The blurring between “hip-hop fashion” and high fashion has been a decades long process, ultimately culminating with Louis Vuitton’s appointment of Virgil Abloh as the house’s menswear Artistic Director in 2018. This move was so monumental because as the first African American artistic director of a major fashion house, Abloh and his collections have demonstrated the breakdown of the binary between “high” and “low” fashion. As is the case with art, this distinction is unproductive, serving only to hierarchize fashion rather than encourage people to wear whatever they want.
Nonetheless, I take issue with Abloh’s recent assertion that “streetwear is dead.” Wearing brands that you love or saw skaters wear, pieces you saw rappers don or cool things you saw people repping on the street is certainly not dead. How could it be? But the concept of “streetwear” as a standalone genre of dress, unrelated to high fashion (whatever that means), is certainly dying.
The evolution of hip-hop style, especially from the year 2000 to today, is a good indicator of this dissolution of the high fashion/low fashion binary. What we once deemed “streetwear” in, say, 2005, has now become fodder for the design of fashion houses globally. Since the year 2000 and the forthcoming influence of Kanye West, the ubiquity of certain brands/trends/silhouettes have ebbed and flowed constantly, demonstrating the cyclical nature of hip-hop fashion.
As a note, this history is by no means entirely comprehensive. When we track the “history” of hip-hop fashion, we aim to identify trends and moments throughout the timeline, rather than truly define the history completely. There are many rappers not mentioned who had a massive impact on trends, and similarly some whose influence may be overstated.