New York City has long been the epicenter of fashion for centuries, but in the new millennium, high fashion and Fashion Week have become increasingly passe. In fact, the average Manhattanite simply scoffs at the banality of runway shows and all the industry try-hards. Because media spectacle often trumps actual design, real fashion experts have turned to New York’s streetwear as the paradigm of what’s actually on-trend.
Streetwear, as opposed to formal wear, is both minimalist and maximalist: bold patterns and striking statements juxtaposed with sleek lines and clean silhouettes. New York’s skate and hip-hop culture — in turn, sometimes borrowing from the history of punk and goth fashion, which also both have long NY traditions — are the principal influences on the style. But as streetwear evolves, it’s increasingly borrowing from the highbrow world in what influential designer Luca Benini called a “cross-pollination.”
There’s a sort of irony in that what once defined casual cool is now painstakingly crafted, studied, and dissected. Nor is streetwear always affordable anymore, with luxury brands charging thousands of dollars for limited edition ready-to-wear collections.
In New York in 2023, the development of streetwear has become increasingly schizophrenic — with the popularity of normcore reaching its zenith in 2014 (giving way to an endless onslaught of the ’90s and ’00s nostalgia) and an ever-intensifying atmosphere of political strife, NYC’s streetwear landscape is less coherent and more confusing than ever. Do these brands want to capture the zeitgeist? Is the emphasis more on ingenuity than design? How much can designers capitalize on cultures from yesteryear? And why are the price points always skyrocketing?
The extent to which streetwear is even worn anymore has now become a question. Are some brands’ ultra limited-edition wares simply traded instead of actually utilized? If streetwear is simply a collector’s item, what does that mean for the future of fashion?
We might not have answers to these existential questions, but in celebration of streetwear’s true home, we’ve curated a list of the best NYC brands we could find. The emphasis here is on actual wearability over clout.