Imagine this: it’s the dead of the night (or, in today’s world, the new prime time), and you’re a teenager with absolutely no clue what your school’s plans are for the fall – but you’re holding out hope that COVID-19 will magically disappear and you’ll get to return with a completely revamped wardrobe.
And so, you turn to TikTok for fashion inspiration, where a tall, beautiful girl with the front two strands of her hair dyed some vibrant color sports an oversized zip-up hoodie, baggy jeans, a bucket hat, and impressive makeup appears on your For You Page. She’s labeled an ‘alt girl’ – the non-mainstream, cool, rebellious hybrid of e-girls, indie girls, and grunge girls.
Their effortless, laid-back style is regarded as trendy and cool amongst Gen Z teens – but how many of today’s fashion trends are rooted in Black culture? Many staples of modern fashion trends have a rich history and were popularized by Black influencers and hip-hop artists, such as streetwear, Logomania, sneakerheads and hypebeasts, camouflage pants, and more.
1. Bucket Hats
What used to be regarded as a fisherman’s hat is now one of the biggest style must-haves of Generation Z. A wardrobe essential that can be applied to many outing scenarios – on the beach, for running errands at the grocery store in sweatpants, or even for high-end, luxury street style, the bucket hat is a simple accessory that can reinvent an entire outfit.
The bucket hat was designed for function over fashion in the 1900s, where farmers and fishermen would use it as protection from the rain. It was then adapted by soldiers for the war in the 40s, and in the 60s it was regarded as a ladies’ accessory, which began the transition from utility to style. However, the bucket hat wasn’t regarded as iconic until the 80s, when Big Bank Hank of Sugar Hill Gang, a Black rapper, wore it on the TV show Soap Factory, and LL Cool J wore his statement red Kangol Bucket Hat, which became a prominent part of this two-time Grammy Award winner’s public image.
2. Hoop Earrings
Hoop earrings are a fashion essential for men and women everywhere, and are the one of the largest “trends” attributed to Black and Latinx communities. Despite their popularity, there is a stigma that goes unnoticed when worn by anyone who is not a person of color; white people are considered trendy and fashionable when they step out wearing hoops earrings, yet POCs are regarded as “unprofessional”, “ghetto,” or “ratchet.” It has become clear, because of this, that the line for how the media defines unprofessionalism is drawn by skin color.
Like scripted necklaces, hoop earrings act as a rite of passage for Black and Brown girls, but have been used by society as a way to shame them for wearing styles that are culturally important. The popular saying “the bigger the hoop, the bigger the hoe,” has been used for years to make the women in Black and Latinx communities feel ashamed for embracing their culture, but is seldom used in regards to white women who are viewed as more “dainty,” or “feminine.” Andre Leon Talley, a contributing editor for Vogue, attributes the association of hoop earrings to African beauty to women such as Nina Simone and Angela Davis, who wore them as early as the 1960s.
Billie Eilish, the eighteen-year-old ‘anti-pop-star’, pulled up to the 2020 Grammys and won 6 awards while dressed in an oversized black polo and matching pants with little green sequined Gucci Logos all over the ensemble. This is logomania – where an article of clothing is smothered in a repetitive pattern of a brand’s monogrammed logos, which is often associated with being a symbol of wealth and status.
Though it is debatable whether Louis Vuitton’s logos on suitcases, or Gucci’s on bags and belts were the first to start the logomania trend – there is no doubt that we owe it to Dapper Dan. You may have heard his name in Annie – “Hey, hobo man, hey, Dapper Dan, you both got your style” – and indeed, he did. Regarded as one of the founding fathers of streetwear, Dapper Dan, a Black boutique owner based in Harlem, began using fabrics enveloped in knockoff designer logos to style popular hip-hop artists. His work wasn’t limited to just clothing items – he also decked out car covers, curtains, and furniture in fake Gucci and Versace. Dapper Dan received wide support from many top-name artists of that day, as well as the entirety of the Rap, Hip-Hop, and R&B community, but eventually was put out of business due to legal copyright issues.
Today, as Logomania makes a comeback from the 90’s with stars like Rihanna, Billie Eilish, and Jhene Aiko wearing all-over logo outfits, Dapper Dan has also made a re-emergence of his own, establishing a long-term partnership with Gucci since 2018.
4. Sneaker Culture
Ever heard of the term ‘hypebeast’? How about ‘sneakerhead’? Ever seen one of your mutuals on Instagram post a giveaway by GOAT or resell popular sneakers online? These are all aspects of sneaker culture.
Obviously, sneakers had always been around, the invention of the rubber-soled utility shoe was created in 18th century Germany. Sneakers then became a sport shoe in the early 20th century, still deemed as a ‘utility’ item, barely tiptoeing towards the realm of style and status. It wasn’t until the 80s that the sneaker crossed the borderline, entering the territory of fashion.
