What Is Hip Hop Style?

Marco Sumayao

Hip hop style is a fashion style first popularized by the emerging hip hop culture in the early 1980s. The look is characterized by strong urban influences, often typified in baggy pants, oversized shirts, and baseball caps. Flashy jewelry, known colloquially as "bling", is another key element in hip hop style, helping create a luxurious street look often referred to as "ghetto fabulous." The style went mainstream when sportswear brands began to associate themselves with hip hop culture, and it became a trend for rap artists to start clothing lines of their own.

Some rap artists have started their own clothing lines.
Some rap artists have started their own clothing lines.

The late 1970s saw an emergence of rap and hip hop. During this period, fans of these musicians started copying the artists’ look. This came to a head in the 1980s, when followers of the more popular hip hop icons co-opted the musicians’ style by wearing brightly-colored tracksuits, bomber jackets, and sneakers. The early 1990s ushered in baseball caps and sports jerseys, as well as hip hop style trends for women. Female hip hop artists started wearing sports bras under oversized shirts as their own brand of femininity.

Along with the rise of hip hop, the popularity of the cassette peaked in the 1980s and 1990s.
Along with the rise of hip hop, the popularity of the cassette peaked in the 1980s and 1990s.

Sportswear’s influence on hip hop style grew in the mid to late 1990s, when artists started wearing aspirational sportswear brands. Designer Tommy Hilfiger was among the first to bridge the gap between classic preppy and urban style. Instead of ignoring the hip hop community like many designers did, he created baggy clothing in bright colors and courted the most popular hip hop artists. Hilfiger became a household name in hip hop style when rapper Snoop Dogg performed on live television dressed in his clothing.

Diamonds are referred to in hip-hop culture as "ice."
Diamonds are referred to in hip-hop culture as "ice."

At this time, jewelry culture became a prominent part of hip hop style. The word “bling” refers to ostentatious and elaborate jewelry worn by hip hop artists or installed onto their tooth caps and mobile phones. In the 1990s, the bling of choice was gold jewelry, but platinum took over in the middle of the decade. Diamonds, referred to by many hip hop culture proponents as "ice," are another popular accent in many individuals’ accessories.

Hip hop artists continue to influence hip hop style as much as they did in the 1980s. The most notable trend in the last decade is Kanye West’s revival of the shutter shades, colorful plastic sunglasses whose lenses are replaced by a “shutter” motif. Many artists, such as Eminem, 50-Cent, and P. Diddy, have also opened their own clothing labels and have been met with favorable commercial success.

Brands identified as part of the hip hop style have expanded their shoe offerings to include all types of shoes.
Brands identified as part of the hip hop style have expanded their shoe offerings to include all types of shoes.

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Discussion Comments


@kylee07drg - I do think there will be some interesting changes in the coming years that go along with this culture.

It seems like clothing styles are ever changing, and I see this as being no different. There is a hip hop boutique in one of the malls close to me.

I know many of the junior high kids love to shop there and hang out there. Even the girls love anything that has some "bling" on it. They don't care if it is fake or not, they just love how it looks and what it represents.

This shop seems to do a good job of keeping up with the current and most popular styles. As this particular industry continues to grow and evolve, it will be interesting to show what changes it brings.


@Mykol - Today there is a lot more to this style of clothing than the baggy pants. You don't have to look very hard to see everything from hip hop jewelry to hip hop clothes in just about any clothing store geared towards kids.

It seems like kids wearing this style keep getting younger and younger. Even though I never really enjoyed listening to hip hop or rap, I liked to wear Tommy Hilfiger brand clothes.

I think it was the comfortable style and the bright colors that appealed to me. They were some of the most comfortable clothes I had, yet didn't give the same impression as some of the other hip hop style of clothes some people wore.


I was in high school when hip hop started becoming really popular. My brothers really enjoyed this style of music and wanted to wear some of the hip hop style of clothes.

