwear

local culture

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Fordham University

culture

- experimental

An Introduction to Streetwear

A Look Into the Positives and Negatives of Hype Culture

2.11.18

Read time: 11 min.
Photography by Mary Kohl

It’s February 2017 in New York City. I’m swiping into the 14th street, Union Square Station, a Trader Joe’s bag in each hand, when I see it. A boy sporting cuffed-pants and wearing a Chrome bag swipes into the subway with his MetroCard—but not just any MetroCard. A Supreme brand MetroCard.

Why? I thought. Why would anyone go through the trouble of getting a Supreme-specific metro card? And thus began the origin of my curiosity.

I knew people who had worn Supreme and similar brands back in high school, but I’d never given “streetwear” much of a thought; it seemed to me that it was simply a way to “flex” on others and flaunt extremely expensive clothing.

Brendan McShane wears a vintage yellow Champion crew neck sweater and the all white remake Jordan 1's from Nike.

It turns out however, that there was an entire subculture I had yet to discover. This was more than simply a passing fad, but rather a cultural movement. When I first thought of streetwear, only high-end fashion brands like Gucci, and Raf Simons came to mind as well as token brands most people are familiar with like Supreme and Stüssy. Dictionary.com defines streetwear as “fashionable casual clothes.” Fashionable and casual, I thought, I wear that. Though I came into contact with a few pieces that would be considered streetwear, I didn’t exactly wear that.

If you feel like you’re living under a rock because you’re unfamiliar with this, well, I hate to break it to you, but you are. I’m totally kidding. Let’s break it down.

A 1991 article by Time Magazine titled, “Style: Where Surf Meets Rap” scratches the surface of streetwear’s roots which combine elements of skate culture, hip hop fashion, and Japanese street fashion. Japan, a mecca for streetwear, has birthed influential brands such as NEIGHBORHOOD, A Bathing Ape (BAPE) and Comme des Garçons (CDG). Rappers like Kanye, A$AP Rocky and Tyler the Creator are among the many artists who work closely with brands or have their own lines.

Jefferson Wenzel wears an Off-White jacket, vintage pants and vans.

According to Complex Magazine, “Streetwear origins tailor around geography; but its definition is also highly predicated on time periods. Although the word itself can be traced to ‘80s skate clothing as an industry and market device, it didn’t come into heavy play until the 2000s.”

With all of this, a slew of new terms have materialized such as "clout", or people doing things “for the culture,” “flipping” or simply selling clothes, and of course, being a hypebeast. Urban Dictionary (the most reliable source of street knowledge) defines hypebeasts as “sneakerheads who only rock hyped up shit to get props b/c they got no self worth or sense of style.” Other definitions include people who are “equipped with mommy’s credit card,” and individuals who “buy their clothes for the logo and brand-name and completely ignore [whether] they personally like the item or not.”

This had me all kinds of confused. Though HYPEBEAST is actually a well respected magazine and blog, to call someone a hypebeast seemed derogatory and a label I was sure no one would want to have. This is when I began to notice the controversial nature surrounding the fashion movement as well as the complications that come with being a self-proclaimed hypebeast.

Dan Goldshmid in a UniQlo x Keith Haring hoodie.

A leading problem with the nature of these brands, causing many to denounce streetwear in general, is the lack of originality and direct exploitation of artists outside of the movement. According to an article in The New Yorker, Supreme, which came to fruition in 1994 by brand founder James Jebbia, stole famous American conceptual artist Barbara Kruger’s iconic red and white, futura font to design his logo, never asking for her permission. The company later sued fellow clothing company, Married to The Mob, for putting out a shirt with the words "Supreme Bitch" which directly ripped off the red logo and futura font while also adding the word "Bitch" to the Supreme logo. Was Supreme entitled to get mad over this? Kruger argued no in her response to the quarrel, exclaiming, "What a ridiculous clusterfuck of totally uncool jokers.” This is just one of several instances in which controversy has spiked due to copyright issues.

The movement has also been criticized for being unaffordable, catering mostly to wealthy teenagers simply wanting to look cool. Though streetwear can be purchased at stores such as H&M and Uniqlo, pieces typically held with high regard, especially if they’re rare, are only available online or from places such as Dover Street Market on Lexington. Dressing this way can come at a hefty price.

The movement has even been criticized from the inside. Erik Brunetti, founder of street and skatewear brand, FUCT, is troubled by the capitalist takeover and disingenuous nature of streetwear today.

“Big business corporations have infiltrated streetwear and are currently in the process of rewriting its history to fit their financial narrative. I don't fit in that narrative simply because I'm aware of what they are doing. By keeping me, Erik Brunetti, out of the picture, it makes it safe for unqualified individuals to enter the industry and become overnight streetwear sensations. Being a friend of a famous rapper seems to qualify,” argued Brunetti.

Though it is clear that supporting these brands is often met with criticism, the implication that every person who owns streetwear is an arrogant asshole, as it turns out, is a massive generalization.

In order to better grasp the concept of streetwear, I spoke to a few boys at Fordham, most of whom would not mind classifying themselves as hypebeasts.

I first spoke to the boys of O’Hare 139. Michael “Tash” Tashiro, FCRH ‘20, and his roommate Dan Goldshmid, FCRH ‘20, are both poli-sci majors from the East Coast. Only Tash would classify himself as a hypebeast.

“My older brother got me into Supreme way back in 2007 when he bought me a duckbill hat. I've frequented the store since then,” said Tashiro.

In response to the criticisms presented above, Goldshmid and Tashiro stand in defense of the movement.

“Notwithstanding the fact that this country operates on a market economy, if you support new artists that are doing unique things and making independent art, you're doing more than just pumping money into a capitalist machine. You're putting money into art and artistic people that might deserve to be successful,” said Goldshmid.

Tashiro, whose favorite brands include Palace, The North Face, Patta, Stone Island, Cav Empt, and Supreme, purchases a lot of his streetwear from eBay.

“Supreme prices their t-shirts at $34 and Palace at $48, so the prices aren't exactly unreasonable. From there, one can easily flip that shirt for double the price and restart this cycle. I do think that those who are buying the product at the inflated price would certainly fit into the category of rich kids though,” said Tashiro.

When I asked him about why he engages in the community, Tashiro said, “While most hypebeasts are considered pretentious, it really depends upon the person. Myself and my group of friends in this community don't wear these clothes to impress others, we just wear what we think looks awesome.”

Goldshmid, whose favorite piece he’s ever copped is a Travis Scott x Texas Chainsaw Massacre hoodie, said that he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with the culture.


“Hypebeasts are people who get enjoyment of riding the wave and are maybe forward thinking and up to date when it comes to pop culture. I don't think there is anything bad about it. Often a lot of things that are hype look really good, which is why they got hype in the first place,” said Goldshmid.

Brendan McShane, FCRH ‘20 said that he became interested in streetwear last year after he found it was a way to connect with his roommates and share a common interest.

“We’ve seen many of these influences on high fashion which was much more stylistically distinct. Now there are tons of designers creating their own sneakers and casual wear which fuses together the two previously contrasting styles and that’s really cool to me,” said McShane.

It has officially been one year since my clueless Supreme subway encounter. Occasionally, I find myself perusing the Hypebae (Hypebeast for women) Instagram and would be lying if I said that I didn’t rush to cop the latest Golf Wang t-shirts (I love Tyler the Creator, okay). Though I’m not in a rush to support brands like Supreme, I do have a more comprehensive understanding of the hype behind it.

“I don’t think it’s pretentious,” said Goldshmid. “Brands like Supreme are opportunists. They are bringing art and culture to a larger audience, many of which probably would not be exposed otherwise."