90s hip-hop fashion emerged from the lifestyle of the people of the Bronx of New York. The decade of the 90s was defined by the massive culture of hip hop. Hip hop culture was the entirety of hip hop as a dance genre, a music genre and lastly a way of dressing. Hip-hop fashion was defined through the clothing worn by hip-hop artists.
Hip-hop culture was beyond individuals. The origin of hip hop as a fashion movement began in the 1970s. It began as a counterculture movement. In those times, the black community was marginalized. The hip-hop culture began with the same black community wearing big brands designed for the whites. It was a way of retaliation of every black person. The 90s hip-hop fashion adapted by the blacks was a way to move out of the societal constructs.
To understand the 90s hip-hop fashion, one must know the evolution of hip-hop or rap fashion. When it all began in 70s, the hip hop artists were a handful of DJs. Grandmaster Flash wore his expensive leather outfits and created his signature look.
With the hip-hop artists coming into the picture, the 80s witnessed the craze of bands such as ‘Run DMC’ and ‘LL Cool JJ’. Their signature looks consisted of wearing leisure tracksuits, Kangol hats, sneakers with oversized shoe laces along with chunky jewelry. The classic hip-hop style is defined by those looks.
The Cold Crush Brothers were a famous hip-hop group. They wore full suits and mink coats. There was a time when the groups wore all corduroy pieces.
Eventually, in 90s, the hip-hop artists channeled a big name streetwear and leisure wear brand Adidas in all their looks. Adidas was a personal favorite of the artists, and Run-DMC even rapped about it. Check out their track ‘My Adidas’ here.
Sneakers were an important part of their looks. It was 90s hip-hop fashion which was responsible for the introduction of sneakers as leisure wears. The shell-toed superstars were a fashion staple of the outfits of the group hip hop group ‘Run DMC.’
Later, in the late 90s, a dark side to the hip-hop culture was exposed. The infiltration of gangsta rap into the hip-hop culture corrupted the entire scene and made collaborations difficult. There were different rap artists or hip-hop artists that were caught abusing drugs leading to imprisonment.
The fashion trends coming out of these darker times were the trends of wearing oversized clothes, baggy or oversized jeans. The jeans were paired with baseball jersey. The trend of oversized clothing originated when the big brands refused to sell to ex-convicts, and hand me downs were circulated.
When the clients of the haute couture brands were turning into ex-convicts, the brands turned them down. Then as the rappers were always on the lookout for high fashion, Daniel was the one to come to the rescue.
Daniel “Dapper Dan” Day, a luxury knockoffs retailer, opened his atelier in 1982. His designs were worn by all the artists such as Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool J, and Biz Markie. He became popular for incorporating haute couture labels and silhouettes into streetwear.
Even though the knockoffs gave way to legal trouble, the genius of Dapper Dan was appreciated even by the same brands he was preparing knockoffs of. The Gucci-Dapper Dan collection, an official release of Gucci was launched in 2019.
Dapper Dan was quick to recognize the value of high fashion in the Bronx area. He was the first designer who had put the Louis Vuitton label on all varied items like caps instead of on purses. This took his customers in who wanted the high fashion label on items of everyday use as well.
The rappers found Dapper Dan to be a genius because of his fusion of black fashion and haute couture. Haute couture was recognized as a measure of status in the times.
At the same times, 90s hip-hop fashion included artists going gaga over luxe designer brands. The 90s hip-hop style was fashioned on the influence of disco parties at the same time. The minor communities such as blacks and the Latinos started having block parties of their own. Hence, the fascination for designer brands was started. In the hip-hop culture, one sign of success has always been always designer looks.
There were rappers such as 2Pac, P. Diddy, Notorious Biggie Smalls. Their high end outfits usually involved rappers ducked into suits, fedora hats, bowler hats. The measure of your success in black community became synonymous with the bigger your clothes, the better you are. With the advent of the big brands on scene, the rapper started rapping about the big designer brands. For example, Bruno Mars is still singing about Versace in ‘Versace On The Floor.’
With the black person embracing their nationalism, rappers such as Queen Latifah and KRS- One started dressing in the colors of nationalism movements which are red, yellow, black, and green.
1. Top 10 trends of 90s Hip Hop Fashion
1.1. Luxury Tracksuits
Luxury was a measure of success. The ease of tracksuits was something that was preferred by the B-boy crews and the hip hop dance crews. A luxury tracksuit was a raging trend of 90s hip-hop fashion.
