Hip-hop’s rise to the top of fashion

by The Insights

Hip-hop lyrics have long declared the importance of fashion in the genre. In 1992, Mary J Blige released What’s the 411? as part of her debut album of the same name. The single featured a rap by Maxwell Dixon that explicitly shouts out the US designer Tommy Hilfiger. “It was epic,” Hilfiger tells BBC Culture. “He was co-signing the brand, and it gave us credibility.” In the hip hop world, co-signing is when a usually successful artist endorses or supports another artist.

Then came a Saturday Night Live TV performance by Snoop Dogg in March 1994. Hilfiger recalls: “Snoop broadcast the brand to the world, wearing a red, white and blue striped rugby [shirt] with ‘Tommy’ emblazoned across the chest on SNL.” While Snoop Dogg’s outfit doesn’t appear out of the ordinary today, for many viewers at the time, it would have been the first sighting of a hip hop artist wearing Tommy Hilfiger, a brand now strongly associated with the genre. “Our designs had bold, bright colours, oversized silhouettes, and a playful prep vibe –  they captured hip-hop’s relaxed energy,” says Hilfiger. “It was real and so much fun. We wanted to continue working with these exciting artists, so we started dressing stars of the time, including Puff Daddy, TLC, Destiny’s Child and Wu-Tang.”

For women, much of early hip-hop style came from re-working men’s clothes, and in 1997 US hip-hop artist Aaliyah starred in a Tommy Hilfiger fashion campaign wearing low-rise jeans with a pair of the designer’s boxers peeking out and a men’s shirt cut into a bandeau top. “She made it tomboy sexy,” Andy Hilfiger, brother and business partner of Tommy, tells BBC Culture. “Still to this day, people are dressing like that.”

Preppy affluence

But there is more to the appeal of brands like Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren than just how the clothes looked. It was that they were associated with preppiness and affluence. According to Elena Romero, co-curator of a recent Fashion Institute of Technology exhibition, Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip Hop, part of hip hop’s attraction to luxury brands is aspirational. “That goes back to [hip hop’s] early roots, where so much of [luxury fashion] seemed so unattainable, and thus it was a status symbol,” she tells BBC Culture. Hip-hop artists and their fans were from multicultural working-class neighbourhoods who would be unable to easily afford luxury brands. “The whole idea of being on yachts and caviar dreams, those were lifestyles we had no access to,” Romero says, explaining that she grew up with hip hop herself. “And the celebrities of our community became our superheroes, who made it possible for us to see ourselves in that space and beyond.”

You may also like

Leave a Comment

About Us

The Insights is a top leading multimedia news magazine curating a variety of topics and providing the latest news and insights.

Editors' Picks


Subscribe my Newsletter for new blog posts, tips & new photos. Let's stay updated!

@2021 – All Right Reserved. Designed and Developed by our team