A Brief History of Hip-Hop Fashion

Fashion is technically not one of the four core elements of hip-hop, but truthfully, it should be. More than any other genre, hip-hop has emphasized making how you look almost as important as how you sound, and not in a detrimental way. The overall style of emcees, DJs and b-boys from the genesis of the culture to modern times has been an integral part of how the music is presented. If you weren’t fresh, you had a much harder time being taken seriously.

Of course, as time went on, more relaxed and casual styles of dress became more accepted as alternative and ‘underground’ hip-hop gained popularity, allowing the genre to branch out not only sonically, but visually and culturally as well. Over the years, various looks became prominent as the people within hip-hop shifted and evolved, changing what clothing they chose to express themselves. Let’s take a look back at 5 of the top fashion trends in this beautiful culture, from its inception to now.


The origin of “fresh”. This classic original hip-hop look typically would include a full Adidas or Puma tracksuit, fresh sneakers (usually by those same brands), a thick ‘dookie’ gold rope, some Gazelle brand thick frame glasses and a Kangol bucket or painter’s hat to top the ensemble off. Variations of this outfit throughout the entire decade of the ’80s included at least one of the aforementioned items. Everyone from RUN-DMC to LL Cool J were clad in their freshest gear at all times.



This look originated in the late ’80s and early ’90s with the emergence of Asiatic themed jewelry and Islamic pendants being worn by major artists like Rakim and Big Daddy Kane. As time went on, more brightly colored clothing became popular largely thanks to the Native Tongues supergroup, which included legends like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah and more. The pro-black Afrocentric movement made its presence known in hip-hop at this time and fashion was a huge part of that.

Photo of De La Soul

Rugged and Baggy

As the ’90s progressed, extremely baggy jeans and hoodies became all the rage in hip-hop. Other oversized trends came before (Hammer pants) and after (long white tees) this period, but its was the early-to-mid ’90s when a pair of tan ‘butter’ Timberland boots, baggy denim and tops with as many XXXs as possible before the L, and a black skullcap that sometimes pulled down into a skimask were the most widely popular garments. Groups like Wu-Tang Clan and Onyx helped make this rugged look the norm at the time.


Polos and Pastels

Skipping over the late 90’s shiny suit era (don’t act like you don’t remember Puffy and Ma$e’s amazingly goofy videos), in the early-to-mid 2000’s, artists like Kanye West and Pharrell Williams began wearing brightly-colored pastel polos and Louis Vuitton bags to stand out. Pink, blue and yellow Ralph Lauren and Izod polos became the norm for a large portion of hip-hop artists and fans alike during this period.


Yeezy Season

Again, Kanye West has played an important role in the shifting trends of hip-hop fashion, with his post-2010 styles of oversized tops and skinny fit, torn denim jeans and sweats, brought to life in his Yeezy Season clothing line he designs. Most noticeably, Kanye’s line of shoes have become all the rage in youth culture, as celebrities like Justin Bieber openly wear them in music videos, and consumers are spending insane amounts of money the moccasin-like footwear. Long, draped layers are all the rage, often times with designed tears in them, giving the illusion that the wearer is homeless at times. What an interesting journey for the definition of “fresh”, to say the least.

yeezy season


If you’re in the Philadelphia area and have a profound interest in classic hip-hop fashion, make sure to head to the Rapacon festival this Sunday, featuring all-day performances by legends like Schoolly D and Bahamadia, non-stop DJing, hip-hop discussion panels, vending of all types of hip-hop related merchandise, and most importantly, a “Best Old School Hip-Hop Outfit” cosplay competition, which we will be judging.
The festival takes place at The Park Avenue Banquet Hall, located at 4942 Parkside Avenue, all day and all night!


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