What Is Streetwear & Does It Really Have It’s Own Culture?

Welcome to the grey area of clothing. Streetwear is actually a rather awkward term to define. The fact that it doesn’t conform to a set of rules is what makes the term feel so unorthodox. It’s sometimes described as a subculture, but i’ve also heard it being referred to as its very own culture – one that can branch into almost any other culture bracket. So, which one is it?

What Is Streetwear?

By definition, streetwear is a casual clothing style, typically worn by urban youths in a variety of subcultures. In reality though, the term streetwear is increasingly broad and it seems to adopt a new meaning after every single fashion season.

Today streetwear is heavily influencing skate and surf culture, sportswear, high fashion, techwear, and the mass market retail industry.

How has streetwear influenced luxury fashion?

Just recently, luxury fashion brands have started to embrace the streetwear culture, but before it uninvitingly turned up in high fashion territory, it was completely out of the question.

Now the line that separates the sidewalk from the catwalk is blurred through the likes of Jerry Lorenzo, Hood By Air, Gucci, Louis Vuitton & let’s not mention the recent collaborations that Supreme, and OFF-WHITE have been taking part in.

As the culture broadens, the majority of consumers have embraced the blurred line. However, in high fashion there are still several entities working against the overlap. Brands as big as Givenchy would absolutely hate to wear the streetwear badge, but they can’t deny the fact that there is urban cultural influence on their own designs. Perhaps it’s just the word itself? – after all, they are used to using words like “haute couture”.

Givenchy Doesn't Like Being Called Streetwear

Givency Neoprene Jacket

Is the blurred line a good thing?

In this article published by the Guardian, designer Nasir Mazhar suggested that streetwear was a racially coded term. He also goes onto say that streetwear is always associated with brands that do t-shirts and sweatshirts, not full-on fashion brands. From his perspective, there’s nothing wrong with the word, it’s just always used as a mislabel.

In my opinion, that’s far  from the reality of the situation. In truth the most successful streetwear brands did gain popularity from printing graphics on t-shirts, but today’s culture demands more. Fear of God, and even OFF-WHITE have made an effort to sophisticate the field in recent seasons.

When you put things in perspective, it becomes entirely understandable; streetwear is always going to be less experimental than high fashion. Urban cultures have less interest in theoretical craft and artistry and more interest in creating hype and nostalgia.


HYPE X SpongeBob Streetwear

HYPE X SpongeBob

Let’s take UK brand “ Just Hype” for example: They aren’t even close to being an influential streetwear brand (probably because they lack exclusivity), but recent seasons pay tribute to Coca-Cola & SpongeBob Squarepants. BAPE did the exact same thing with their “One-Piece” & “Minions” capsules. In high fashion, association with cartoons and fizzy drinks is puerile, but there’s a certain stimulation for a particular market. If you grew up on SpongeBob you’re never going to walk away from that nostalgic hoodie that “hits you right in the feels”.

Supreme have pretty much lead the way into high fashion with their growing cult and endorsements from fashion influencers and celebrities. Let’s not let the term get out of hand though, there is an undebatable difference in quality and innovation when you compare Supreme to Alexander McQueen or the like.

So why pay high fashion prices for low quality garments?

The honest answer? Exclusivity… but in a really strange way.

When you look around or do an Instagram search for streetwear, you’ll see a mass saturation of Supreme & Bape posts that all look very similar. So, the real question is; how can they be exclusive?

Truth is , they aren’t really. But,  buying Supreme feels exclusive, because to even come close to purchasing an item from a new drop, you have to visit their website every Thursday morning where the majority of products sell out in the first five minutes. Buying a collaboration item is impossible and the ques to the stores are a mile long. It’s the great paradox of marketing; everyone wants to feel like a VIP.

The current state of streetwear:

The fact of the matter is that streetwear has evolved. The current state of the market is much more mature than it used to be. We’ve moved on from Bobby Hundred’s list of Top 50 Streetwear Brands, and even the brands that are most commonly associated with the term (Stussy, BAPE, and Supreme) are far less relevant to the culture than they were when the story begun.

Modern streetwear brands are slightly more in touch with the needle than they are the screen printer. KITH, OFF-WHITE, Fear of God and Midnight Studios all use premium fabrics and more adventurous cuts.

The last word

Look, streetwear isn’t what it used to be but in the same breathe, it’s more than what we ever expected. An urban fashion culture that has managed to bridge so many different styles together whilst still maintaining it’s own subdivisions.

Maybe it’ll just take some time for the fashion world to catch up, or maybe streetwear will always feel like an unwelcome guest at the party. Time will tell.