Early Style in Hip Hop

The inventiveness, aspiration, and rebelliousness of hip hop is clearly evident in its earliest fashions.

Lars New York, man’s shearling jacket (1980)The Museum at FIT

Early hip hop style fused practicality with aspiration.

The combination of shearling jackets with tracksuits is an undeniably hip hop look that allowed b-boys and b-girls freedom of movement and warmth on the street.

Lars New York, man’s shearling jacket, c. 1980, USA, gift of Rebecca Pietri, 2021.10.2 with Fila black velour tracksuit, cotton and polyester, c. 2006, Germany, gift of Rebecca Pietri, 2022.66.1The Museum at FIT

Buying expensive shearling coats and leather jackets at a good price was a rite of passage for young hip hop fans who traveled downtown to market stalls on Delancey Street in Manhattan.

Adidas Superstar sneakers Adidas Superstar sneakers (1998)The Museum at FIT

Hip hop did more to popularize sneakers in American culture

than any other force. Run DMC rapped about Adidas shell toes in 1986 and became the first rap group with a million-dollar endorsement deal.

Nike, “Air Jordon” sneakers, leather and rubber, 1985, USA, gift of Nike, Inc. (1985)The Museum at FIT

Nike was as influential.

In 1985, basketball star Michael Jordan was among the first to have a branded men’s shoe. His popularity created a new relationship between fans—mostly young men—and fashion.

Concurrently, hip hop was an important cultural space for young men to experiment with style.

Nameplate belt buckle, brass, c. 1986, USA, gift of Elena Romero (1986)The Museum at FIT

Personalization is a key aspect of hip hop style.

Systematic oppression seeks to make marginalized young people invisible in American society, and this oppression was even more prevalent during the 1980s and 1990s.

Wearing substantial jewelry that literally spells out your name or showcases aspects of your personality, culture, and aspirations is a deliberate way to demand visibility and project your desires.

LIFE Photo Collection

Over the decades, as the culture spread to the rest of the world and as the hip hop generation grew up and passed the torch, hip hop style developed, diversifying while adopting, transforming, and setting mainstream trends.

Credits: Story

Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip Hop Style was on view at The Museum at FIT February - April 2023. It was curated by Elena Romero, assistant professor, Advertising and Marketing Communications, FIT, and Elizabeth Way, associate curator of costume, MFIT.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Beat by Beat
A short sampler of hip-hop history and culture
View theme
Google apps