If you want to discuss the defining cities that mold a particular artistic movement, you can probably easily come up with a few. If you’re talking about film, you talk about LA. If you talk about theatre, you’ll talk about New York, London, or Berlin. If you talk about fashion, historically you’d discuss Paris, Milan, or New York. In recent years, however, Los Angeles has quickly risen up as a pinnacle of the American fashion industry.
The Emergence of LA Street Fashion
Los Angeles has had a tremendous impact in the fashion world, but the core history and core appeal of the style comes from the fact that it’s not directly influenced by storied, big-name fashion houses and instead by local designers who, while many have since made massive names of themselves, originated locally as artists simply doing what they loved.
For that reason, Los Angeles offered a great place to see fashion subcultures like punk realized, though modern street fashion has changed. LA is the place to see carefully curated casual wear, where street culture meets stylistic substance in a true melting pot of a city. Los Angeles has also seen its fashion movement evolve as artists outside traditional fashion designers become involved in fashion design.
Los Angeles and Pop Culture
For about as long as mediums like film and radio have been around, so too has pop culture followed celebrities. With the amount of film and music work going on in LA, it’s no surprise that much celebrity-inspired culture emerges from this West Coast metropolis. Whenever people discuss Los Angeles though, it’s often talked about in tandem with the comparatively similar but culturally different New York City.
Los Angeles, like New York City, is a major cultural hub with a high cost of living. Unlike New York, many more Angelenos drive and put up with intense traffic in their daily lives. In general, Los Angeles is also a much more laid back city, with streetwear and athleisure gear taking precedence over the highly minimalist, business-appropriate attire that characterizes much of New York fashion. Part of this culture is no doubt taken from the sunny and warm landscapes surrounding the city, which constantly beckon for athletic engagement.
The trend towards streetwear and casual apparel has doubtless seen an acceleration due to the ongoing pandemic, which has gotten people out of the office and changed the landscape of what working looks like. Also of note is that many celebrity-influenced collaborations have also pushed the general direction of street fashion. Naturally, since the go-to uniform for many musicians, artists and athletes prioritizes style and comfort over traditional ideas of formality, these collaborations push culture towards the casual in a bid to create fashionable gear.
What’s in a Brand: Collaboration Culture
The notion of what a brand is has changed drastically over the last few decades. While previously it exclusively referred to the name of the designer, the term has since come to generally encapsulate everything a designer or publicly recognized figure stands for, whether it be aesthetics, values, athletic or artistic interests. Partially for this reason, the last few years have seen an increasing number of collaborations between individual fashion designers and larger-scale brands.
When an individual designer collaborates with a larger brand, it makes it possible for luxury design choices to be brought to a wider audience thanks to improved affordability because of the availability of pooled resources. Similarly, collaborating with another individual helps bring an outside eye to existing designs to create collections that emerge as a result of unified efforts. By their very nature, collaboration serves as a great metaphor for the whole culture of LA fashion, due to the fact that they result from a shared workspace between two individuals on a level field, rather than the at-times elitist attitudes that may come from tradition haute couture fashion houses.
While collaboration itself is an essential component of LA street fashion, it’s the styles that emerge from these collaborations themselves that matter rather than the existence of the collaboration. When you take in the general movement of styles and the designers behind them, certain patterns emerge that showcase what makes LA fashion so unique.
What Makes LA Street Fashion What It is
Streetwear, hippie culture, punk fashion and plenty of specific aesthetic designs ending in -core all make themselves felt in Los Angeles, where the fundamental rule is to dress like yourself rather than what someone else would have you dress like. In all these aesthetics, though, there are some guiding principles in how street fashion generally appears.
The Dress Code is Comfort
Street fashion takes to heart the idea of comfortable clothes that are casual enough to wear at home, but stylishly designed enough to wear out and about. The last few years has seen an outsized growth in the popularity of sweats, athletic apparel, and all sorts of gear previously only worn in purely casual contexts.
Whether or not the apparel is true sportswear or merely athleisure is debatable, with the full definition being challenging to lay an exact dividing line upon. Generally speaking though, if your gear is specifically designed to aid in specific sports like running or basketball, it’s sportswear. If it’s comfortable clothing that may work well with athletic performance but otherwise is more generally comfortable and accessible than specifically conducive to athletics, it’s athleisure.
