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Tailored Thoughts on Streetwear

Being a Savile Row tailor, I am not going to pretend to be an authority on streetwear. However, as a craftsman and an observer of men’s style I believe I can legitimately ask the following; Has streetwear lost its soul?

Words by Matthew Gonzalez

Over the past 20 years, streetwear has been hijacked by designer labels who slowly replaced individuality with exclusivity. They muddled its meaning by drawing inspiration from various subcultures. Appropriating the visual elements of hippies, surfers, skateboarders, punks and rappers to create a modern genre of clothing that is more or less generic. It isn’t that modern streetwear doesn’t look good, it’s designed well and aesthetically pleasing. The problem is that modern streetwear seems to be incredibly expensive yet devoid of any semblance of authenticity.

‘It isn’t that modern streetwear doesn’t look good, it’s designed well and aesthetically pleasing. The problem is that modern streetwear seems to be incredibly expensive yet devoid of any semblance of authenticity.’

So what happened? In the beginning streetwear actually represented people. It wasn’t worn for fashion it was who you were. This pre dates skateboarders and hippies and arguably began during the golden age of Hollywood.

In the 1950s A Streetcar Named Desire and Rebel Without a Cause hit cinema screens and have been influencing how we dress ever since. They helped create the t-shirt and jeans look that has been a staple for men ever since. It was such a pure form of clothing because it was a style that didn’t come from a brand, it predated them. Marlon Brando and James Deans, became icons because of it. Back then when a film came out that was it. They weren’t merchandised like they are today. There weren’t any subsequent products to buy off the back of them. Teens would see a film, copy it then make it their own. In that sense Hollywood both portrayed and helped to propagate a new style that represented a young and individualistic generation.

 Yves Saint Laurent was the first designer to take notice of the importance of streetwear when he designed an entire haute couture collection inspired by the stylish young women hanging around the Paris’ Left Bank. It was the first time that any designer looked to outside of society’s elites to create high design. In some ways this collection was a foreshadowing of streetwear’s future demise.

 It didn’t happen quickly though. After YSL’s collection, fashion trends largely followed their traditional cycles and young people continued to dress how they wanted. The hippies came and went with their free spirited style and flowing silhouettes while the 70s ushered in tight bell bottoms trousers and vibrant glam rock colour palettes.

 By the 80s there was something different in the air. Hip hop, skateboarding, surfing and MTV were all on the rise. Media was shifting demographically towards younger consumers and street brands began to proliferate. The birth of modern streetwear came in the form of one brand, Stüssy. The iconic signature logo that was first emblazoned on surfboards then on t-shirts and hats were originally sold out of founder, Shawn Stussy’s car in Orange County California. Perhaps inadvertently. he created a entirely new genre of clothing. It was a pure as Dean and Brando’s 1950s t-shirt and jeans because it was first and foremost a local surf brand. 

 Early streetwear brands embodied that notion of corporeal representations of personal identity but over time as its appeal grew brands recognised the revenue potential of the industry grew on global scales. Micheal Jordan’s deal with Nike to create Air Jordans was an early sign of the commercialisation to come. There was essentially two divergent paths a brand could take; Large global sales at relative low prices or as the Jordan model followed, exclusivity that followed a demand-side economic model. As we all know today exclusivity is winning. Brands like Supreme, Palace or Yeezy use exclusivity as a prime driver for their brand’s appeal. Sadly it is an approach that completely undercuts its own integrity. 

Streetwear is seemingly at its saturation point. Aside from the host of up market brands that are producing collections, illustrious fashion houses are fully embracing this genre of clothing. Louis Vuitton under Virgil Abloh produced a collection that looks like it stepped right out of LA’s 1990s streetwear scene but the idea of paying hundreds or even thousands of pounds for clothing that was inspired by teenagers who defined and shaped that era from their pocket money seems to betray the entire concept of the style. In time, streetwear will be out of the lime light. Designers will focus on different styles and trends, streetwear will likely go back to a point where it was a few decades ago. Being born out of subcultures that show irreverence for the establishment. So, has streetwear lost its soul? For the moment, probably, but in time, if left alone by the socialites and fashionistas it will one day regain it authenticity. MG