Run- DMC, aka the Beatles of Hip Hop, where the hip hop crew donning active streetwear for their effortless performances with amazing dance routines.
Luxury tracksuits still continue to be the measure of someone’s success. Luxury Tracksuits, along with sneakers, are the go-to comfortable outfits today.
1.2. Oversized Clothes
In hip-hop fashion, clothes are always defined by attitude. Anything can be hip-hop fashion if worn with charisma and attitude. The oversized outfits developed out of the rappers’ ease with their uniforms in prison. Also, the oversized trend began with the hands me down.
These baggy clothes had no silhouette. However, there was a certain charisma to the t-shirts defined by the hip-hop culture.
The baggy clothes eventually made a place for themselves in the fashion scene. The baggy t-shirts were identified as iconic and symbolic hip hop t-shirts. One’s outfit could never go wrong while pairing denim jeans with baggy t-shirts.
Tupac and Eazy-E of N.W.A owned the style by pairing their jeans with oversized denim jackets for a coordinated look. Denim was another trend adopted in the 90s hip hop fashion.
1.3. Timberland boots
Timberland boots are considered a fashion staple today. All big and small names have worn them. The boots were originally designed for construction workers. The rappers of the 90s hip-hop scene were always embracing their origins and hustle. Hence, the timberland boots quickly became the uniform wear for the hip hop artists like Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. The boots have been donned by hip-hop stars such as Kanye West, and Rihanna.
1.4. The Bucket Hats
The Kangol hats were a big hit in the 90s scene. There are countless hip-hop videos of the 90s where we witness hats with the kangaroo logo regularly featuring on them.
The rapper’s buckets are coming back. The bucket hat became an iconic hip-hop fashion accessory only after Sugar Hill Gang’s Big Bank Hank wore a bucket hat in a video. Eventually, Run D.M.C and the likes of other rappers started wearing hats with the kangaroo logo on it.
Soon, LL Cool J added the bucket hat to his extensive headwear collection as the bucket hats gained popularity. Eventually, Kangol’s sales skyrocketed.
The 1990s rappers were also seen sporting Kangol bucket hats. Nowadays, rapper’s buckets are worn as a fashion accessory.
1.5. Double Denim
Guess Jeans, Versace, Moschino and Calvin Klein were leading the way in high-end, fashion-focused denim, until black owned labels Phat Farm and FUBU cemented denim and started their own production of mainstream fashion-focused denim. Eventually, replaced the designer denim brands.
Rappers such as Tupac, Eazy E and Jada Pinkett-Smith started acing the double denim look, opting for baggy jeans on the bottom and an even baggier shirt or jacket on the top to really make the look pop. The baggy t-shirts were often known as the hip-hop t-shirt.
The various hip-hop artists from Tupac to DMX, gave denim overalls a slight edge by wearing them without a shirt on underneath. Sometimes they were worn with one strap unbuckled. At a time, overalls were the classic outfits of only the farmers. However, the rappers did update its classic usage with a cultural edge. Tupac Shakur had his signature “THUG LIFE” motto patched on a pair of Carhartt. So, the denim overalls were another variety of denim popular in 90s.
The current fashion scene has also embraced the double-denim look. Pairing denim jeans with our oversized denim jacket is our go-to winter look. Is it not?
1.6. The Sneaker Culture (Jordans)
Countless artists have been collaborating with different sneaker brands. Recently, Kanye West collaborated with German activewear brand ‘Adidas’ to produce the Adidas Yeezy collection. Even though the collection includes apparel, Yeezy alludes mainly to footwear.
This trend began in 1980s when Nike started catering the black’ demand. The game of basketball took the black community. It was when in 1985 the legendary basketball player ‘Michael Jordan’ collaborated with Nike, the sneaker culture began. The sneakers were originally meant for the outdoors. However, the hip-hop fashion incorporated sneakers into the fashion trends. From then on, sneakers are worn for leisure in everyday lifestyle. The sneaker culture still continues.
To this day, sneaker enthusiasts and fans of Michael Jordan’s iconic style can be seen sporting their favorite pairs of Air Jordans, perfectly complemented by matching Jordan shirts from illCurrency, keeping the sneaker culture alive and thriving in the realm of fashion and everyday life.
