The fall essential with an adventurous backstory
School is back in session all over America. On college campuses everywhere, students are smashing the snooze button on their iPhone alarms multiple times only to realize they now have ten minutes to get to 8 a.m. class. There’s no time for a shower or a scene-stealing fashion statement. There definitely isn’t time for breakfast. But there is time to grab an oversized hoodie and throw it on with a pair of gym shorts or jeans. For lots of young adults, the hoodie is nothing more than a symbol of lazy style. An easy answer to that early morning question of what to wear. A sartorial suppressant for fashion anxiety. An abhorrent eye sore for guys who pride themselves on dressing for the occasion every time-even if it’s just to struggle through a boring prerequisite course. However, the hoodie is so much more than a slacker uniform.
For some, it’s the official announcement of the counterculture-a beacon of defiance. For the uninformed, it’s a mandatory part of the streetwear tuxedo. For others, it’s a painful reminder of cultural injustice.
“R.I.P. Trayvon, that n***a look just like me,” Frank Ocean sings on “Nikes”, the lead single from his blockbuster new album, Blonde. It’s a striking lyric. To think that a wildly famous singer with a number one album is still vulnerable to the circumstances that claimed Trayvon Martin’s life is disturbing. In the video, the now iconic photo of Trayvon in a hoodie accompanies the emotional stanza. It’s the hoodie that played a factor in the loss of his life. It’s the hoodie that went on to become a national symbol for the strained race relations of America. It’s the hoodie that some will never look at the same way again.
The hoodie isn’t just some heavy cotton sweatshirt that keeps you warm on chilly morning walks across campus. It packs in so much history-much more than any other piece of menswear. Perhaps, that’s because it’s history is still being written each day. The beginnings of most menswear pieces harken back to the Middle Ages. Not only was the hoodie created later, but its emotional layers have only been further crafted in the last few years. Trayvon’s death was in early 2012. The history of the hoodie continues to be a conflicted one but it’s a story that continues to unfold with each passing day.
The garment of ‘Champions’
The official first hooded sweatshirt in the United States was produced back in the 1930s by Champion. According to the hoodie’s official Wikipedia page, the first incarnation was marketed as a warmth solution for workers in historically frigid upstate New York. Laborers in cold storage warehouses as well as tree surgeons immediately benefited. The hoodies were thought to be more effective than long underwear. It was also marketed to athletes who also encountered the harsh elements. Football players and track stars wore them on the sidelines to stay warm.
Hoodies first started to move beyond basic function when the athletes started to gift them to their girlfriends. Soon, boys and girls alike were wearing them. High schools across the United States became the petri dish for this new style experiment and it caught on big time.
During the seventies, the hoodie started to take on more social importance. Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky film debuted. The hoodie was prominently featured and became the ultimate masculine symbol not only for athletes but for all people who were battling the odds. The scene of Stallone sprinting up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art is one that’s still mimicked to this day. No matter where the scenes are filmed, they always include that iconic grey hoodie.
Also in the seventies, hoodies became the uniform of choice for popular graffiti artists who wanted to go unnoticed. Their work was illegal, and they wanted to make big statements without getting into big trouble. The hoodie was a simplistic garment that allowed them to move throughout the night without being detected. As hip hop culture started to grow on the streets of New York City, the hoodie also became a favorite piece of break dancers who wanted to keep their bodies warmed up before getting into intense routines.
Like any craze, hoodies were adopted by the bad kids too. Groups of young muggers referred to as “stick up kids” used them to hide their identities. It was a surefire way to keep victims from seeing their faces.
But it wasn’t just hip hop culture that latched onto the hoodie. California skate culture is often credited as one of the birthplaces of streetwear. The hoodie is no exception to that rule. Around the time that graffiti artists and break dancers were tossing them on, so were skaters. Rebellious boys known as the Z-Boys had to get creative about where to skate. Long before skate parks were the norm, hollowed swimming pools were the venue of choice for these guys. However, these weren’t public spaces. They were often breaking and entering. Because of this, hoodies were a great way to mask their identities so they could get away without being recognized.
But it wasn’t until the eighties that the hoodie started to traverse popular culture.
Street Gets Sweet
In the nineties, hip hop was raw and unhinged. Think Wu-Tang Clan and their classic album Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The cover is unnerving. The entire rap collective is pictured in black hoodies emblazoned with their signature yellow Wu-Tang Clan logo. Their faces are covered with white cloths that leave no space for eye or mouth holes. Here, the hoodie represents the culture of New York’s toughest neighborhoods. It’s a brooding reminder of the realities of street life. It’s also an announcement of a golden era in hip hop. The hoodie, more than ever, is still a part of the counterculture; its most recognizable symbol.
But it isn’t long before mainstream designers realize how impactful the hoodie is. Thanks to designers like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, the hoodie was repackaged and introduced to the fashion buying public as a prep staple. It was a move to capitalize on an item they knew would be a sure shot at the register.
