America Is Going Street

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America is Going Street

Fashion Report by Dorothy Chan and Kendra Bartell 

America is going street. Miley has moved her address from sweet pop Nashville to twerk hip-hop queen with grillz and a Jordan swimsuit to match. Beyonce and Jay-Z are music’s it couple. Rihanna is dominating both the billboard and fashion charts with her provocative lyrics and her even more provocative outfits. Pictures of grillz are dominating tumblr. Yes, hip-hop has officially become the influence of our generation—it’s the byproduct of America, from our music to our fashion to our lifestyles. As Pharrell Williams puts it, we’re “injecting dressed-up luxury into hip-hop style and thereby influencing a new generation of guys to consider more than just a pair of baggy jeans a reflection of their youthful vitality.”

Streetwear has become the trend for at least a few seasons now. Since Givenchy debuted its Rottweiler sweatshirt (tee version available here), high fashion has been going from couture to street and back and forth. Today, brands such as Givenchy, Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto, and Marc Jacobs dominate the runways. These brands have a casual, yet high end, tough yet effortless vibe to them. Black is in more than ever. Leather is in more than ever. Sweatshirts, bomber jackets, sneakers, beanies, and snapbacks are back in. It’s the 90s + hip-hop + couture + an x factor of fashion. What’s behind the resurgence of these styles?

We’ve all seen the couture outfits debuted on runways, but how does the presentation of high-end designs actually influence our lives? Streetwear in Asia and America is a global phenomenon. The terms streetwear and street fashion are generally used to chronicle what everyday people wear on a regular basis. Streetwear started from the surf culture of the 1970s, and was further influenced by skate culture, hip-hop and Japanese fashion  It’s about looking tough rather than preppy and polished on the streets. There’s also an unabashed element of color. In summary, it’s not “stiff.” Here are a few examples, and please note that streetwear is also big in Asia.

If Comme des Garçons and Bape are breaking the bank, you might want to try cheaper options. Luckily, high street stores such as River Island and Urban Outfitters are offering plenty of alternatives. In fact, streetwear’s influence seems to have climbed up the ladder of social importance so high that it’s now entering the trickle down phase. Popular clothing store Forever 21, known for its cheap imitations of high fashion lines, has been upping its streetwear game, seemingly imitating all it can get its hand on. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing—girls on a budget want nice digs, too—but it is an interesting phenomena. Streetwear was once actually associated with people on the street, the cultures we like to ignore and look over—the minority culture white America tries so hard to distance itself from. What does it mean that now, one of the major shopping stores for middle-white America is producing affordable streetwear (with a majority of white models)? Is it appropriation for Forever 21 to sell “Lounge easy sweatpants” that are almost a direct knockoff of Rihanna’s River Island Collection’s “Embossed Leather Pants” only a little comfier? What does it say about our culture and the way streetwear has entered high fashion’s consciousness now that Rihanna has designed a major line that is already almost all sold out online?

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Rihanna’s River Island Collection is an interesting case study in the proliferation of high-fashion streetwear. River Island is a London based high-street store with a number of worldwide markets. Its physical stores are mostly in Europe, but thanks to the world wide web, we can purchase their clothes all over the world. Rihanna’s line, however, seems to know who its audience is. It’s not just those normal high-fashion customers, its also her biggest fans, who may not necessarily be the wealthiest fans. Her line offers a range of price points. A majority of the “bigger” items, that is, the maxi dress, the leather pants, are in the $300 range, but there are also some affordable prices. The Midi Skirt is only $100, and the Stripe Cropped Sweater is only $87. While these are not Forever 21 prices, they’re not fashion house prices either. Rihanna herself is doing a great job of marketing this streetwear collection to those who wouldn’t have known it was a phenomenon–that is, her more sheltered fans. Those who follow Rihanna on instagram and twitter, however, cannot escape the pictures of her dressed in her own collection items, taking advantage of the marketing opportunity. It worked, though, and a lot of modestly priced items are already sold out online, with the option to try and find it in stores.

Another retail giant to middle-class mainstream American markets is the ubiquitous Urban Outfitters. They are taking a similar marketing strategy to Rihanna and River Island, but seek middle line prices. The general consensus is that Urban is a bit “classier” and better made than Forever 21, so their primary market are people who care about the quality of their clothes a little more and are willing to shell out a bit more dough for the name connotations. Their tactic is to seem better put together and appeal to price/ vs. quality concerned consumers. However, their basic pattern is the same: sell streetwear to the people. They sell a similar Army Pant to what Rihanna is selling, but at the modest price of $59 (here). They even have a whole tab dedicated to hoodies and sweatshirts, bordering the line between streetwear and “high” fashion. Some hoodies are dedicated to repping cities (See Chicago, New York), while others are mixed materials of lace and jersey.

Women remain the main consumers of the fashion industry, so while streetwear has its masculine appeal, the job of fashion houses and high street brands is to make it appealing to women. How or why exactly is streetwear appealing to the contemporary fashionista? The biggest fashion icons in history (think Audrey Hepburn and Princess Di) were known for their feminine style. But today, tomboy is in. Perhaps as the image of the independent woman is solidifying, fashion is changing with it. If men can dress as dandies, women can dress as tomboys—it’s a fun balance of the masculine and feminine in everyone.

Besides, some of the most influential women in fashion are embracing the whole tomboy chic/streetwear trend. Model of the moment Cara Delevingne (check out her instagram) is a self-proclaimed tomboy who plays the drums and gets tattoo after tattoo. She also recently opened up about her dating life, “I’m done with boys, they’re so annoying, all they care about is their willies. I want to behave more like a boy,” she says.

Like her friend Cara Jourdan Dunn, another popular model, is embracing the streetwear trend. Check out Cara and Jourdan cooking in onesies and Brian Lichtenberg (the guy who mocks designers with his famed Homies sweatshirt) here—a perfect mix of feminine activity and tomboy streetwear.

Supermodels aren’t the only ones sporting this trend. Fashion bloggers are emulating streetwear and tomboy chic as well. Jane Aldridge of Sea of Shoes is as well known for her 50s skirts as she is for her love of sweatshirts, leather, and menswear-inspired pieces. Top model judge and blogger, Bryanboy is also no stranger to Givenchy’s streetwear-inspired sweatshirts.

The proliferation of streetwear up and down the fashion markets poses a range of interesting questions about cultural appropriation in the fashion culture of America today. The wide-ranging options of price points one can shop at and still rock this major trend is just one piece of evidence that this streetwear fashion trend is here to stay. Racial and gender issues are no coincidence to the trends that are emerging with streetwear. After all, America is now a hip-hop embracing nation giving birth to independent girls and fashion-forward guys. Streetwear is the new “Think rich, look poor.”

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