Nerdy white girl wonders about hip-hop fashion and subcultural stereotypes.
July 24, 2009 10:37 AM   Subscribe

I am curious about different varieties of hip-hop style (basically, the kinds of things I see cool [mostly] black teenagers and young adults wearing). I'm interested in looking at pictures of it (are there street fashion blogs for this kind of thing?) and also in finding out more about the history, origins, and cultural associations of this kind of dress (anything from academic articles to fashion magazines).

Even information as simple as where one can buy this kind of clothing, or what you know or have noticed to be "cool" things to wear among the hip-hop set these days would be good to know. I'd also love to see any trendsetting music videos or whathaveyou that you can recommend.

I'm also interested in anything you can tell me about specific nuances of music or other cultural artifacts that have associations with different 'parts' of hip-hop culture. (I guess one thing I'm trying to hash out here is what the different 'parts' of hip-hop culture even are.)

I'm in Chicago, if there's anything specific to location that I should know about.

Things that I've noticed in particular and wouldn't mind knowing more about:

1: Men wearing outfits that match, completely. I saw a guy on the train the other day wearing a really cool hat/shirt/pants combination with a sort of macabre Jack the Ripper motif. (Is wearing clothing that matches signify anything special? Does one buy the whole outfit together, or is Jack the Ripper the logo of some particular line of clothing that I know nothing about?)

2: Women wearing clothing highlighted with intense neon colors.

3: Women wearing masculine clothing (wife beaters, baggy pants, do-rags, close-cropped hair or cornrows). (Are they lesbians? Tomboys? Some female analog to the banjee boy?)

4: Men with a hip-hop look sporting mohawks.

Aside from aesthetics (I really dig how a lot of this clothing looks, though I as a nerdy white girl could never get away with wearing most of it), a lot of my interest rises from my familiarity with the styles of dress associated with predominantly white subcultures and my apparent lack of familiarity with the styles of dress associated with black subcultures. I feel like I'm culturally literate enough to recognize the stereotypes that are being played with (or played to) when I see a kid with a mohawk and a leather jacket, a guy wearing a salmon pink polo shirt, a guy with a goatee and skinny jeans, or a girl wearing Birkenstocks and dreadlocks (to use some simplistic examples) - but I have no idea how to read similar signals from people who are part of 'scenes' that aren't dominated by whiteness. I can't even tell if the kinds of things I've described as "hip-hop style" in this question are part of the same 'scene' or not. In the world of subcultural stereotypes, would the guys with hip-hop mohawks hang out with the guys in matching outfits, or would that be as 'weird' as a skinhead hanging out with a hippy kid? (Note: I know that in the real world people hang out with all sorts of people - I'm just particularly curious about stereotypes at the moment.)
posted by bubukaba to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (13 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The best online retailer for "hiphop" clothing has to be Dr. Jay's, with karmaloop being a great place to get smaller, more exclusive brands. Dr Jays has a couple of sites that might be of interest to you: Live is a hiphop fashion blog and Street Style, a site where people upload pictures of themselves wearing outfits to be judged and rated by others.

Another resource I could recommend is "Just For Kicks", a documentary about sneaker collectors that talks a lot about the tenants of being "fresh".

A couple words in general about hiphopers who like to look "fly" (which isn't all of them, let's remember the grunge looks of the early 90s):
In the same way that looking like you don't care is important to scene kids, hip-hopers that like to look fresh are all about caring. Name brands, matching colors AND shades (if you wear a tan shirt, with your jeans, your tan shoes need to be the same shade). Everything needs to new or look new, freshly pressed or ironed. The shoes can't be scuffed, can't be last years model - they can be vintage, but that's it. If they're white, they need to be SHINING. A custom made, unique, name designer outfit worn only once would be the holy grail. That shows that the wearer cares about looking good, wants to stand out and can afford it.
posted by jedrek at 10:59 AM on July 24, 2009

Best answer: For corner hustlers in Philly right now it's all about True Religion jeans and Ed Hardy everything else. Last year it was all about hoodies with large pattern prints in either neon or gold; diamonds, dollar signs, etc.

3: Women wearing masculine clothing (wife beaters, baggy pants, do-rags, close-cropped hair or cornrows). (Are they lesbians? Tomboys? Some female analog to the banjee boy?)

I'm a social worker in the criminal justice system and we have probably close to ten gay women in our program who fit the Snoop character-type from the Wire pretty closely. Heavily tatted, cornrows or close cropped hair, Timbos or Chucks, Dickies mechanic outfits or wifebeaters and cut off jeans. Roughnecks who like to run with the boys out on the corners.

Note that none of the kids I come in contact with are hip hop afficiandos or anything, they're drug dealers who listen mostly to whatever club banger the radio stations are pushing at the moment.
posted by The Straightener at 11:07 AM on July 24, 2009

Best answer: Keep in mind that the blipster kids are generally listening to some hip-hop, but not the same kind, and generally are aware of and like non-hip-hop music as well.

