Rap Uniforms: The Most Popular Hip Hop Outfit For Men Each Decade
Hip Hop’s growth from genre to culture to lifestyle has been a longer one than many people admit. Hip hop has been around for over 40 years and one thing that has seen as much growth as the music is the clothing. With Streetwear taking over high fashion this year, we thought it was time to look back on the trends.
Here’s our list of the most popular hip hop outfit for men that came with each decade.
Like everything else from the seventies, hip hop fashion seems like a fever dream. The line between gangster and The Village People’s version of a gangster was pretty blurry. Hip Hop didn’t break out of New York until the late 70s so the fashion associated with it was New York fashion.
The fashion reflected what people were wearing in the scene anyway. Hip hop was too small to influence how people dressed so there was no distinct hip hop outfit for men at the time. The scene saw a lot of post-disco hangovers.
Hip hop outfits in the 70s were Prince and James Brown mashed together with the sportswear of B-Boys. These looks weren’t born out of hip hip but they ended up becoming a big part of the culture. The sportswear in particular became a big part of the scene as breakdancing and hip hop were so linked in the early days.
The 80s saw breaking and hip hop become a definitive culture. The link between the two remained strong and it continued to influence the fashion. It wasn’t the only thing influencing how hip hop looked. When Big Daddy Kane and others came up, they brought some changes to the look. Flexing had always been there in how you dressed but chains and rings became a quick way to flex your wealth.
By the 80s the style moved away from people who were just involved in the scene in New York. Hip Hop began to spread across America. As hip hop gained mass market appeal it figured out what its voice would be. You know the story, inner city youth getting heard. Where this affected the fashion is that most of these kids didn’t give a shit about string net vests, shoulder pads and platform shoes. Hip hop lost a lot of its campiness.
The B-Boy gear stuck around, joined by chains and other flashy attire. What was equally as important was seeing hip hop artists wearing normal clothing. You didn’t have to dress up to rap. N.W.A made it possible to go out in a jacket and a baseball cap and be dope while doing it.
Dressing down wasn’t the only way to do it thought. Public Enemy’s socially conscious voice extended from their music into their dress code. Militaria become a big part of their look for everyone except Flava Flav.
The 80s also saw the beginning of Sneakers becoming big. When the Air Jordan launched in 1985, the public took notice in no small part due to the controversy of Michael Jordan getting fined every time he wore them. Sneakers appealed to the same market as hip hop and the two became pretty close right from the beginning.
The Nineties saw hip hop find some room for more light hearted content and attire. Kriss Kross, MC Hammer and Fresh Prince took over tv and radio with sound that came as a counterpoint to N.W.A and Public Enemy. Of course, not everything was light hearted. There was still the East and West Coast feuding. Drama between Ruthless and Death Row. Hell even Mc Hammer called a hit on 3rd Bass. As you can expect from such a divisive time there came a few different looks for hip hop fans.
Everything became baggier in the 90s. There’s a lot of debate about why that happened. Hammer’s parachute pants and Kriss Kross often get brought up. As does the reference to prison attire where inmates would wear baggy clothes as they had no belts. Whatever the reason it became a big part of the hip hop outfit for men and women at the time.
Gang colors were nothing new but the 90s saw rappers take them on as a public badge of honor more often. Repping meant more than gang colors though as jerseys and caps sporting logos from football teams began their climb to popularity.
The sportswear that had started out in breaking culture saw its heyday in the 90s too. Designers started reworking their pieces to the growing market and artists themselves began their own labels. Wu Wear and others became fashion statements declaring where you stood on hip hop.
A more short lived trend that lived and died in the 90s was dressing like gangsters. You could catch almost anyone in a suit at this point as the 1920s aesthetic made a brief comeback.
In the early 2000s the bagginess of the 90s was pulled back by a huge margin. It still existed but not to the same ridiculous degree. In its place was do-rags, jerseys and a continuing love of jewellery. Jerseys became more than a way to show off the team you support. Custom made jerseys and clothing inspired by the style became everyday wear. Jewellery went under some changes too, gold wasn’t as popular and instead was replaced by diamonds and platinum.
With Rocawear and other brands catering to the look, the dominant hip hop outfit for men became the jerseys and do-rags. The early 2000s also saw the beginnings of brands like Pharrell Williams’ Billionaire Boys Club which became one of the earliest brands to begin styles that later became streetwear staples. Along with N.E.R.D, Pharrell began combining skater culture with hip hop and it was visible in the clothing.
Ice, caps and jerseys might have been the main look for the time but it didn’t last long. The rise of the Kanye West empire spelled the slow death of the look. Kanye West became Yeezy by showing up with shutter shades in a polo and going as hard as anyone else. His complete lack of fucks about dressing like his peers rubbed off on the rest of hip hop.
2010 can’t really be marked as a distinct year that changed anything but there is a notable distinction between the basic hip hop outfit for men back before the decade ended and afterwards. Kanye West broke the levee and made it ok to experiment with what you wear. Between Billionaire’s Boy Club, Bape and Supreme, there was choice on how to do that.
Designer brands had been in hip hop for a long time (any way to flex wealth was) but this was the first time that those labels were making attire for hip hop artists and audiences. Urban fashion became a recognised force. Streetwear became something everyone recognised. The most notable thing about the standard hip hop outfit for men in the 2010s was that there wasn’t one.
You could wear anything you wanted and there was someone designing with you in mind. High fashion streetwear, hyped wear or even throwbacks to older styles all came on the market within a few years of each other. It would be wrong to give Yeezy all the credit for bringing high fashion and streetwear together so we’ll just give him most of it.