This is when this style was not nearly as well accepted or as mainstream as it is today. Kids who were seen wearing the baggy jeans with their underwear showing were not looked on very favorably.

My dad put a quick stop to my brothers wearing this style of clothing. They continued to listen to the music, and still like this style of music today. It will be interesting to see the clothing styles their kids will choose to wear as they get a little older.


The brightly colored hip hop clothing of the late 80s and early 90s was so entertaining. It was never boring, and it definitely would get the person wearing it lots of attention.

I think that the hip hop style of the late 90s and 2000s is not nearly as interesting. It seemed to go drab. I remember bright jackets with shoulder pads and genie pants giving way to huge t-shirts and saggy jeans, and I remember being disappointed.

I wonder what the coming decade will bring to hip hop style. Who thinks we are in for a major change?


I always thought that hip hop clothing included the tight, revealing garments worn by many women in hip hop videos. Am I wrong?

I guess I just associate skimpy clothing with dancers in many rap videos. I suppose it isn't really hip hop style, since pop and even country artists might easily wear the same thing without any identifying meaning behind it.

I was wearing a tight, silky olive-green pair of low-rise capris that gathered at the hem with a ribbon, and a couple of people told me they looked “so hip hop.” I suppose I'm not the only one with this misconception.


@Perdido – I also love baggy clothes. I like to sleep in those big shirts, and I have a few hip hop bandanas that I wear to keep my hair out of my face.

I don't just wear them at home, though. I wear them out grocery shopping or walking in the park.

Hip hop clothing just feels more real to me than tight jeans and tops. I feel like it represents my laid back style, and I feel more true to who I am when I'm wearing it.

When it comes to the bling, mine is costume jewelry, but it looks like the real thing. I especially love big hoop earrings made of chunky metal that looks like gold.


Though I don't listen to hip hop music, I actually like the clothing style. I hate restrictive, tight clothing, and the looseness of many hip hop garments is so comfortable.

I must admit that I do buy the baggy pants a few sizes too small so that they don't actually sag. They still fit loosely enough to be comfy, but I don't have to worry about them falling off my behind.

I love the oversized shirts. I could lounge around in them all day, and I often do. I wear them while I'm doing yard work, because air can circulate through the big arm holes and around the hem very well.


@allenJo - Everyone needs to chill out. Hip hop, both its music and its fashion, has actually gone more mainstream than it has ever been. That’s ironic, because it was kind of an antiestablishment genre to begin with, and now it has melded very much with the music establishment.

I would argue that hip hop music is more accessible now to more people than it was twenty years ago. You don’t go out and establish your own clothing line without becoming somewhat establishment in your thinking in my opinion. The examples you cite about lyrics and fashion are really the extreme examples.


@NathanG - What’s with the baggy pants in hip hop fashion? Is this supposed to be a statement of some sort? If it is, I’d like to know what it is.

Our town passed an ordinance strictly forbidding baggy pants that revealed your underwear. Still in some parts of town I see people who don’t follow the ordinance. One kid was literally running down the street the other day practically holding up his pants as he ran. I could see his red underwear and everything!


@MrMoody - Well, hip hop music has a big following. I guess it’s not for you but I wouldn’t judge it. Many people tune into it because it does reflect what they’re going through.

They don’t turn to music for hope. They want to know that someone out there understands their world and can relate to it, down to the clothes that they wear.

Some people call it the music of the ghetto experience and that experience is not shared by everyone. It’s not for me, either, but it is what it is.


I am not a fan of urban hip hop or rap. Honestly I couldn’t tell you the difference between the two even if there is one. I don’t like the edgy, raw quality to the music.

Rap and hip hop are often implicated for their violent, profane lyrics. I realize that some people say that this is a reflection of the real world, the way life is “on the street,” but somehow I thought it was the role of music to lift people up out of the muck and mire and squalor that they find themselves in.

Music is supposed to give people a picture of a better tomorrow. Perhaps I am too idealistic or I live in the 1950s or something. It’s just not for me.

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