Urban Apparel

Kids and Their Baggy Pants -- The Roots of Streetwear

The oversized, baggy pants and logo-emblazoned sports jackets that not so long ago marked kids as members of street gangs are now commonplace among suburban youth – it’s part of the “urban apparel” trend that experts say is becoming more mainstream every day.

Gang roots inspire fashion

While kids from New York’s inner city to California’s most affluent suburbs believe they’re on the cutting edge of fashion-forward “gangsta” wear, the style has its roots in hip hop fashion of the 1970's. It gained popularity in the 1980's, when huge "doorknocker" earrings, gold chain and name-brand sneakers were sported by performers like Run-DMC and Public Enemy. Popular rappers like Will Smith, Kid 'n Play, and TLC pioneered the wearing of sideways baseball caps, neon colors and even wearing some items of clothing inside-out or backwards.

With gangsta rap gaining in popularity and crossing into mainstream radio play in the ear;y 90's, urban apparel began to infiltrate the culture. Today’s hip hop fashions – most notably baggy pants and shirts with prominent logos – were first worn by Chicano gang members and hip hop artists on the West Coast. Along with gang hand signs, black ink tattoos and the now-cliché "homeboy" attitude was picked by African-American youth, first in Los Angeles and then across the United States. The baggy pants so often seen in urban apparel, worn beltless and hanging down below the hips, are a tribute to prison clothing, as inmates’ belts are usually confiscated.

Hallmarks of urban apparel popularized in the 1990's included hooded sweatshirts (“hoodies”), military jackets and fatigues, para-military and hiking boots, especially among East Coast youth. The L.A. contingent featured oversized flannel and Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars, as well as flashy “grills” (false front teeth crafted from gold and precious gems).

The streamlining of urban apparel

Urban apparel today is becoming less flashier, and more tailored. The logos and “bling” are less prominent, and the silhouette is changing from big and bulky to more body-conscious sportswear. Current hip hop fashions – worn as much by middle class Whites as by urban Black youths – is a fantasy ideal of streetwear. Produced by big name designers, sometimes with famous names like Sean “P. Diddy” Combs attached, carry big price tags. The fashion essentials of the look are still the baggy pants worn low on the hips, work boots or sneakers, and a bandanna (or “do-rag”) tied around the head, sometimes topped by a cap.

Urban apparel, once the inexpensive province of financially challenged urban youth, is a booming fashion industry. In addition to name-brand clothing from Converse, Dickies, Nike and other major brands, a number of smaller fashion labels have cropped up that cater directly to the urban apparel market. Some are fronted by famous hip-hop names like Russell Simmons (Phat Farm), Eminem (Shady Ltd), 50 Cent and G-Unit (G-Unit Clothing) and OutKast (OutKast Clothing). Others are wildly popular labels in their own right, like FUBU, Ecko, and Akademiks. With the increased ease of doing business via the Internet, online retailers have begun selling directly to the urban market, and chains of franchise clothing stores with names like Street Rags and Urban Apparel have cropped up around the country.

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