In 1984, famous Black basketball player Michael Jordan collaborated with Nike in order to create the Air Jordan, the one product that forever revolutionized the sneaker industry and culture. Even today, the popularity of the Air Jordan hasn’t died down, it remains one of the best selling sneakers today. The Air Jordan fused colorful design and function, which are two principal aspects of industrial design, and soon competing sneaker companies tried to imitate the allusion and appeal of the iconic shoe. Influential Black rappers such as Run-DMC and Grandmaster Flash also started to wear sneakers for fashion, which helped to increase their already cool, hip, trendy image. Black people reinvented the idea of the sneaker, transforming it from a plain item for athleticism and function to a symbol of wealth and status.
Today, sneaker culture has only increased, taking a form of its own by branching out into different industries and cultures. The term ‘sneakerhead’ refers to someone that collects and resells rare, luxury, and coveted sneakers by purchasing online, from outlets, and attending parties and events. The term ‘hypebeast’ is in regards to people that follow trends of high-end, luxury streetwear, and brands such as Supreme, Commes Des Garcon, Yeezy, and more. Sneakers are an essential part of hypebeast culture, where blue Nike Air Jordan 1’s, Nike Air Maxes and Air Forces, Yeezy 350 V2’s, and CDG Play x Converse are fashion must-haves.
5. Oversized Clothing
What exactly is the appeal towards wearing a men’s extra extra large graphic t-shirt when you’re a medium in women? Baggy clothes are one of the biggest fashion trends amongst teenagers. In today’s era where wide, straight-leg jeans are in and ripped, skin-tight jeggings are out, the comfortable, effortlessly chic look of oversized clothing is all the rave, especially in this year’s prolonged period of staying at home.
Of course, the origins of the oversized clothing trend dates back to the ’80s hip hop era, and stems from black communities and families, as well as financial hardships. The improper sizing was due to clothes being handed down from older family members in order to save money, and soon, rappers would begin to perform in larger, baggy clothing, to create a more casual environment and resonate with audience members.
6. Camouflage Pants
Camouflage print has been a staple in Black communities since the 1980s when it was popularized by rap and hip-hop artists. By the 90s, camo streetwear was everywhere, and it stood out. Camouflage clothing originated as a way for young Black artists to stay stylish on a budget; rappers in cities like Chicago or New York shopped at army surplus stores and built their styles from there.
7. Scripted Necklaces
In 2004, the popular HBO series Sex and the City followed a major plotline in which the show’s main character, Carrie Bradshaw, loses her $125 scripted Carrie necklace that made constant yet subtle appearances for years prior. The necklace held a sentimental value for the character and the line “it costs, like, nothing, but it’s priceless,” perfectly encapsulates the history and sentiment of nameplate necklaces. Despite the importance of scripted necklaces on the show, Carrie’s experience with hers depicts a whitewashed narrative. For her, the necklace is something that remains special because she bought it on a shopping trip with her best friends. For Black and Latinx communities, nameplate necklaces have meant more than that since the rise of them in the 80s.
Sarah Jessica Parker’s stylist was inclined to add a nameplate necklace because she saw “kids in NYC neighborhoods” donning them, but completely missed the mark regarding the true history of them. For many of those kids, most of which were people of color, scripted necklaces originated as a tie to their culture that allowed them to maintain their sense of individuality. They originated as ways for Black and Brown wearers to proudly show off their “hard to pronounce” names, and they originated as ways for the people of these communities to indicate that they were responsible enough to own gold jewelry. Scripted necklaces have become iconic because of a white TV show character and made popular because of white validation, something that completely disregards the years of criticism Black and Latinx communities faced throughout the 80s and 90s for wearing flashy jewelry with pride.
Styles and cultures have been taken away from Black people for decades to be reclaimed as something more “trendy” or “appropriate.” With the recent rise in media attention towards the Black Lives Matter movement, it is important to understand where aspects of our society have come from, and the stigma that Black people have faced regarding their styles that white people have never faced. The double standard between POC and white people when it comes to the fashion industry is not an isolated issue; Black Lives Matter encapsulates all issues that Black people face.
There has always been a time where cultural appreciation instead of cultural appropriation is important, and it is vital to bring the issues surrounding stolen Black fashion to light now that global attention is on Black Lives Matter. Crediting the culture and getting rid of microaggressions that bash Black people for wearing the styles that they originated comes with advocating for Black lives.
Sophia Delrosario is a 16 year old, first-gen Filipina D|FAB major at High Tech High School that strives to make change in today’s world. She founded Zenerations in April 2020, is a member of the Junior State of America, served as Vice President and Secretary for Student Government, and is a Vine Member at JUV Consulting. She is passionate about writing, politics, film, STEM, and fashion, and is heavily involved in the activist space.
Dylan is a 16-year old sophomore at Bayonne High School, who displays multiple interests in politics, activism, writing, reading, and journalism.