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Hip-hop fashion is a distinctive style of dress originating with African-American youth on the scene of Los Angelesmarker, New Yorkmarker, Chicagomarker, Philadelphiamarker, The San Francisco Bay Areamarker, Detroitmarker, Atlantamarker and Miamimarker among others. Each city contributed various elements to its overall style seen worldwide today. Hip hop fashion complements the expressions and attitudes of hip hop culture in general. Hip hop fashion has changed significantly during its history, and today it is a prominent part of popular fashion as a whole across the world and for all ethnicities.

Early 1980s to Mid-1980s

In the early 1980s, established sportswear and fashion brands, such as Le Coq Sportif, Kangol, Adidas, Pro-Keds and attached themselves to the emerging hip hop scene.

During the 1980s, hip-hop icons wore clothing items such as brightly colored name-brand tracksuits, sheepskin and leather bomber jackets, Clarks shoes, Britishers AKA British Walkers and sneakers (usually Pro-Keds, Puma, and Adidas-brand shelltoes and often with "phat" or oversized shoelaces). Popular haircuts ranged from the early-1980s Jheri curl to the late-1980s hi-top fade popularized by Will Smith (The Fresh Prince) and Christopher "Kid" Reid of Kid 'n Play, among others.

Popular accessories included large eyeglasses (Cazals or Gazelles), Kangol bucket hats, nameplates, name belts, and multiple rings. Heavy gold jewelry was also popular in the 1980s; heavy jewelry in general would become an enduring element of hip hop fashion. In general, men's jewelry focused on heavy gold chains and women's jewelry on large gold earrings. Performers such as Kurtis Blow and Big Daddy Kane helped popularize gold necklaces and other such jewelry, and female rappers such as Roxanne Shanté and the group Salt-N-Pepa helped popularize oversized gold door-knocker earrings. The heavy jewelry was suggestive of prestige and wealth, and some have connected the style to Africanism.

1980s hip hop fashion is remembered as one of the most important elements of old school hip hop, and it is often celebrated in nostalgic hip hop songs such as Ahmad's 1994 single "Back in the Day", and Missy Elliott's 2002 single "Back in the Day".

Late 1980s to early 1990s fashion

Black nationalism was increasingly influential in rap during the late 1980s, and fashions and hairstyles reflected traditional African influences. Blousy pants were popular among dance-oriented rappers like MC Hammer. Fezzes, kufis decorated with the Kemetic ankh, Kente cloth hats, Africa chains, dreadlocks, and red, black, and green clothing became popular as well, promoted by artists such as Queen Latifah, KRS-One, Public Enemy, and X-Clan).In the early 1990s, pop rappers such as The Fresh Prince, Kid 'n Play, and Left Eye of TLC popularized baseball caps and bright, often neon-colored, clothing. Kris Kross also established the fad of wearing clothes backwards. Kwamé sparked the brief trend of polka-dot clothing as well, while others continued wearing their mid-80's attire.

Hip hop influences are seen in Chanel's Fall 1991 collection.
The Nikemarker capture of soon to be superstar basketball protege Michael Jordan from rivals Adidas in 1984 proved to be a huge turning point, as Nike dominated the urban streetwear sneaker market in the late 80's and early 90's. Other clothing brands such as Reebok, 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 Gangstarr sporting the look.

Gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A. popularized an early form of Cholo Gangsta style in the late 1980s from the Chicano Gangs who were there, consisting of Dickies pants, plaid shirts and jackets, Chuck Taylors sneakers, and black Raiders baseball caps and Raiders Starter jackets. Starter jackets, in addition, were also a popular trend in their own right during the late 1980s and early 90s. They became something of a status-symbol, with incidents of robberies of the jackets reported in the media.

Hip hop fashion in this period also influenced high fashion designs. In the late 1980s, Isaac Mizrahi, inspired by his elevator operator who wore a heavy gold chain, showed a collection deeply influenced by hip hop fashion. Models wore black catsuits, "gold chains, big gold nameplate-inspired belts, and black bomber jackets with fur-trimmed hoods." Womenswear Daily called the look "homeboy chic." In the early 1990s, Chanel showed hip-hop-inspired fashion in several shows. In one, models wore black leather jackets and piles of gold chains. In another, they wore long black dresses, accessorized with heavy, padlocked silver chains. (These silver chains were remarkably similar to the metal chain-link and padlock worn by Treach of Naughty by Nature, who said he did so in solidarity with "all the brothers who are locked down.") The hip hop trend, however, did not last; designers quickly moved on to new influences.

