Fresh Dressed: A Countdown Of Iconic Hip-Hop Fashion Pt. 1
The documentary Fresh Dressed finally comes to Netflix later this month. An ode to hip-hop’s style, it traces rap’s origins back to the late seventies, and unravels its history through sneakers, chains, and bucket hats. The film promises to be just a bit more in depth than the “How to dress like a rapper” wikihow. We’re extremely excited, to say the least. So excited, in fact, that we have to take to the web to keep from exploding and splattering plastic chunks of Beats by Dre all over the place. We’re counting down the most iconic looks in hip-hop this month, leading up to the documentary’s December 16th release. It’s an ode to the ode, if you will.
If hip-hop is only just now reaching adulthood, then in the late seventies it was little more than a fourth grader. And like any proper child, it went through phases.
Playing Dress-Up with Funk
Hyped off the power of glam rock and black pride, early hip-hop took cues from its beautiful, coke snorting cousin: funk. Parliament and its descendants had spent the last decade wrapping audiences in warm embraces of rainbow glitter and neon dust. They held their hands like any good, equally high friend would, as a giant spacecraft descended from the stage revealing George Clinton, a silver spaceman of the year 2000. They reaffirmed that they weren’t witnessing this all alone. It was all happening in real time. Meanwhile, men in diapers and women in Zulu war paint threatened to tear off this “sucker.” They demanded the funk. They needed it.
On first glimpse, it seems to be a world totally removed from the sprawls of Brooklyn. White flight and economic turmoil had left New York broke but blacker than ever, and filled with a desire to express fully. Hip-hop was born here, out of that need.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five are iconic, not necessarily because their fashions stood the test of time, but because they represent many of hip hop’s ideals in that moment. They exuded sexiness as they knew it at the time: through bare chests and mulleted jerry curls, pressed hair and leather in every color and cut imaginable. They also took cues from the iconic tough guys of their time, the pimps and drug dealers and gangbangers who ran their hoods. They brought crime as well as culture, displaying a sort of success that was as flashy and exciting as it was dangerous. These were the people who could afford to experience all that life had to offer.
In other words, the goal was to be as flashy, unique, and kick ass as possible. Like the neighborhood drug man, but somehow even more exaggerated. But this was still ultimately funk’s thing, and soon it was time to put the feathered boas and sequined spanks away. Dress-up was over. And as the eighties flowered into full bloom amongst a garden of poverty, crime, and rampant drug use, hip-hop fashion would soon find it’s way.
“Three brothers, three stripes”
Run DMC are the ones who typically come to mind when we think about hip-hop style. They wore chains (not the earliest jewelry lovers, but certainly a notable entry), they wore sneakers, and they wore hats. Most importantly, they wore adidas. “My Adidas” was released in 1986 to wild acclaim. It was started by a simple idea: members Run, Jam Master Jay, and D.M.C. decided that they would rap about about their sneakers. But this wouldn’t just be some vain little rhyme that the critics could write off as a another sign of music’s decline.
B-boys and B-girls at the time were believed to have been little more than delinquents. The older generation feared them, as every generation fears the next one, because they represented something new and flashy, something they couldn’t quite comprehend. They were angry and full of possibilities, but negotiated dance battles to avoid the blood of other sorts of showdowns. As D.M.C. put it during MTV’s 25th anniversary celebration of the song, “My Adidas” was the group’s response to ignorance and fear. As he said, ” …me, Run and [Jam Master] Jay was like, ’Yeah, we going to make a record about our Adidas.’ Yeah, we wear Adidas [with] no laces, we got gold chains, we got Cazals and all of that, but I go to St. John’s University. These Adidas stepped onstage at Live Aid.”
The band’s complete embrace of the brand was a political middle finger to all those who believed them to be nothing more than vain kids in sweatsuits. They were one of the first rap groups to really look like their users, as they were members of the first generation to be affected by Grandmaster Flash, The Sugar Hill Gang, and all those talented Brooklyn kids rapping outside of corner stores and basketball courts. Even as others had ushered in rap, it belonged to Run D.M.C’s generation. The song received critical acclaim, and adidas responded in kind. Run D.M.C was the first rap group to receive a brand endorsement, shutting down the haters once and for all.
By the end of the 80s, rap was finally on it’s way to full blown legitimacy, and it’s style showed. It demanded it’s own stage, and it refused to be categorized. Rappers demanded a uniform just as political and unflinchingly honest as the rhymes they spat. But the 90s would be a time of violence and beef of the highest quality– and dancing was no longer enough to sway the tension. It became all about who you repped, what you stood for, and doing the crew justice. With young entrepreneurs leading the way like Dr. Dre and Puff Daddy, the fashion grew flashier and if you weren’t wearing Gucci you weren’t anybody important.
But we’ll delve into the 90s next week.
Images via Youtube, Wimp Music, Hip Hop Scriptures, Giphy