The History of Streetwear: Urban Beginnings

Streetwear has been a hot commodity for about 30 years now, and there’s a clear reason as to why that is. The youth these days always want the right kind of fashion, wearing specific brands or types of clothing is a great way to go about expressing yourself. Everybody has something to express, and doing it through the use of clothing has never been easier. Streetwear has pretty much urban roots, and when you realize how far it’s come you’re probably going to be shocked. Everything has to start from the ground up, even something as large as streetwear. This industry gives everybody a voice, and it gives hope to designers who feel like they’re about to make that big break. It wouldn’t be this way if the past hadn’t paved a way for the present, and that’s exactly what this article is going to talk about. There isn’t a specific historical event that would mark the making of streetwear. In fact, nobody really knows when it was initially introduced into the world. One thing is for sure though, streetwear is taking the world by storm (and it’s probably going to stay that way for the foreseen future).

Think about it, all of your favorite actors and singers are wearing streetwear, so it only makes you want to own it more. There are a lot of things that go into the construction of a streetwear brand, especially one that’s going to resonate and really start to sell. Within the past 30 years or so, streetwear has been represented in many different lights. Every single decade that passes brings a brand new style to the table, and that’s what we’re covering today. We’re going to delve deeper into the history of streetwear, as we’ll look at some of the most influential names and styles to ever hit our society. Clothes mean a lot more to us than some would think! It initially started in the 80’s, which is where Shawn Stussy started a streetwear uprising. This is the era of people wearing bell-bottom pants and spandex whenever they’d like, so you can imagine how much buzz streetwear was building when it was released at first.

There is a considerable amount of change that has happened throughout the years when you’re talking about streetwear. If there wasn’t change, would we really need to cover the history of this industry? In particular, the 90’s really presented a strong case when it comes to the “strongest streetwear” phase throughout the years. Then again, who’s to say we won’t go streetwear crazy like the 90’s all over again? That is, if we haven’t already!

Shawn Stussy

Shawn Stussy was just a normal surfer back in the 80’s, which is the era where skating or surfing “punks” would rule their humble neighborhoods. Streetwear will always have a youthful influence about it, because that’s who they’re targeting when all is said and done. Shawn Stussy was the first person to actually start creating streetwear tees, and he did it by simply printing his board logo onto shirts. He initially started up this business because it was a great moneymaker, and it happened to cut the costs he had to deal with when making is hand-made surfboards. He could only make about one of these boards per day, so the money that he was earning just wasn’t going to be enough. Needless to say, selling t-shirts out of the back of his car was a fantastic idea (to say the least). He wanted to build up a cool and innovative brand (as far as streetwear went), but he also wanted it to be somewhat “hard to get”.

Rare streetwear is now one of the most idolized things in the world, with shoes and specific pairs of clothing going for well over $500 a piece (and that isn’t the regular retail price). Most of the time they’re either customized pieces of clothing, or they were simply released on a very limited scale. You see, Shawn Stussy was essentially the pioneer for every single streetwear brand we know to date. He understood that having limited numbers of product would call for a demand, and he also understood that having a fantastic design was a necessity (something many aspiring up and coming streetwear designers tend to forget, they just throw a bunch of blurry clip-art on a t-shirt).


In the late 80’s graffiti started to get relatively popular, alongside break dancing and hip-hop music. The three turned the streetwear industry upside down, as it was making strides to become the most sought after clothing type in the world. Everybody wanted to get in on the action, it was full of crop tops and brightly colored spandex; something we had to deal with for way too long! This area can somewhat be applied to the 90’s as well, as snap backs and baggy jeans were starting to make their come up (barely, of course).

Shawn Stussy was the first, but he definitely wasn’t the last. There are thousands of aspiring streetwear designers these days, but not every single one of them is going to make it. You have to not only have a unique idea, but you’ve got to follow through as well; much like Shawn Stussy did.

Progression: The 90’s Streetwear

This is where streetwear started to thrive much more than usual, because the music started coinciding with it. When you blended hip-hop with streetwear there was literally a super-drug created, and that super-drug was a lifestyle that everybody wanted to live (or at least look like they were living). The music scene that hip-hop was building allowed the clothes to really resonate within communities, and people started dedicating their lives to the stuff. People would develop designs for snapbacks of their very own, and puffy coats were also very high in demand (you probably couldn’t walk a mile or two without seeing some shell-toe Adidas, which I still wear today). Le Coq Sportif was literally at its highest peak in the 90’s as now it’s a brand you barely hear of; ask anybody who was a teenager in the 90’s and they’ll let you know about it. Record labels started hopping onto the bandwagon, and as a result there was a lot more money being put into these particular ventures. Rappers started to become clothing moguls, a trend that you see continuing today; and everybody else just wanted a piece of the pie.

