For decades, the hip hop culture has influenced the way people express themselves and identify with each other. Rappers have long used designer hip-hop fashion as a symbol of status, both in person and in their lyrics.

Hip hop fashion in the ’80s

Kangol bucket hats, chunky street-tuff gold chains, name-plated necklaces in cursive. New York style with Adidas shell-toe trainers with wide white laces and black tracksuits were created by many rappers. Run-D.M.C, LL Cool J, Funk Master Flash, The Fat Boys, and Big Daddy Kane were trendsetters in making authentic fashion statements.

LL Cool J wore his then signature Kangol hat when few Americans knew anything about the European hat maker. But its association with hip-hop quickly invigorated the brand.

LL Cool J wearing a kangol hat in the ’80s

The way Run-DMC wore their Superstars was different. Run-DMC combined sneakers without laces, black Lee jeans, leather goose-down jackets, Cazal glasses, and gold rope chains. This had long been the look of New York hustlers. DMC successfully took the street look mainstream.

Adidas Run-DMC ’86

Hip hop fashion in the ’90s

The rise of female rappers such as Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and Salt-N-Pepa all ushered in black pride wearing Afrocentric fabrics. They were wearing headwraps, large gold earrings, and asymmetric haircuts. It all symbolized a movement that gave rise to socially conscious hip hop.

Salt-N-Pepa in the ’90s

The genre had become a powerful mix of influences, especially for clothing. It allowed for the interaction of two theories of fashion diffusion. In contrast, however, hip hop artists wore styles from Polo, Timberland, and Tommy Hilfiger. Drawn to their all-American, elite, country club appeal. Yet, in 1994, Timberland’s chief operating officer issued a public statement. They reassured customers that the brand wasn’t abandoning its so-called core base for the urban market.

Biggie Smalls playing dice in the ’90s

In 1996, Tupac walked down the Versace runway during a fashion show in Milan. This might be one of the most spectacular visuals of just how intertwined hip hop and high fashion were becoming.

Tupac at the ’96 Versace runway show

Hip hop fashion in the ’00s

The Courvoisier-guzzling, supermodel-dating, bling-bling decade of the 2000s. This decade became the next huge fashion influence derived from hip hop culture. This evolution of the style suggested extreme wealth. Hip hop’s biggest stars began wearing more extravagant attire. Snoop, Tupac, and Biggie were dressing like old-school mobsters. They were wearing fedoras, bowler hats, large double-breasted suits, and expensive alligator shoes.

Snoop Dog and Tupac at the MTV video music awards in ’96

Coming off the bright and colorful ‘90s, the advancement of technology and travel brought a wide variety of influences to fashion. It seemed like every rapper with a little bit of money and power attached their name to a clothing label. For every successful Sean Jean and Rocawear from the ‘90s, there was a failed Nostic and Outcast clothing from the aughts.

One of the most universally known fashion trends of the aughts was the tall white tee. Mostly because an oversized white tee signified drug dealer, tall tees were banned in bars and clubs. They were also condemned in the media, and used by the police to profile assailants. Looking back at the era, the oversize tee of any color was status quo for high schoolers around the country.

Dem Franchize Boyz white tee

Hip hop fashion from the ’10s to present day

No hip-hop artist in recent memory has influenced high fashion more than Kanye West. Kanye’s preppy, collegiate style definitely stood out. But it was at the start of the 2010s that he came into his own with the creation of the Yeezy 1. Best known for his incredibly popular sneaker designs, West began designing footwear for Nike almost a decade ago. The Air Yeezy 1 and 2 collections gained instant popularity. They set new records for how much they demanded at resale prices. According to Business of Fashion, the collaboration had “the biggest impact on sneaker culture in the last decade.”

Nike Air Yeezy 1 x Kanye West

In 2015, West teamed up Adidas, Nike’s biggest competitor, on a line of apparel and footwear simply known as Yeezy. A project that has since reportedly transformed into a $10 million partnership. The Yeezy Boost 350s and 750s presented during the Yeezy Season 1 show sold out globally within 12 minutes. They exceeded the resale records set by his collaborations with Nike, with some pairs selling for more than $6,000 on eBay.

Adidas Yeezy boost 350 x Kanye West

With hip hop’s already immense impact on fashion in the past decades, the future holds much promise for this marriage. To be involved with the hip hop culture is to participate in the defining mood of the spirit of the time. Luckily, fashion and hip hop aren’t inactive ideas. They’re constantly evolving in ways bold and barely perceptible. But they’re always aiming to be in line with that ineffable quality of being cool.

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