Mid-1990s to late 1990s fashion

Fashion among "hip-hop" elites

On the East Coast, members of the hip hop community looked back to the gangsters of the 1930s and 1940s for inspiration. Mafioso influences, especially and primarily inspired by the 1983 remake version of Scarface, became popular in hip hop. Many rappers set aside gang-inspired clothing in favor of classic gangster fashions such as bowler hats, double-breasted suits, silk shirts, and alligator-skin shoes ("gators"). In some areas of the mid-west, including Detroit, this style has been a staple in hip-hop fashion, regardless of current trends.On the East Coast, "ghetto fabulous" fashion (a term coined by Sean Combs) was on the rise.


Tommy Hilfiger was one of the most prominent brand in 1990s sportswear, though Polo Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Nautica, and DKNY were also popular. When Snoop Doggy Dogg wore a Hilfiger sweatshirt during an appearance on Saturday Night Live, it sold out of New York City stores the next day. Hilfiger's popularity was due to its perceived waspiness, which made it seem exclusive and aspirational. Moreover, Hilfiger courted the new hip hop market: black models featured prominently in the company's advertising campaigns, and rappers like Puffy and Coolio walked during its runways shows.

Other brands, such as Nike FUBU, Reebok Pro-Keds, Adidas, Ecko Unlimited, Karl Kani, Mecca USA, Lugz, Rocawear, harputs by Gus Harput, Boss Jeans by IG Design, and Enyce, arose to capitalize on the market for urban streetwear. They followed in Hilfiger's footsteps by manufacturing all-American styles emblazoned with huge logos.

Throwback jerseys

One sportswear trend that emerged was the rise in popularity of throwback jerseys, such as those produced by Mitchell & Ness.Sports jerseys have always been popular in hip-hop fashion, as evidenced by Will Smith's early 90's video "Summertime", and Spike Lee wearing a throwback Brooklyn Dodgers jersey in the film "Do the Right Thing". But in the late 90's saw the rise in popularity of very expensive throwbacks, often costing hundreds of dollars. Hip-hop artists donning the pricey jerseys in music videos led to increased demand, and led to the rise of counterfeiters flooding the market with fake jerseys to capitalize on the craze. The mid-to-late 2000s saw a decrease in popularity of throwbacks, with some hip-hop artists even shunning the raiments, such as Jay-Z, who rapped "And I don't wear jerseys, I'm 30-plus, Give me a crisp pair of jeans, Button up." In 1990 it was very big part for fashion because of all the hip hop artists that wore the various throwback jerseys.

The rise of hip-pop

The rise of hip-pop in the late-1990s, primarily the work of Sean "Diddy" Combs, known locally around New York at that time as the "Shiny Suit Man" brought elements such as loud, flashy PVC aviator inspired suits and platinum jewelry to the forefront of hip hop in an effort to add a new vivid dimension of color and flash to the videos produced as a marketing tool. Combs, who started his own Sean John clothing line, and clothing manufacturers such as Karl Kani and FUBU brought hip hop fashion to the mainstream, resulting in a multi-million dollar hip hop fashion industry. There was a resurgence of traditional African-American hairstyles such as cornrows and Afros, as well as the Caesar low-cut. Caesars and cornrows are maintained by wearing a du-rag over the head during periods of sleeping and home activity to prevent the hair from being displaced or tossled. Du-rags soon became popular hip hop fashion items in their own right.

The "hip-pop" era also saw the split between male and female hip hop fashion, which had previously been more or less similar. Women in hip hop had emulated the male tough-guy fashions such as baggy pants, "Loc" sunglasses, tough looks and heavy workboots; many, such as Da Brat, accomplished this with little more than some lip gloss and a bit of make-up to make the industrial work pants and work boots feminine. The female performers who completely turned the tide such as Lil Kim and Foxy Brown popularized glamourous, high-fashion feminine hip hop styles, such as Kimora Lee Simmons fashion line of Baby Phat. While Lauryn Hill and Eve popularized more conservative styles that still maintained both a distinctly feminine and distinctly hip hop feel.

Bling-bling jewelry

Jewelry culture

In the mid- to late 1990s, platinum replaced gold as the metal of choice in hip hop fashion. Artists and fans alike wore platinum (or silver) jewelry, often embedded with diamonds. Jay-Z, Juvenile, and The Hot Boys were largely responsible for this trend. Platinum fronts also became popular; Cash Money Records executive/rapper Brian "Baby" Williams infamously has an entire mouthful of permanent platinum teeth. Others have fashioned grills, removable metal jewelled teeth coverings.With the advent of the Jewellery culture, the turn of the century established luxury brands made inroads into the hip hop market, with brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton making appearances in hip hop videos and films.