Some hip hop musicians and dance DJs that are generally well appreciated in the indie-lovin' music community: anything from Quannum (Blackalicious, Lateef the Truth Speaker, Lifesavas), Madlib, J Dilla, anything on Fool's Gold records, Busy P, Sammy Bananas, Flosstradamus, Atmosphere, old faves like J5 and Hieroglyphics, Del The Funkee Homosapien, Deltron 3030, plus all the same shit the white kids are listening to

How to recognize a blipster: generally they look like they're made out of Legos.
posted by Juliet Banana at 11:34 AM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Back in the Days by Jamel Shabazz is a really great photographic essay on the roots of early B-Boy culture in NYC. In fact, his entire oeuvre is dedicated to that scene.
posted by cazoo at 12:58 PM on July 24, 2009

I live on the edge of the Austin neighborhood in Chicago. Drive down Madison and you will find about 10 billion shops dedicated to this type of clothing.
posted by desjardins at 1:04 PM on July 24, 2009

Best answer: Very broadly, there's a significant cultural divide in the hip-hop and urban communities. The classic hip-hop style (since the early-mid 90s) has been baggy jeans, matching t-shirt and sneakers and hat. There's a variety in there regionally and time-period-wise (ie: throwback jerseys five years ago, grittier work and outdoor clothes like timberland boots 15 years ago, etc), but the general aesthetic is built around that baggy-jeans look.

Hip-hop culture has over the past five-ten years slowly developed another parallel style. Think of how Pharrell dresses versus how say DMX dressed. Or even Jay-Z. The newer style is more fashion-conscious (that is, fashion-industry conscious) and informed by skater styles. There's plenty of crossover (sneaker obsession, for example), but the central conflict could be boiled down to baggy jeans vs. tight jeans. Kanye West, Pharrell, Lupe Fiasco, Drake, etc are all much more in the tight jeans camp. Not tight like punk rock tight (though "punk rock" is an urban fashion trend in the Bay Area, not meaning exactly the same as it would to the Ramones)... but tighter than super baggy.

A lot of styles that started in the tight jeans world have spread out over the broader style spectrum... neon, late-80s stuff that you might associate more with someone going to see MIA and Diplo or something was all over all-over-print sweatshirts a couple years ago. The lines are softening.

Tight pants have over the past couple years really gained ground on baggy pants... it used to be that tight pants was a self-conscious statement about oneself, distancing oneself from the urban mainstream. Now I'd say while it's still a statement, it's not that unusual anymore.

The central issue, I think, is that the urban community is fundamentally defining itself in opposition to the mainstream / hegemonic (ie: whiteness). So that's identity #1 for most hip-hop culture types. The other distinctions are usually secondary to that. Whereas for a white kid, their subcultural group is their primary distinction from the "mainstream," and they can get a haircut and become mainstream at their leisure.

As far as your other questions...

Yeah, there are plenty of women who dress in the style of thuggish men, and they're mostly lesbians, some even pass as men to the best of their ability. This culture has been going on for a long time.

People definitely buy their matching outfits as a set. Lots of t-shirts and fitted baseball caps are made specifically to match the color scheme of a certain sneaker (say red-black-white for classic Jordans). It's unusual for shoes, shirt and cap to come as a set, but not unheard of.
posted by YoungAmerican at 1:52 PM on July 24, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: YoungAmerican, do these different schools of style get called anything? Is there a name for the tight jeans look or the baggy jeans look or the lesbian thug look?
posted by bubukaba at 2:13 PM on July 24, 2009

The tight-jeans look sometimes gets called 'metro.' The baggy-jeans look sometimes gets called 'thug.' Uh, around here, at least.
posted by box at 2:21 PM on July 24, 2009

Piggyback if the OP doesn't mind: I seem to recall an FPP linking to a blog/forum that posted pictures of people wearing this style of clothing, allowing readers to comment. It was sort of the hip-hop version of the Sartorialist, I guess. Does anyone remember this?
posted by pravit at 2:51 PM on July 24, 2009

pravit: are you thinking of StreetStyle, as mentioned in the first comment?
posted by box at 2:55 PM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

box: that was it! I obviously didn't read the comments very carefully.
posted by pravit at 3:42 PM on July 24, 2009

The Fashion Bomb, for women's style

if you like veeerrrrryyy expensive sneakers, How to Dress Like Kanye West
posted by citron at 1:10 PM on July 25, 2009

(some background: i'm a bi white girl who lives in a predominantly african-american neighborhood, and who has attended nights geared to bi and lesbian women of mixed ethnicity.)

when i see a girl in wife beaters, baggy pants, do-rags, close-cropped hair or cornrows, etc... i definitely don't assume that she's a lesbian or even a tomboy. similarly, there plenty of women at dyke nights here who you'd be unlikely to look at and ever think "lesbian". they have long hair, makeup, dresses, heels, etc etc.

i'd say your best bet at discerning that regardless of the person's ethinicity is to look at their nails. although lesbians have long press-on nails in porn, few real life lesbians do. long nails hurt during penetration, and most dykes get their fingers involved during foreplay.

of course there are exceptions to this rule. gloves can be put over long fingernails to make it more comfortable, and plenty of straight women keep their fingernails short because it's more practical. but in general, if the person has fancy long fingernails, they're much less likely to be a lesbian.

my mostly-straight housemate wears baggy jeans, tank tops, sideways ball cap, etc... she's into hip hop and it's just her style.
posted by groovinkim at 12:36 AM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

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