A History Of Modern Streetwear

Streetwear has become one of the biggest buzzwords in fashion in the last few years. But what does it mean, and where did it originate? Well, streetwear’s textbook definition could not be clearer- it simply means simple, fashionable clothes. In other words, what people wear on the streets all over the world. However, how has it become such a big category when it comes to international fashion? There are many reasons why streetwear has become the multi-billion industry phenomenon that it currently is. To understand why streetwear is not so huge, we need to start at the beginning. 

The Origins of Streetwear

Like any other cultural movement, streetwear could not have exploded all on its own. The changes in our societal culture in the 20th and 21st centuries have created the conditions for streetwear to evolve. This cultural change can be mapped as far back as the 1960s and 1970s- artists began to decide that anyone could own, make or even be art. It was not simply for the high society anymore. Contemporary artists in big cities such as Warhol and Haring began to create their own artistic movements, which had a huge impact on individual artistic expression. Art didn’t just become what was on walls in museums, people could wear it, and it could be seen on the street. The beginnings of this cultural revolution can be traced back to these decades. Streetwear is not only an expansion of fashion but an expansion of individual artistic culture. This shift allowed modern streetwear to evolve over the years. 

However, what we think of as modern streetwear can be more closely traced back to the late 80s and early 90s. It has roots in the countercultures of the time, such as skaters, surfers, and graffiti. It could be said however that the biggest influence on modern street style had to have been hip-hop. Hip-hop and rap at this time was incredibly raw and innovative form of music (although rappers rightfully dominate The Grammys now.) Rap and hip-hop of the time were emblematic of a feeling of rule-breaking and finding art in unconventional ways- much like their artistic predecessors of the 1960s and 1970s. This authenticity went along with a certain style, which was very influential to young people at the time. Certain young people today get their fashion influence from these music artists. 

While modern streetwear has its roots in California and New York, there were many early adopters of the trend all over the world, for example, there were many highly influential DJs and musicians in Japan who adopted the style. What began in these cities soon made its way across the globe, and by the end of the 90s, streetwear was massively common. Major cities all over the world soon had their burgeoning, underground groups of young people experimenting with streetwear. Streetwear is now one of the most current fashion movements- and what differentiates it is its people-led trends. Streetwear is not dictated by high-end designers or fashion journalists- the people make streetwear. Trends in streetwear are often decided on by its wearers and members of the subculture. 

Also Read: 5 Tips to Consider When Styling Streetwear Outfits

Who Is Wearing Streetwear? 

During streetwear’s origins, the communities that were wearing it were extremely male-dominated. Streetwear in its earliest days could almost be definitively categorised as ‘traditionally masculine.’ Originally, streetwear was a societal comment on the intricate and complicated styles that were taking magazines and runways by storm during its conception period. It was straightforward and accessible- people wore jeans, hoodies, and tracksuits because they were comfortable. Styling streetwear outfits had comfort at the forefront. Its very ethos was essentially ‘being comfortable in your skin.’ Modern streetwear has evolved over the years, from initially having plain designs to mixing comfy clothes with interesting graphic designs. Nowadays, many female influencers have also now put their own take on street style, which has allowed the subgenre of fashion to become even more accessible. Having new input has allowed street style to stay current and interesting. The fascinating thing about streetwear is that the influencers are dependent on feedback from the audience in a way traditional fashion designers are not always privy to. The consumers of streetwear have as much vocal power as the industry leaders- streetwear has truly put its mark on the traditional systems of the fashion industry.

What Does Modern Streetwear Look Like? 


Original streetwear brands can be defined by accessible pricing, authenticity, and comfort. Supreme is one of the best examples of an original streetwear brand. They can often be traced back to the beginning of the streetwear movement, and have mission statements that are all about the company’s streetwear origins. 


Due to streetwear’s massive popularity, many brands have begun to sell streetwear-like clothes in order to keep up with market demand. While the company’s original ethos is not necessarily based on streetwear, they usually have had some success with their streetwear-style clothes. Adopted brands often include high-street and luxury brands. 


Sportswear has always been a huge part of the streetwear movement. While athletic wear and sneakers were around and popular before streetwear, the movement certainly brought a whole new audience to the sportswear brands. Adidas and Nike are pillars of the streetwear community- they are some of the most popular brands and have been since the early 80s and late 90s. 


Luxury streetwear is essentially a nod to the movement’s popularity from the traditional fashion industry. However, there are some original luxury streetwear brands that create high-end streetwear. They have evolved to divert from streetwear’s original uniform, adding a new spin to the classic essentials. For example, many luxury streetwear brands sell items such as designer trainers, or a hand-embroidered full tracksuit. These luxury touches to comfortable clothing often appeal to many. 

Where Has The Hype Come From? 

Originally, streetwear has been defined by its wearers. This has only intensified with the rise of social media. Celebrities such as rappers have a high-level relationship with their audience- meaning that influencers and the audience can be equally influential on each other. Celebrities now do their own collaborations with streetwear brands, which has contributed to streetwear’s claim on the modern fashion industry. 

Streetwear remains one of the most popular style subcultures of modern times and has had a loyal following since its conception. The history of streetwear is a rich and interesting one and has certainly set it up for its great success in 2023.

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