Since the late 1970s, hip-hop has made its way from insurgent music genre to the defining cultural movement of our times. But it hasn’t been entirely about the music. To look at fashion today is to understand that hip-hop has been an undeniable influence on the way we dress. From Run-DMC’s endorsement of Adidas and Sean Combs launching his own fashion label to Kanye West and Pharrell embracing the world of high-end European fashion, here’s a look at the players who led the way.
Daniel Day, a.k.a. Dapper Dan, took leathers decorated with logos from high-end labels in the early 1980s and created outlandish apparel and accessories from them. He took inspiration from European houses Gucci, Louis Vuitton and others and re-imagined their looks for the streets, an idea that would be adopted by the luxury brands decades later.
With the members’ graphic tees, track pants and sporty sneakers, Run-DMC embodies hip-hop’s early days. Their love of Adidas shoes was chronicled in the 1986 song “My Adidas” and led to an unprecedented $1-million deal with the brand, which presaged many more to come.
Before his many movie roles, Smith, who as an MC went by the moniker the Fresh Prince, brought street style to the masses with the debut of the NBC show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” in 1990. From colorful, graphic shirts to Nike sneakers and Zubaz pants, hip-hop fashion gained a wide audience thanks to his show.
LL Cool J
With his airbrushed T-shirts, Kangol hats and heavy chains, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better spokesman for what fly rappers dressed like in the mid-1980s. More than a decade later, the musician would make waves starring in a Gap commercial but doing so while wearing a FUBU hat and sneaking in the company’s “for us, by us” motto into his rap.
Combs is perhaps one of the first people to think expansively about how his name could be spun out into a lifestyle brand, well beyond the confines of music-making. With his brand Sean John, he elevated hip-hop style, mimicking luxury labels but with a mass-market end-goal. The company bridged streetwear and high fashion, setting the foundation for brands such as Public School and Yeezy.
Seen by many as the avatar of hip-hop’s “remix culture,” Pharrell took far-reaching tastes in music and fashion (he wears and collaborates with Chanel and is a fan of Hermès’ Birkin bags) and blended them into an eclectic-yet-polished style. The mainstream took notice of his style in 2014 when he wore a much-copied Canadian Mountie-style hat by Vivienne Westwood. Since then, his boundary-defying tastes have set forth the foundation for today’s anything-goes ethos.
Kanye West has long been obsessed with style — and chronicled the topic in his work — but by launching his own line with Adidas, known as Yeezy, in 2015, he brought his vision to the masses. Now, the oversized athleisure-meets-apocalypse stylings are an undeniable influence.
Minaj is one of hip-hop’s few female stars, and she embraces high-end luxury labels with a sexy spin that can verge on cartoonish. She’s been welcomed by the fashion world, landing magazine covers, front-row seats at fashion shows and advertising campaigns.
Rapper ASAP Rocky’s playful style — Gucci track pants, oversized Balenciaga duds —has landed him advertising campaigns with Dior Homme and Calvin Klein as well as earned him fawning praise from GQ magazine. He’s the poster boy for today’s bold and swaggering aesthetic.
Hip-hop has been a male-dominated genre, so the women who populated it made sure to utilize fashion to their advantage. During the release of Salt-N-Pepa’s hit single “Push It,” the rappers interpreted the big trends of the day including bold graphic prints, light-wash denim and flashy accessories, giving streetwear a decidedly masculine-meets-feminine twist.
This popular MC, best known as part of the group Brand Nubian, name-dropped Tommy Hilfiger on the Mary J. Blige track “What’s the 411?” making the designer a must-have of the hip-hop set, challenging Polo’s dominance.
Please consider subscribing today to support stories like this one. Get full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks. Already a subscriber? Your support makes our work possible. Thank you.