Since the 1980s, hip hop music has increased in popularity, making its mark on every aspect of pop culture. One of the areas where hip hop has had a heavy influence is the world of fashion. Fashion was once ruled by an untouchable elite, where designers and high end brands were seen as larger than life. While some designers still hold that mystique, they are now approachable and are influenced by those outside of their primary demographic, including hip hop artists and fans.
In the 1980s, the Adidas shell shoe became synonymous with hip hop thanks to the group Run DMC. This was one of the first ways the hip hop community embraced a clothing piece not intended for them and re-created it as the “It” item for fans. This led to the first hip hop endorsement for a major corporation. Adidas reportedly paid Run DMC $1 million for the deal.
From there, hip hop’s influence in fashion continued to grow with corporations, and later with hip hop artists creating their own fashion labels. Thick gold jewelry was adopted, as were Kangol bucket hats and large eyeglasses.
In 1984, Michael Jordan and Nike collaborated to create the Air Jordan basketball shoe. These shoes would become the most sought-after accessory since the Hermes Birkin. While the price point was high ($100 at the time), it did not stop young men from lining up for days before their release to land a pair of the coveted shoes. Nike still sells the Air Jordan in droves, and releases retro versions of the sneaker that sell out in hours across the globe.
Pioneering hip hop producer Russell Simmons realized the hip hop community was embracing clothing from classic American designers like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger. Men would buy clothes a few sizes too big, to mimic the baggy silhouette rappers were known for both on and offstage. Simmons capitalized on this trend by creating Phat Farm clothing, the first hip hop clothing label. This revolutionized the fashion world, and many would follow in his footsteps, including Sean “Diddy” Combs and rappers Nelly and 50 Cent.
By the mid 1990s, hip hop became a facet of pop culture just like rock or pop music. The hip hop vibe was known worldwide, and the look was emulated by kids in the inner cities of America, as well as on the streets of Paris and Tokyo. Like all trends, fashion starts in the streets. Designers took note of this and began adding a dose of hip hop to high end collections, such as the 1991 Chanel collection, where Karl Lagerfeld showed piles of gold jewelry on models.
While hip hop grew larger, so did the artists’ bank accounts. Hip hop artists moved on from Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger to high end designers such as Chanel and Burberry. This look became known as “ghetto fabulous,” and is often used to describe over-the-top glamor. While the brands used to create this look may not be attainable by all, the style certainly is. The term “bling-bling” became synonymous with glittering diamonds or fine metal jewelry that makes a bold statement.