Streetwear is a broad category of clothing, encapsulating everything from high-powered athletic wear, hyper-stylized street fashion, and exclusive gear that resells for far more than it could ever possibly make when sold direct-to-consumer.
Below, Daniel Patrick has gathered a quick-and-easy guide to help separate the various types of streetwear on the market.
First on the list is one of the most easily recognizable forms of streetwear. Hypebeast culture, a term used both pejoratively by its detractors and as a badge of honor by its members. It is marked by its massive popularity and exclusivity. At its core, this subculture has a lot in common with sneakerhead culture.
When streetwear made its way to New York City, early brands drummed up special interest by frequently releasing high-quality goods in small batch sizes.
These regular “drops” served two purposes:
- Firstly, a small batch size creates exclusivity. This allows the brand to sell individual items at a higher price point.
- Secondly, because a steady stream of goods is flowing into the market, it makes it so that the designers creating the clothing are always in vogue.
If you catch a drop-in time, you have the pleasure of having an exclusive piece of gear. If you miss out, another opportunity will come in the form of another drop-in just a little while. Alternately, those looking to get new gear can turn to another noted facet of hypebeast culture: The resellers market.
High popularity and low availability create a massive opportunity for those looking to capitalize on a brand's name. As with anything exclusive, be it shoes, game consoles, or clothing, there’s a huge market for those looking to grab new gear at any cost after having missed out.
Resellers focus on acquiring product, often with the primary intention of selling it for a profit potentially several times larger than the initial cost. While this can be opportunistic, a plethora of new drops ensures that so long as you aren’t dead-set on one specific piece, hypebeast culture can still remain accessible.
Streetwear can’t be discussed and probably wouldn’t be around today without hip-hop. Much of modern streetwear takes its design cues from earlier hip-hop designs. This manifested in a field of clothing that’s highly diverse compared to the often-exclusive world of high fashion. Hip-hop and its associated fashions both got their start in the 1970s.
While streetwear wasn’t as codified then as it is today, many staples like logo tees and tracksuits were highly popular among hip-hop artists starting in the 1970s. In 1986, Run DMC became sponsored by Adidas.
While the idea of music artists and designers coming together doesn’t sound particularly special today, they were the first non-athletes to acquire such a deal with the company. This paved the way for the present-day diversity in athletic streetwear.
Generally speaking, hip-hop streetwear emphasizes the classic silhouette of oversized fits, leaning towards athletic gear without being fully athleisure. It’s difficult to pin down hip-hop fashion exactly due to the decades of history associated with it, but sneakers, slides, track suits, and iconic parachute pants all feature.
Look at what the biggest rappers of a given period of time are wearing, and you’ll have an idea of where hip-hop streetwear is.
Athleisure wear is gear made to fit any casual context, whether it be relaxing in your day-to-day, working out, or performing your best at a game. Athleisure gear has come a long way, with the first definition in 1979 referring to clothing worn for those who wished to appear athletic. In 1997, major magazines defined athleisure footwear as “non-performance styles.”
At this point in time, the style was viewed as an aesthetic one rather than a functional one. Not until the present time has the proliferation of functional synthetic materials, as useful for their physical capabilities as well as their fashionable ones, led to athleisure gear being a true two-purposed style.
Not to be confused with sportswear, athleisure clothing is designed for general physical activity rather than sport-specific function. Here sneakers, sweats, and other all-purpose gear are commonplace.
The fundamental appeal of athleisure is its versatility. For the longest time, athletic apparel was tucked away in its own category, distinct from everyday fashion. That barrier has now been broken with streetwear able to function whether your day is active or sedentary.
Vintage streetwear can widely be applied to the biggest brands that were popular in the 80s and 90s. During that time, streetwear was just taking off but had yet to achieve universal mainstream acceptance. For that reason, vintage apparel has a lot of overlap with skater and surfer culture alike.
The earliest streetwear drew inspiration from a variety of sources, including hip hop, but among those early influencers were both skater and surfer culture. The founder of Stussy started out in California selling surfboards but soon started printing logo shirts with his brand on them. As the shirts caught on, logo apparel became more desirable.
Skatewear prioritized loose, but not baggy, fits to allow for a greater range of movement and comfort when riding: Thrasher was one of the earliest and best-known brands. The punk-infused aesthetics actively rejected what were then the principles of impractical haute-couture.
It should be noted that skatewear and surfwear both exist independently. Overall, as the earliest brands all took direct influence from these cultures, there’s a certain degree of overlap even though they’ve become their own style in the present day.
Vintage streetwear, as a part of 90s fashion, tends to be a bit more uniquely colored than modern offerings, with a lot of items having bold, retro patterns. Whether you want streetwear that’s a little less removed from punk culture, or want to go for a classic look, plenty of vintage brands and vintage-inspired are still around today.
Techwear is short for “technical wear,” and, befitting its name, it prioritizes function over anything else. Whereas many of the previously listed styles highlight fashion-centered designs, techwear uses at-times futuristic designs and carefully chosen materials to create highly functional, weather-resistant gear.
Synthetics like nylon, polyester, and spandex all have moisture-wicking properties, which can aid when battling the elements. Similarly, wool fibers offer thermoregulating properties which help with airflow and maintain comfortable temperatures in cold and warm environments alike.
Techwear prioritizes specialty materials and design elements to improve movement and utilize proper materials to create highly effective gear in any context.
If on the spectrum of fashion versus function, you want gear that maximizes functionality in harsh environments while still looking good, techwear is the way to go.
This next subculture goes international, in a rich fashion tradition that includes streetwear while also going far beyond it. Harajuku fashion is diverse enough to be deserving of a discussion of its subcultures all on its own.
For the time being, we’ll do a quick dive into what makes it so unique. Harajuku fashion derives its name from the styles seen on the street in the Tokyo district of the same name.
Core Harajuku styles focus on highly individualized ensembles that eschew fast fashion for highly distinctive, well-maintained, high-quality garments. These include more recognizable styles such as punk and streetwear, as well as fashion movements that are distinctively Japanese.
Two such examples are lolita fashion, which focuses on stylized versions of Victorian dress that includes large ruffled skirts and oversized bows or hats. Gothic lolita has the same bone structure but trades in “traditional” coloring with darker palettes, religious or death-related iconography, and period-appropriate gothic styles. Other designs use bright pastels and bold colors to be evocative of “cuteness,” as opposed to glamorous beauty.
Streetwear in Harajuku, befitting the pedigree of the overall fashion movement, focuses on high-end apparel. In many ways, it takes inspiration from many American and European designers in terms of general silhouette and oversized fit.
Traditional athleisure wear can be seen, along with techwear that takes visual cues from traditional military garb. It makes sense, given the strong, multifaceted fashion hub that Harajuku is, that even streetwear would appear designed through the lens of specific cultural elements.
While finding Harajuku-style streetwear might be hard to do without trawling through a large number of online retailers, knowing about the culture can give a better understanding of international fashion hubs and the overarching presence of streetwear in the 21st century.
Viewing Streetwear Through a Lens
Streetwear isn’t just one movement limited to one geographical area or time. Part of the beauty of the style becoming more recognized is that more designers are creating gear that goes beyond the limits of what was once thought possible.
From America to Europe, to Japan, creative artists make new designs that create a cult of personality through exclusivity, blur the lines between athleticism and aestheticism, use top-of-the-minute technical designs to create climate-specific gear, and above all show off a modern sense of style.
Whether you’re devotedly looking for your next drop or only have the faintest idea of what streetwear is, we hope by now you understand the beautiful universal collaboration that’s made the style what it is today.