What is Streetwear Clothing?

M.C. Huguelet

Streetwear clothing is notoriously difficult to define, even by those who wear it. This may be because, as its name suggests, streetwear is largely a grassroots fashion movement influenced by what is currently happening “on the streets,” and is thus constantly evolving. It is possible to isolate a few general principles of streetwear, however. First of all, it is usually centered upon casual, comfortable pieces such as jeans, t-shirts, baseball caps, and sneakers. It is also influenced by hip-hop and skateboarding styles as well as 1980s nostalgia, and often features bold colors, graphic prints, and retro designs and logos.

Jeans usually are streetwear clothing.
Jeans usually are streetwear clothing.

Many streetwear clothing enthusiasts hold that the movement emerged in the late 20th century as a reaction to mass-produced “mall” style. While it took some of its inspiration from existing hip-hop and skateboarding fashions, the early streetwear clothing movement also offered its participants a chance to express their individuality by adding light-hearted, quirky, or avant-garde pieces to the styles that preceded it. By creating their own looks, streetwear proponents felt they had established an alternative to “mall” fashion. It is perhaps ironic, then, that by the early 21st century, many mass-produced fashions had begun to display a distinct streetwear influence.

Streetwear clothing took some of its inspiration from existing skateboarding fashions.
Streetwear clothing took some of its inspiration from existing skateboarding fashions.

As the streetwear clothing movement is constantly evolving, it is difficult to catalog the specific pieces which belong to it. In general, however, streetwear style is often built around casual, comfortable basics such as jeans, t-shirts, baseball caps, and sneakers. In addition to skateboarding and hip-hop, streetwear clothing is often also influenced by 1980s nostalgia. Thus, streetwear pieces often feature bold graphic prints in Day-Glo colors and tongue-in-cheek retro logos. The sneakers favored by streetwear enthusiasts are often inspired by classic 1980s high-top designs.

Sneakers are associated with urban fashion.
Sneakers are associated with urban fashion.

Usually, streetwear fashion is thought of as a movement of the people that has no strict rules and is always changing. These democratic associations do not necessarily translate to affordable clothes, however. One of the core elements of streetwear clothing is limited- or collector’s-edition pieces, such as small-batch sneakers from major athletic wear manufacturers. Purchasing and wearing such difficult-to-obtain pieces helps streatwear clothing enthusiasts display individuality and avoid looking like a member of the masses. This route to individuality often comes with a hefty price tag, however, as special-edition sneakers, caps, and other pieces can cost $200 US Dollars (USD) or more.

Streetwear clothing may include large sunglasses.
Streetwear clothing may include large sunglasses.

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Discussion Comments


People, please don't pay a lot of money to buy "streetwear brands." There is no such thing! That's not what streetwear is supposed to be about.

The idea is to wear what you will feel comfortable in, at prices you can afford. Making a statement with your appearance doesn't and shouldn't require spending a lot!


I find streetwear clothing frustrating because there is so much variety in it. What is streetwear clothing for one person might not be for another.

I also see a huge difference between street styles in different regions. Urban streetwear is not the same as streetwear in a rural area. Streetwear also varies so much from country to country. The streetwear I saw in Europe is a lot different from the one in the US.

I've always thought of fashion trends as having specific characteristics. Of course, people will change them to some degree to express their individuality. But streetwear clothing doesn't seem to fit this idea much.

What do you guys think?


@anon293330-- You're right. That's why fashion keeps recycling old trends because new ones are difficult to come up with. We're seeing trends from 1950s-1960s re-entering the fashion industry these past couple of years.


All fashion, not just street, is constantly evolving and will eventually reach a point of saturation. It's an endless cycle.

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