Have you ever wondered where the term "streetwear" came from? It's a term that's now synonymous with the high fashion industry, but how did it get there? In this article, we'll explore not only the history of streetwear: where it started as a skate culture-inspired movement, but how it grew into its own subculture separate from but paying homage to the skate community, and how high fashion labels like Gucci and Louis Vuitton have copped the look (and made millions).
Streetwear started as a skateboard culture-inspired movement.
Skateboard culture is all about freedom of expression and embracing an offbeat lifestyle, so it makes sense that the clothing associated with this subculture would have its own unique aesthetic. Streetwear brands such as Supreme, Palace and Stussy were created out of necessity to fill the market gap for stylish, skate-friendly clothing—and now they're some of the most desirable labels on their respective runways.
Skate culture is a subculture that revolves around skateboarding. It's associated with independent, underground and DIY culture. So what does this mean for your wardrobe? You can expect to find clothes that are designed in collaboration with skaters and feature logos from their favourite brands. If you're ever wondering what the difference between streetwear and skatewear is, we've got you covered:
Skatewear is more focused on graphics than it is on technical features like waterproofing or breathability.
Streetwear tends to be more fashion-forward as opposed to more functional (as it is in skate culture).
Skate culture is all about freedom of expression and embracing an offbeat lifestyle.
Skate culture is a movement that started in the ‘60s, and it's all about freedom of expression, and embracing an offbeat lifestyle.
Skate culture began in California, USA, when kids started riding skateboards down hills in Venice Beach. Skateboarders would wear T-shirts and shorts while they were boarding to show off their love for surfing—and eventually became known as surfers on wheels.
The term "streetwear" was first used by skateboarding company Vans back in 1996 when they released a line of skate shoes called "Off The Wall." And before you knew it, companies such as Element, Blind, Nike SB, and Birdhouse became popular skate brands and were releasing graphic t shirts, oversized t shirts, and denim jeans.
These days skate brands have taken over the fashion industry world with names like Supreme (a New York-based brand) and Palace (a London-based brand). Each of these skate brands was created out of necessity to fill the market gap for stylish, skate-friendly clothing.
As you might have guessed, skate culture is all about freedom of expression and embracing an offbeat lifestyle. But before streetwear and skate brands became synonymous with high fashion brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton, it was inspired by something far less refined: the skateboard.
The skateboarding community began in California in the 1960s as a countercultural activity that was influenced by other subcultures like surfing, punk rock music, and later, hip hop. Despite skateboarding not being considered a traditional sport, skaters needed practical clothing and skate shoes that could withstand wear and tear as they grinded on concrete obstacles—the result was a new breed of “streetwear” known as “skatewear” (or simply “skate style”).
By the late 1990s, streetwear had evolved from its humble origins into a global phenomenon—one that united skaters around the world through their shared passion for fashion trends in skate apparel, skate shoes, and an overall skate style.
When skate clothing became popular, streetwear expanded into its own subculture, separate from but paying homage to skate culture.
When streetwear became popular in the early 2000s, it expanded into its own subculture, separate from but paying homage to skate culture.
High Fashion X Streetwear
You've probably heard the term "streetwear" before, and you may have a good idea of what it means. But to fully understand how streetwear has evolved into what it is today, we need to go back a little way.
So in the early 2000s, skate culture was still a major influence on streetwear's design aesthetic. You see that in brands like Supreme or Palace Skateboards—they were all about making clothes that were both functional and cool at the same time. Skateboarders needed clothes that could endure their lifestyle, so these brands made clothing with hardwearing materials like denim and leather. And because being stylish was part of the culture too, they also made sure those pieces looked dope as hell!
High fashion labels like Gucci and Louis Vuitton have also copped the streetwear look.
The merging of streetwear and high fashion is known as "high-low" dressing, and it's become a global phenomenon. This trend was pioneered by brands like Supreme and BAPE who, in the early 2000s, sold their products only through skate shops. Nowadays, however, you can find these brands on the shelves of luxury department stores like Selfridges and Saks Fifth Avenue. Gucci's collaboration with Takashi Murakami (one of Japan's most renowned artists) is another example of how streetwear has spread beyond its origins in skate culture and into high fashion—it's even been called "Guccing."
This merging of high fashion and streetwear is known as "high-low" dressing, or dressing in expensive clothes with a casual vibe.
High-low dressing is the final frontier of streetwear and one that has been around for decades. It's simply a way to show that you can afford expensive clothes but still wants to stay down-to-earth—it's a trend with many different iterations.
High fashion tends to be more expensive than streetwear, which is why pairing them together can create an interesting visual tension that draws attention. The key to pulling off high-low dressing successfully is knowing how much of your budget should go into each category: if you have £100 worth of jeans and £100 worth of T-shirts in your closet, for example, it wouldn't make any sense for those items to look totally different from each other (unless one was vintage). If anything, this kind of mixing should happen in moderation: mixing too many elements from both worlds will end up looking too busy or confusing.
When looking at the evolution of streetwear, it's easy to see how it has evolved from its beginnings as a skate culture-inspired movement into a global fashion phenomenon.