Even Versace and Gucci followed suit with high-end recreations of the popular sweatshirt. The hoodie was fashion’s latest cash cow. It went from a functional staple to a defiant culture statement to a couture canvas. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also famously wore the hoodie to high-profile appearances despite running one of the world’s most successful businesses. But just because everyone was cashing in didn’t mean its image was cleaned up.
In a controversial move, the NBA banned players from wearing hoodies in 2005. After Trayvon Martin’s 2012 death, former controversial talk show host Geraldo Rivera urged minority teens and men to avoid wearing hoodies. He shared that the wearing of hoodies was a primary factor in social profiling. As recent as 2015, Oklahoma state representative Don Barrington proposed a bill that sought to criminalize wearing a hoodie.
Hoodie As Social Double Entendre
Vêtements has emerged as the most buzzworthy fashion label of the last five years. The label’s name simply means ‘clothing’ in French. As part of its design aesthetic, the fledgling design house has taken streetwear staples, stretched out or altered recognizable logos, and stretched out the clothing to exaggerated proportions. Among its many simplistic yet eye-catching designs is a black cotton-blend hoodie that retails for $1265.
Despite the shocking price tag, Vêtements has become a go-to label for the fashion hipster. And this is because it celebrates a silhouette and style of kids who exist outside of neatly tailored collections. It’s streetwear for the upscale set. And it’s also irony. To see a symbol of cultural defiance become one of sartorial defiance is a strange phenomenon. For rappers who were claiming space in the music industry, skaters who were searching for a safe space to hone their skills, graffiti artists who were seeking to make statements without being punished-they were fighting real battles. It’s telling of modern times that the hoodie has become both a fixture on the frontlines of modern civil rights and a high-ticket entry on the fixtures of Barney’s.
In a way, the hoodie now represents all of its complicated history at once. On one hand, wearing one now automatically enters you into a social debate. You could be unintentionally advocating for causes that you aren’t well versed in. You could also be mistaken as part of the off-kilter fashion elite. The hoodie seems to be perpetually stuck in its teenage years-saddled between angst, activism, and commerce.
The Hoodie’s Evolution
We firmly believe that the hoodie can take on whatever meaning you want it to. But regardless of what you choose, our hoodies will fit into your lifestyle with ease and style. Our styles range from a mix of basic solids to striking designs with social implications. Our designs acknowledge the hoodie’s complicated history while still building upon it.
Take for instance the Black White Longline Hoodie with High Low Hem. The hoodie features the word ‘BLACK’ in blocked, black letters printed against a background of a city street map that looks as though it’s been zapped by an X-ray machine. Beneath it, the word ‘WHITE’ is printed upside down against a black background. The short sleeves and part of the torso are decorated with a splattered black and white design. The lower third of the torso is colorblocked in solid black. The hoodie is so much more than a way to stay warm. It’s a conversation piece-a winking nod to the social conversation that hoodies bring about.
We also offer marled hoodies in short and long-sleeve styles, solid hoodies, and hoodies with metallic flourishes like our Danger Print Longline Short Sleeve Hoodie and Ripped Zip Longline Short Sleeve Hoodie.
If you’re going to be a part of the social conversation, it’s important to do so in style.
Despite the hoodie’s storied history and reemergence as a controversial garment in the 2010s, it continues to reign as an accessible streetwear necessity. Sure, there are criminals out there who wear hoodies to conceal their identities. With any item, there will be people who misuse them and find less than savory reasons to incorporate them into a look. But every criminal that’s ever worn a hoodie has also worn jeans or joggers. No one has called for a ban on denim or sweatpants. Instead of focusing negative implications on the hoodie, we should embrace it and recognize it as an industry veteran with an almost 100-year history.
College kids, soccer moms, and celebrities rock them proudly. Mr. Robot, the USA Network drama that currently has six Emmy nominations, wardrobes its lead character in a signature black hoodie. Yes, Elliot is a hacker who has helped pull off one of the most devastating hacks in global history. But at the core of the show, he’s a fragile human being that uses his hoodie as a cloak with superhuman capability. He’s the show’s Superman. His hoodie is the red cape. In the context of Mr. Robot’s dark and stormy New York City, the hoodie is an indication of intelligence, imperfection, and empathy. When you see a character in a hoodie on the show, it’s someone you should be rooting for.
Like Elliot, we should all be rooting for the hoodie to continue its dominance. It’ll be interesting to see how its trajectory plays out now in a post-Trayvon world. Will it continue to be the face of the counterculture? Will there be a new movement that brings it back to the forefront of national discussion? Will it continue to serve as the main course on a platter of constantly rotating streetwear trends?
Something tells us the hoodie isn’t going anywhere. After almost 100 years in the game, it’s still sparking controversy and igniting the ire of politicians. The hoodie is that rebellious teen that seamlessly captures your attention even though it doesn’t want it. It’s that conflict-that paradox-that will keep the hoodie in stores and on our backs for years to come.