When you mixed a famous face with streetwear it was almost like an immediate success, just ask brands like Timberland or even FUBU. When a product is endorsed so much by “famous” names, it’s going to do a lot as far as sales go. That’s why streetwear made such a large come up in the 90’s and that’s why it continues to rapidly grow in today’s society. The 90’s weren’t all good for the streetwear industry though, as it also allowed for an abundance of copycat companies to come out of the woodwork. Companies would come out and produce low-quality clones of the products you knew and loved, and some people would buy them without even thinking twice. People began looking for retro pieces of clothing like sneakers and hats, which caused the prices for these items to hike up immediately (it’s exactly like the rare streetwear world of today, it’s all about supply and demand).

The internet was also growing at a rapid rate during this time as well, and that allowed for many more sellers/buyers to get what they needed so direly. Sellers could communicate with buyers and vice versa, which is the beginning of every single online streetwear retailer you’ll come across in modern times. Did I mention that there was a kids rap-duo called “Kriss-Kross” that wore their clothes backwards? Yeah, that actually happened! Now I’m really showing my age. LOL

Keep it Moving: The 00’s Streetwear

This is where streetwear started to morph and blend into something “new-age”. You see a lot of musicians and such making use of sports-related clothing, and jerseys were absolutely in. You’d see many clothing companies trying to create football jerseys of their own, except instead of using an official NFL logo, they’d use their own brands logo. This allowed for people to wear unlicensed football jerseys, as well as pay a lot less than they would for them (and they might even just prefer the streetwear alternative). Seeing as it was supposed to have a youthful feeling, people felt like it was only right to progress it that way, which is why you see a lot of the “skinnier” styles right now. People are always trying to innovate, in the 90’s it was baggy, and now it’s slim-fit. It’s all about getting with the times, as a streetwear company you have to be willing to adapt. Streetwear brands started to adapt in the 2000’s, as they started producing fitted caps and even baggier jeans than usual (that is until way later, like 2006-2010 when Filthy Dripped opened its doors on Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA).

Musicians jumped on the bandwagon once again, and rode it all the way to the bank. Songs like “Air Force Ones” by Nelly (and the St. Lunatics) were essentially commercials to the public, only presented in a song form. Not only that, but they were catchy songs to boot! That’s like the perfect way of getting your product sold, and streetwear brands were getting a lot smarter around this time. They finally understood that they’re the majority when it comes to clothing now, especially in urban/city-like areas. Street art has always been a way to go about expressing yourself, and throughout the 00’s people were expressing themselves at every possible point they could.

Things almost seem to go full-circle as well, as a lot of the retro looks that people sported in the 90’s are sought after these days. Brands and clothing that have been well-preserved from that era will score you a pretty penny, and snapbacks have made a very strong comeback as of recent.

As a result, we were given dozens of amazing streetwear companies, some that are actually still around today. Some of the most popular names I can name off the top of my head would be: BAPE, Supreme, LRG, and even some non-mainstream brands like Breezy Excursion. Now you’ll see the likes of jogger pants, which are almost like sweatshirts for your lower half. They come to a crimp at the ankle, so you don’t need to worry about baggy leg-holes ruining your outfit. We’ve adapted quite a bit as far as streetwear goes, especially when you look at it over the years. We went from neon pinks to darker tones of whatever we feel like, and it couldn’t have happened in any other way (well, any other preferred way that is; I loved wearing snapbacks back in the day and today!).

Streetwear Today

In conclusion, streetwear had to start somewhere; and the fact of the matter is that it was destined to grow. As a human race we’re always going to look for ways to go about doing things differently, that’s what makes us so unique. If we did the same stuff and wore the same clothes throughout the years, there simply wouldn’t be any innovative things happening. We owe it to ourselves to progress as quickly as possible, no matter what we’re progressing in. Streetwear has allowed many people to go about expressing their artistic values through clothing, and it’s going to continue to do so all the way until a new trend comes along. That’s probably going to take a long time, though, so don’t think that we’re going to be holding our breath.

It’s a serious business, where we now have dedicated clothing conventions to streetwear like AGENDA. Everybody has hobbies, you might like to play video games whereas certain people are strictly interested in the designing of clothes. If you aren’t a clothing fanatic by now you should probably consider it, there’s a lot to learn (and even more to wear) when it comes to streetwear brands. I don’t think there’s any other industry in the world that’s going to have a story like this one, especially since we’re all aware of a few iconic streetwear pieces. Remember those pants MC Hammer used to wear? They were pretty much baggy ass joggers.

Time passes and styles change, but streetwear will never die. It might not look the same, and it might not even feel the same at some point; but you know exactly what you’re getting into. The history of streetwear is relatively deep though, but the information is very scarce; this article is probably just scratching the surface of what we need to know!