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Who Invented Streetwear and How has it Changed Fashion?

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Who Invented Streetwear?

If you’re interested in contemporary fashion and wondering who invented streetwear, you may find lots of different answers. Streetwear, as we know it now, began in the 1980’s and 1990’s and can be traced back to California’s surf and skate culture. Surfers and skaters started by customising their boards with stickers and their own graphics. Pretty soon their signature style included clothing featuring similar logos and designs.

The key pioneers of this emerging surf and skate trend include:

Shaun Stussy, originally a surfboard manufacturer who scrawled his surname on his boards with a broad tipped marker. He started to use the, now familiar logo, on T-shirts, shorts and caps, which he originally sold from his car around Laguna Beach, California.

James Jebbia, founder of skate brand Supreme, aimed at skaters. In 1994 he opened the first Supreme store in Manhattan. Its unique layout with merchandise arranged around the perimeter of the store, was designed to allow his customers to skate directly into the store.

Who Invented Streetwear - the influence of surfing
Surf Style in the 1980’s

Hip Hop Culture

It’s impossible to look at who invented streetwear without mentioning a connection to the early hip hop fashion scene of the 80’s and 90’s. Streetwear’s most iconic item; the sneaker, came from both hip-hop and basketball. These predominantly black cultures created a casual, athletic inspired style.

Dapper Dan, opened a Harlem based boutique in 1982. He created designs for hip-hop artists, including LL Cool J, Jay-Z, and influential people of color. In 2017 he launched a fashion line with Gucci, a collection inspired by his original designs and shot on young people from Harlem.

Forgotten Pioneers of Streetwear

Before the arrival of surf/ skate and hip-hop culture, Andrea Tuzio writing for Collater.al, reminds us that Willi Smith may have invented streetwear. Willi worked as the lead designer for sportswear brand Digits until it closed in 1973. Taking inspiration from the relaxed fit, typical of sportswear at that time and military and police uniforms, Willi added his own sartorial style to create what may be the first street couture.

Willi Smith for Digits Fall/Winter Collection 1972
Willi Smith for Digits Fall/Winter Collection 1972

Female Influences on the Rise of Streetwear

Streetwear flips the fashion model on the head. Traditionally trend forecasters and designers dictate what we see on the runway, buyers decide what styles to mass produce for the high street, and fashion editors tell us what to buy. Streetwear consumers create their style by following popular culture rather than couture. How did this happen?

Hillary Crosley Coker writes, for InStyle about 5 women who influenced the rise of consumer driven street style before the internet and Instagram. Amongst them, Misa Hylton who style the iconic purple pantsuit on Lil’ Kim at the 1999 MTV Music Awards, and Sybil Pennix an in-house stylist (before ‘in house’ stylist was really a thing) for Heavy D, Mary J Blige and others.

Bevy Smith is the pied piper of teaching luxury brands the power of the black dollar. Designing with the influences of music, art and counter culture to create luxury streetwear has made fashion more inclusive.

How has the Invention of Streetwear Changed Fashion?

A move away from formalwear, even in many workplaces, has enabled a bigger audience for Streetwear’s more casual aesthetic. Consumers demand comfort along with style, and want to create their own look, rather than that dictated by an outdated fashion elite.

Streetwear has disrupted fashion. Today’s digital world means that influencers, musicians, sports stars and celebrities have much more influence on what consumers consider to be fashionable and desirable. Streetwear customers align themselves, not just with a product, but with the values and lifestyle depicted by a brand.

Many streetwear brands, including ourselves at Perverse Demand, sell exclusively online, rather than in traditional stores. This allows the release of single product drops, rather than traditional seasonality. Streetwear independents often release a limited quantity of a line, creating scarcity, and even in some cases require customers to enter a lottery for the chance to purchase certain items.

By acting as a reflection of current culture, inclusivity has contributed to streetwear’s success. Unlike most areas of fashion, streetwear is often size-inclusive, gender-neutral or unisex and made or worn by people of color. Built with classic silhouettes, high quality streetwear can often be timeless and have a high resale value, streetwear can also reverse fashion’s poor reputation for sustainability.

Perverse Demand shooting unisex luxury streetwear in Camden
Designer Clothing Store Perverse Demand on the Catwalk at London - exclusive streetwear. Fashion Week.

Streetwear – The New Rules?

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