Tyler the Creator and Anwar Carrots
Community is one of the strongest factors when it comes to streetwear’s success. I stated in my previous article that streetwear boutiques use community to succeed and maintain in retail, but that doesn’t account to how the streetwear community grew out of a subculture on the fringes of fashion, and became an important component in modern times. Someone studying streetwear history would eventually find a link between the overall success and the prevalence of social forums, more specifically Hypebeast Forum. The now defunct social section of Hypebeast’s website was integral in growing the streetwear community. Forums connected individuals in a way that would otherwise be impossible back then.
When streetwear first started off, things were highly separated by location. While this did allow different places in the world to have their own unique style, it kept communities small. People could only connect with people in shared physical spaces like stores, or had to have the ability to travel in order to connect with others. This changed with the adoption of forums. Forums were a way to connect to people who shared similar interests without having to be physically close. Now streetwear fans in New York were able to share their viewpoint on the subculture with fans in California, and vice versa.
Whether it be Anime, Bape or sneakers, there was an electronic community for you. For streetwear, there was Hypebeast Forums. The site was one of the few places to find the latest information on brand releases, or general news in streetwear, and the forums were for people wanting to find out even more info. I eventually found Hypebeast forums to find out what exactly a Nike SB was*, and stayed because I had never seen a place like it. People posting outfits, or their latest purchases to show what they thought was cool. People reacting to the latest lookbooks from brands. Or just people posting funny videos from the internet before the invention of twitter or instagram. It was a community of people from across the world that came there because they loved streetwear first and foremost.
*This was going to be a footnote about all the circumstances that led me to streetwear, and to the Hypebeast forum, but it kind of became it’s own thing.
The connections on this forum were deeper than just clothes though. Since streetwear designers weren’t just making designs that looked cool(the good ones at least), but instead were messages about lifestyle, or references to something deeper. This meant that if two people shared an interests in the clothes, they must then share an interest in the reference or the culture surrounding it. This made it easy for fans of certain brands to bond over clothing, designs and whatever reference was being shared. These friendships weren’t rare occasions either. When I asked what former members of Hypebeast forums remember the most, they always respond with the connections between the members. This was an important aspect of the site since streetwear was still such a small subculture compared to the mainstream of hip hop, and action sportswear.
Despite streetwear being a small subculture in my immediate area in suburban Atlanta, as a forum member I found out that my interest was shared internationally. There was a small number of people in my high school that new about streetwear brands back then, but we were largely outnumbered by the people still only caring about the latest rap trends.* It didn’t matter if I was in the minority when it came to pop culture, because I was aware of other streetwear fans thanks to the forums. Streetwear may not have been as popular in Atlanta as New York or California, but I was able to keep up with trends and styles thanks to others sharing their knowledge online. Unbeknownst to me, this was a strength for streetwear, and would help it become as popular as it is today.
*Bape(mostly fake). True Religion Jeans. Clear Air Force 1s with matching Girbaud Jean straps. Things like that.
Even though I was among the few people who knew about streetwear in my high school, that didn’t mean I knew how to wear it. I was still buying large tees when I should’ve considered medium and smalls, and I still wore my jeans baggy to fit in amongst my peers. I had not yet adopted the streetwear style despite using nothing but streetwear in my outfits, and for the most part neither did streetwear. Streetwear was still taking style cues from larger influences like rap, and had not yet settled into the style that it has today.* When the style began to switch thanks to fans in Tokyo sharing ideas with others in the coastal areas, it slowly began to move inward thanks to forum members. My own personal style change didn’t happen until I studied the more stylish members of the forums with their contributions to the WDYWT(what did you wear today) thread. The stars of this community not only influenced me, but others on the forums as well.
*Streetwear style today serves as a bridge between high fashion and urban fashion, in my opinion. Think about how Off White can have rappers walk their runway in Paris fashion shows as a “luxury streetwear brand” and that’s where I get this idea.
This was evident with the fit battles. The community would come together to vote between two other members as they battled by posting a photo of their best fits on the forum. Winners were not only decided by the rare pieces exhibited, but the overall fit and flow of the clothes together. From this, streetwear started to have a universal style that was more fashionable than rap, but more casual than high fashion. This is significant to the industry as a whole, because it showed that the market was strong enough to produce trends. Trends in fashion cannot be created by brands alone, but instead must be shown through numbers and popularity amongst the audience. Trends happen organically when everyone within a scene decide, “This is the coolest thing!” ubiquitously. Trends can be helped along with publications and media though, and the biggest publication for streetwear back then was Hypebeast.
Streetwear has had plenty of trends, and brands were always able to keep up or fit the current trend into their design ethos. Brand’s and designers were able to do this because they too were active on the forums. Creators in the subculture not only used the forums to find out what their consumer base liked, but also to connect to their audience in a natural way. As stated again and again, this was before the days of social media, and being able to talk to the person behind your favorite brand grew the community even more, both online and off. It was the electronic equivalent of walking into your favorite brand’s office, and asking them, “What inspired this design?” Today that is a common place thing to feel connected to someone through their socials, but back then it was rare. I couldn’t ask Jay-Z what inspired Rocawear graphics, but I could ask the guys at Triumvir, and that was special.
Phillip Annand and Flatbush Zombies
The early days of streetwear were a disorganized whirlwind of ideas and rebellion, that somehow created the perfect storm of creative producers and active, knowledge hungry consumers. It is the latest example of a real genuine group of people around the world with enough talent and tunnel vision to reach the mainstream, and become a threat to the “status quo” of ordinary in an industry, like hip hop to mainstream music in the 80s. And I would like to think it couldn’t have been done without the help of the forums.*
Thanks for reading.
*Shoutouts to all the names I can remember from that time; Shanklin, Flatland, Subculture, Fishscale, Ronnel, Anwar Carrots, Drew, J. Kissi, Bloxhead(Tyler the Creator), On Award Tour(Phillip Annand), Mega. Neek. Think about how many people who were apart of those forums that now move and inspire streetwear and culture as a whole, and you can see the power of that forum.