When the Gray Lady speaks, people listen. In case you didn’t know, the Gray Lady is none other than the venerable New York Times. It is considered the newspaper of newspapers; the authority when it comes to hard news. Whether or not you agree with such assumptions, the Times says that streetwear is dead. Is it?
New York Times columnist Vanessa Friedman opined about the current state of streetwear in a piece published in early February 2022. In that piece, she recounted a prediction by late designer Virgil Abloh that streetwear would eventually die. Abloh insisted that streetwear’s time would eventually run out.
Friedman says his prediction has come true. Sort of. In her world, streetwear is not technically dead. It has simply merged with high fashion. Friedman believes that streetwear and high fashion are now one and the same. To use a sci-fi analogy, streetwear is to the fashion industry what Jean-Luc Picard was to the Borg Collective.
Streetwear’s Building Blocks
Coming to terms with the death – or assimilation, if you will – of streetwear begins by understanding its building blocks. Streetwear consists of articles of clothing we are all familiar with: T-shirts, sweatshirts, sneakers, sweatpants, etc. It is all the clothing our mothers told us not to wear to church. It is clothing that is generally not allowed in the office.
Streetwear was birthed from the counterculture of the 1960s. It was first observed in California among surfers who couldn’t bring themselves to wear anything formal. From the beaches of California, streetwear made its way into America’s urban centers. Tie-dyed shirts and Bermuda shorts gave way to band name T-shirts and coordinated sweatsuits.
By the time the 1990s turned into the 2000s, streetwear had become the clothing of choice for average Americans who made a point to buck the system. Wearing it was still a cultural statement back then. It is not anymore. Today, people prefer streetwear simply because it’s comfortable and easy.
It’s Now Fashion, Too
The world’s foremost fashion designers resisted streetwear for decades. They insisted on drawing a distinction between what people wore on the street and what they presented on the runway. But something happened along the way. Something caused the fashion industry to look at streetwear in a new light.
For instance, designers have started incorporating streetwear concepts into their new products. They have begun looking at what makes streetwear comfortable and implementing it. Most importantly, they are not afraid to let their creations look like streetwear in every sense.
In addition to the about face by big-name designers, we have also seen the emergence of boutique clothing brands whose entire inventories are based on the streetwear concept. New York’s Plurawl is a good example.
Plurawl makes high ticket items aimed at the LatinX community. They offer clothing, accessories, and artwork. As far as their clothing is concerned, almost all of it is streetwear. The bulk of the company’s inventory consists of T-shirts, sweatshirts, and LatinX hoodies.
The Fashion of the People
Reading Friedman’s piece all the way to the end reveals something quite interesting. Though she doesn’t come right out and say it, Friedman implies that streetwear has been absorbed by the fashion industry because it is the fashion of the people.
Fashion designers faced a cold financial reality at the start of the pandemic. Now they realize that, in order to continue selling clothes, they have to give people what they want instead of telling people what they should want. So in the end, it comes down to sales. Streetwear isn’t really dead. It has just overtaken high fashion through attrition.