Modern Hip Hop Fashion (2000's Hip Hop fashion)

In the 1990s and beyond, many hip hop artists and executives started their own fashion labels and clothing lines. Notable examples include Wu-Tang Clan (Wu-Wear), Russell Simmons (Phat Farm), Kimora Lee Simmons (Baby Phat), Diddy (Sean John),TI (AKOO), Nelly (Apple Bottom Jeans), Damon Dash and Jay-Z (Rocawear), 50 Cent (G-Unit Clothing), Eminem (Shady Limited), 2Pac (Makaveli) and OutKast (OutKast Clothing). Other prominent hip hop fashion companies have included Karl Kani and FUBU, Eckō, Girbaud, Enyce, Famous Stars and Straps, Bape,Billionaire Boys Club, Beans, Ciara and Erykah Badu (Starter Clothing Line), LRG, Timberland Boots, and Akademiks and Southpole.

Today, Hip hop clothing is produced by popular and successful designers, who charge significant amounts for their products. Hip hop fashion is worn by a significant percentage of young people around the world, with a significant number of retailers that are dedicated to the sale of hip hop inspired fashions. Several web sites are dedicated to hard to find hip hop sneakers and apparel.

Websites like show some of these new trends and fashion styles.

Recent trends

Due to the recent trend in hip hop fashion to revert back to the "old school" gaining popularity, the clothing is becoming similar to early 80's form of dressing. It has geared toward a more old-school Punk/Hipster-inspired style of dressing with a nod towards irony, and may include items such as slim-fit denim jeans, tighter-fitting "vintage style" t-shirts with shorter arm sleeves, polo shirts, sportcoats, woven button shirts, large ornamental belt buckles, cufflinks, skull and skeleton decorations, Ed Hardy and Sailor Jerry tattoo inspired motifs, elaborately decorated zip-up hoodies, trucker hats, lumberjack button-ups or plaid designed shirts, keffiyehs, and snow inspired fashions. Shorter length t-shirts have become involved in recent trends, in order to expose decorated belts and belt buckles and biker chains. Although the "baggy" style of dress remains relevant, some hip hoppers forego that particular style, opting for colorful fitted and hipster-inspired clothing as exemplified by the growing influence of rappers such as Kanye West, Common,and,as well as the tighter-fitting skater influenced styles in the case of Pharrell and Lupe Fiasco. Other re-emergent 80s trends include Members Only jackets, huge oversized chains, and large eyeglasses. Leather jackets also have seen a rise in popularity. Brands like Polo Ralph Lauren, American Eagle, Nautica, Hollister, Aeropostale, Lacoste, True Religion, Rock & Republic, and higher end brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Ralph Lauren Purple Label are very popular in Hip Hop fashion today.

Criticism of hip hop fashion

Commentators from both inside and outside of the hip-hop community have criticized the cost of many of the accoutrements of hip hop fashion. Chuck D of Public Enemy summarized the mentality of Hip hop fashion and some low-income youths as "Man, I work at McDonald's, but in order for me to feel good about myself I got to get a gold chain or I got to get a fly car in order to impress a sister or whatever." In his 1992 song "Us", Ice Cube rapped that "Us [African-Americans] will always sing the blues / 'cause all we care about is hairstyles and tennis shoes." Some fans have expressed disappointment with the increased amount of advertising for expensive hip-hop brands in hip-hop magazines. In one letter to the editor in Source magazine, a reader wrote that the magazine should "try showing some less expensive brands so heads will know they don't have to hustle, steal, or rob and blast shots for flyness." In fact, there were many highly-publicized robberies of hip-hop artists by the late 1990s. Guru of Gang Starr was robbed at gunpoint of his Rolex watch, Queen Latifah's car was car-jacked, and Prodigy was robbed at gunpoint of $300,000 in jewelry.

A few hip hop insiders, such as the members of Public Enemy,Immortal Technique, Paris and Common(amongst others) have made the deliberate choice not to don expensive jewelry as a statement against materialism.


  1. Specs appeal | Beauty & health. | Guardian Unlimited Shopping
  2. Kitwana, Bakari. The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African American Culture, p. 198.
  3. Keyes, Cheryl. Rap Music and Street Consciousness, p. 152.
  4. MC Schoolly D, for instance, claimed that wearing gold "is not something that was born in America. This goes back to Africa. The gold chains are basically for warriors. The artists in the rap field are battling. We're the head warrior. We got to stand up and say we're winning battles, and this is how we're doing it." Quoted in Keyes, p. 152 (quoting Schoolly D. "The Meaning of Gold." Spin (October 1988), p. 52).
  5. Wilbekin, Emil. "Great Aspirations: Hip Hop and Fashion Dress for Excess and Success." The Vibe History of Hip Hop. Three Rivers Press 1999. Page 280.
  6. Wilbekin, p. 281.
  7. Wilbekin, p. 282.
  8. Wilbekin, p.283
  9. Keyes, p. 172 (quoting Eure and Spady, 1991).
  10. Quoted in Keyes, p. 173.
  11. Quoted in Keyes, p. 172.
  12. Keyes, p. 172.

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