Something Old, Something New: Why There’s No Getting Around The Impact Black Culture Has On Fashion
... there is a bit of your own history woven into its fabric.
October 14, 2019 at 5:14 am
The term “what’s old is now new” seems to encapsulate the energy of 2019. Xscape is back together, Doc Martens is rebranding and denim-on-denim is once again socially acceptable.
There appears to be an air of nostalgia making its rounds throughout the entertainment industry, impacting everything from today’s music to its fashion. Hip-Hop artists like Earth Gang and YBN Cordae are echoing the sounds of pre-aughts rap, reinforcing the fact that authentic storytelling, an art most notable in the '90s, is still relevant.
Similarly, the fashion industry is growing more and more aligned with Black culture each fashion season. Style figureheads such as Rihanna, Kerby Jean-Raymond and Virgil Abloh are among a number of Black designers embracing the vintage trend of oversized streetwear back to the forefront.
And when you consider the fact that non-POC pop culture mainstays like Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish are openly backing this resurgent trend, it comes as no surprise that fast fashion chains and luxury brands alike are adopting the "bigger is better" mentality.
But while slouched sleeves, large hoods and swaddling fabric all fit today's hype beast aesthetic, I’ve always found it important to give respect to the origins of favorite fashion trends. After all, behind every great look is the origin story.
As a kid, I would watch artists like Kriss Kross and Snoop Dogg dressed from head to toe in baggy attire, and found myself absolutely mesmerized. I couldn’t identify the root of my captivation at the time, but I knew there was something so intrinsically dope about the way they would wear their clothing.
Looking back on it now, my love of oversized streetwear was directly correlated to my love of hip-hop music. If you take a look back at the music industry in the 1990s, you'll notice that Black artists seemed to work in partnership with Black-owned fashion brands like Karl Kani and Fubu.
Black artists seemed to wear Black-owned fashion brands on their backs as badges of pride. And much like the artists that were wearing their clothing, Black designers would use fashion to tell stories that were authentic to their communities.
The two men that perfected the art of using oversized streetwear to send a message? Carl Jones and TJ Walker.
In the late '80s, the two LA-based designers found themselves roaming the streets of New York City in search of inspiration for what would ultimately become the “Cross Colours” aesthetic. The two would make it a habit to tour neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Harlem, taking in the energy of the inner-city youth.
"We noticed that young skinny kids were getting on the subway, and maybe they were a 30 or 32, but they were wearing size 36/38 pants. And that’s where it began,” Carl Jones stated in a recent interview. “It was from the culture. Oversized wasn’t in fashion. It was the kids who invented it.”
By 1990, Cross Colours had become a success, due in large part to a roster of brand enthusiasts with star power, including Will Smith, TLC and Tupac. Other designers of color soon followed suit, and by the mid-90s the fashion industry observed the arrival of brands like Phat Farm, Coogi and Wu-Wear.
It soon became clear that streetwear was growing beyond the confines of the neighborhoods that had birthed it.
Designers like Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren, who had traditionally targeted white consumers, were starting to recognize the innate trendiness of Black fashion, as well as the power of the Black dollar.
Today, that tradition continues through brands like Yeezy, Off-White and Fear of God. Black designers are reimagining oversized clothing in a way that is both eccentric and cutting edge. The sleeves are longer, the sizing is a bit baggier and the color scheme ranges from earth tones to neon.
Moreover, luxury brands are starting to invest more in the power of streetwear; a decision that yielded positive results for Louis Vuitton. In March 2018, LV tapped Off-White founder, Virgil Abloh, to take the helm as creative director of its menswear collection. As a result, Abloh’s pieces, which include oversized jackets, futuristic utility vests and monogram shoulder bags, have allowed the brand to find success amongst Gen Z consumers.
There’s no getting around the impact Black designers have had on the industry. Their ability to give a voice to the Black community, as well as galvanize communities outside of their own to support their efforts, speaks volumes to the power we as a people possess.
And while we all may not subscribe to the oversized aesthetic, the next time you see one of your faves in an outfit reminiscent of a Bell Biv Devoe video, I urge you to remind yourself that there is a bit of your own history woven into its fabric.