Not all comfort has to be in the form of semi-athletic apparel, however. Denim, known as much for its comfort as well as how it wears, can also be widely found, and you should anticipate seeing shorts, dresses, and everything flowing and breathable to fit a city where temperatures rarely drop below the 50s.
Everything is about the silhouette. Whether going for the tapered look of running gear, the loose, oversized, comfortable fit of sweats or specially designed t-shirts, plenty of modern streetwear styles play with the idea of how your clothes are “supposed” to fit.
What’s more, oversized clothes offer ample opportunities for layering, whether it be with a jacket or other pieces of outerwear. On a functional level, wearing something a little looser makes for a more comfortable, less fitted feel in intense heat.
Know What You’re Wearing, and What It Stands For
People in Los Angeles, while not being uptight, have a generally good awareness of where they stand in the world and what they value. For that reason, you’ll see a lot of people whether clothes they truly love or brands with strong aesthetics or mission statements. While many major companies previously used or continue to use unethical practices when it comes to the design or manufacturing of clothes, plenty of local designers use personal attention and aesthetics in their design and production process to create fashion that’s as environmentally and humanely minded as it is visually minded.
We’ve hit a point as a society where people are looking at how brands do things as much as how they do them, for the good of the industry as a whole.
LA Fashion: Streetwear
We briefly touched on streetwear before, in our discussion of sportswear and athleisure. While streetwear itself is a massive fashion movement which has numerous subcultures in itself, it largely includes garments that have been inspired from traditional sportswear, contemporary athleisure wear, and the fashion associated with surf, skate and hip hop culture.
Streetwear, by some definitions, started out with an LA-based surfboard manufacturer putting out graphic tees to go alongside his existing merchandise. Because of this, streetwear from its earliest days has mutual connections between athleticwear and casual loungewear. In its present form, streetwear is primarily defined by the story of individual designers and a culture of exclusivity.
LA Fashion: Hippie
Los Angeles has had a vibrant hippie scene since the sixties, which has maintained a strength today. Boho and boho-chic, shorthand for bohemian, ties into this culture with flowing blouses, dresses, jeans, and stylized shoes and boots all coming together to form this culture. While bohemian fashion as a pop culture trend ebbs and flows over time, as a local style to LA it maintains strength thanks to the emphasis on environmentalism and social activism that comes hand in hand with the subculture's form of mysticism.
LA Fashion: Western Fashion
Western fashion, while not the most prevalent style, has become a noted street fashion inspired by the rugged fashions of the formerly “Wild West”. It comes with a recent resurgence in period interest thanks to a wide variety of music, films, and television shows focusing on times contemporaneous to this fashion. With western wear, expect to see plenty of denims and leathers, suedes in particular.
Mind, western wear does not mean “dress like a cowboy”. While many of the fabric choices and accessories are evocative of the era, western fashion alludes to these without creating an impression that reads more like a costume than a carefully selected style. After all, the fashion of the culture is still all about dressing like an individual.
LA Fashion: Punk
LA has a rich history when it comes to the punk movement, dating back to the 1970s. Like many subcultures of the area with a diverse history and source of influences, modern punk is difficult to encapsulate as a uniform entity. Anti-establishment sentiment still runs high, with hair, makeup and sartorial designs immediately making the biggest punk proponents visible. Piercings, boldly designed graphic tees and plentiful accessories all serve to identify this classic street style.
In 2021, punk music has somewhat diverged. In some cases, punk bands are more vocal about the necessity of diversity and social engagement than ever before. In other cases, bands will intentionally remove punk from its political origins by intentionally creating music without social commentary. However things progress from here, punk fashion in LA has a storied history that’s certain to continue.
Defining LA Street Fashion
Los Angeles is a major cultural melting pot, more known for bucking trends and integrating a variety of influences than allowing trends to purely dictate its style. In its early history, LA has largely been its own universe, influenced by the people forming it only to later radiate its influence outwards. In the 21st century, while the culture of the city still orients itself around the personal and individual rather than focus on broad groups whose greatest strengths are in name recognition, more creators on an international scale are beginning to recognize the city for the fashion hub it represents.
Whether this leads to LA becoming a fashion hub for elite and fledgling designers alike to challenge the existing fashion capitals of the world is yet to be seen, but whatever other people have planned for the city, it’s certain that the designers and self-styled individuals who’ve made the city what it is aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.