Despite a multitude of predictions, urban wear has not shared disco’s fate. Au contraire. Marquee hip hop entertainers have been spotted in public recently wearing at least one of the following: do rag, baggy jeans, wifebeater. What’s happening is not the death of hip hop clothing, but its relegation to one part of a very large a varied closet.
Analysts have failed to recognize that the true significance of the decline in hip hop clothing sales is one thing: industry stabilization. The novelty and accessibility of these designs at high-end prices and quality peaked in 2000, but it will never completely disappear. The difference between now and five years ago is a case of simple evolution. In that span of time, glamour emerged as a viable alternative to street wear. Male R&B, hip hop and rap icons embraced old money, high fashion brands. They have made gentleman style their own, modernized it.
The by-product: it’s getting harder to classify a person by their clothes. Which may be intentional or not. Those on the vanguard of dressing, a la Usher, Kanye West and Puffy are not easily pinned down. In one appearance they’re shirtless with leather pants and chains, very street- the next day in a suit you’re sure you couldn’t afford, all corporate. Scene 1 of Fiddy’s video he wears a bullet proof vest and jeans. Scene 2? Top hat and tails. With a cane.
On one level, sophisticated dressing makes a clear statement to the mainstream: I’m rich, classy, and I know how to act. But because these clothes are alternated with urban wear, perhaps it is the final thumbing at assimilation, a well-armed rebellion. It could also be the relentless cyclical nature of popularity: bored with the same ol, the consumer moves on to something new.
The predictable backlash is most noticeable in crunk music: see Little Jon, who, it is suspected, does not know how to tie a tie. Nevertheless, he’s rich. And classlessness is central to his crunky image. Hence no sweet duds. And on the other end of the extreme we have Outkast, who parodies all fashion virtually all the time. He makes true use of clothes, hiding and obscuring himself from us to such a degree we laugh, shake our heads.
One question lingers: is this new mix of haute couture and ghetto fabulouness a resurrection of original pimp style? Stay tuned.