As we have discussed in previous blog posts, streetwear began as a fashion style that reflected the mood and tastes of people in urban communities. It combined practicality with some cool, or “fresh,” details to make a useable yet attractive garment. This balance began to tilt more towards the detailed, aesthetically-concerned side as celebrities co-opted and popularized streetwear. Rappers, basketball players, and other famous people have brought streetwear from the streets of New York and Los Angeles to the runways of Milan and Paris. Because of their influence and cultural relevancy, celebrities claim much responsibility in taking streetwear into the mainstream.
Rappers have probably been the most influential celebrities when it comes to changing fashion. They often come from the neighborhoods where streetwear originated, so they did not so much change their own fashion as reveal it to a larger audience. Jay Z, for example, began his career sporting jerseys and headbands that had been popular for a long time in the Brooklyn area where he was from. His fame helped catapult these wardrobe pieces into regular use. More broadly, rappers popularized the sagging pants look that reveals the wearer’s underwear. This way of wearing pants had been popular in urban communities for many years, but it did not break into the mainstream until rappers brought it there. Rappers like Lil Wayne and 50 Cent would perform on nationally televised awards programs with their pants sagging, which was probably the first time many people had seen this style. Nowadays, however, jerseys and sagging pants are commonly worn by a diverse group of people.
Basketball players share a place in popularizing and innovating streetwear. Basketball’s main contribution to streetwear is the basketball sneaker, which has become so popular that it might as well simply be called “the sneaker.” Basketball players have been wearing these types of shoes for a long time, but the style attracted interest from common people as the sport increasingly took a centerstage position in pop culture. While most players gave people fashion inspiration, Michael Jordan took it to the next level and invented the “Air Jordan” in collaboration with Nike. The Air Jordan provided consumers with a quality piece of basketball culture that was coupled with the legendary Jordan name. This combination led to an explosion of popularity and demand for Air Jordans that continues through today.
Michael Jordan’s joint effort with Nike to design and produce his own version of a streetwear classic inspired and paved the way for countless other celebrities to create their own fashion lines. Now, a number of basketball players, including Lebron James, have their own shoe companies that elicit widespread acclaim and demand. From P. Diddy to Kanye West, rappers have also capitalized on the streetwear phenomenon they helped create by developing their own lines and products. A common theme in celebrity-led streetwear brands is their dependence on collaborations with larger retailers like Nike and Adidas. This, however, does not indicate that these celebrities are not powerful enough on their own, but that their influence attracts even the biggest, most established names in fashion.