1.7. Flower Power Movement
The 90s hip-hop fashion is defined by the flower power movement. Now, what is this movement? The trend is still relevant and can be understood through the example of Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay. Chris Martin has an eccentric style, with a t-shirt over full sleeved t-shirts and flower patches all over his jeans.
The movement was a means of expressing oneself and a sign of nonviolent resistance. Hence, Clothes adorned with flower patches became a widespread wardrobe staple.
1.8. Cargo Pants
Cargo pants were popular for a period in the 90s hip-hop fashion scene. The cargo pants are popularized to the numerous hip-hop videos featuring artists wearing them. They are also rightly called hip-hop pants.
The cargo pants were worn by artists such as the Spice Girls, Aaliyah, Tupac, and many more. The cargo pants were fashionable, oversized, baggy. All the trends of 90s hip hop fashion rolled into one outfit. Count us in! The pants were a lot practical as well. No matter the occasion, the hip-hop artists were decked in cargo pants. Whether it be the awards or anything, cargos were definitely worn.
1.9. Champion Hoodies
The collaboration had started with the advent of Air Jordans, and soon other players followed the same course. Leisurewear was also at the peak of its popularity with hip-hop artists constantly wearing the Adidas tracksuits. Both the trends rolled into one outfit formed the greatest sportswear apparel, ‘The Champion Hoodie.’ Throwback jerseys and Champion hoodies became a wardrobe staple in no time.
During the 90s hip-hop fashion scene, Champion was for the hardcore punk scene, but it was also similarly popular among jam band fans. After the 90s, the iconic activewear and hoodies with the branding were forgotten about.
However, there has been a recent revival of the iconic wardrobe staple. With the help of international collaborations, the brand has once again regained his earlier status.
Along with the classic champion hoodies and loungewear set, the baseball jersey replaced the high fashion. The minority communities, such as the black communities and Latino communities, had found their signature pieces in leisurewear with branding.
1.10. American Sportswear
The Tommy Hilfiger famous underwear set originates from the 90s fashion scene. During the 90s hip hop fashion, American brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren launched premium sportswear. Like always, this premium sportswear was soon embraced in the hip-hop scene.
Aaliyah loved the Tommy sets. Also, TLC and Destiny’s Child definitely aced their premium sportswear.
Before American brands like Ralph Lauren polo, the athleisurewear space was ruled by European brands like Adidas, PUMA, and FILA.
Athleisure has always been a big part of the hip-hop culture. There is a certain ease to the demeanor of the hip-hop artists. The same ease is reflected best through sportswear.
1.11. Bandana- or The Headwear
Hip hop began with the advent of gangs. The headwear that is the bandana is mistaken for normal fashion today. However, the origin story of the bandana would explain its roots in the dark eras of rap fashion.
The different colored bandanas were used to represent the gang the hip-hop artists affiliated with. The mixture between gangs and the Los Angeles hip hop scene has set the hip hop scene of the 80s. The bandanas were often found in the back pockets of baggy jeans or worn as headwear. Almost all the pictures of the 90s rappers were where they were often sporting their bandanas.
The hip-hop artists were proud of their affiliations with the darker side of their roots. However, it was mostly Tupac Shakur who made this fashion trend iconic. Tupac can be seen wearing a blue bandana. It is interesting to note that Tupac wore bandanas of all colors. His formal association was not with Bloods; he was affiliated with ‘Thug Life. For Tupac Shakur, the bandanas were only one of the fashion trends of the countless 90s trends.
Headwear such as bandanas, bucket hats, and starter caps have been around for a long time. However, their origins were in 90s hip-hop fashion scene.
1.12. Gold Chains
90s Hip hop fashion trends of chunky gold chains had a semantic influence on the hip-hop culture until now.
The gold chains have been a measure of the rappers’ success. The rappers of 90s hip hop had their origins in the poor neighborhoods of the Bronx. Hence, the gold chains were a measure of their journey rather than for aesthetic purposes.
Today, some aspiring rappers want to wear the same gold chains to show their success. However, they end up wearing an alternative to those gold chains.
These twelve fashion trends did stand out in the 90s. Some of these trends are still relevant and making a comeback. Some of these trends have matured into other trends. The 80s fashion was loud and boisterous. However, the 90s hip hop fashion was more or less casual, at ease, and effortlessly unique.