A Guide to Streetwear Heritage with King Adz
Street style aficionado and author of ‘This is Not Fashion: Streetwear Past, Present and Future’, King Adz, takes us on an enthralling journey of the heritage of streetwear. Through the exploration of key styles and individual trends, King Adz illustrates to us how the history of street style has heavily influenced the streetwear garments we invest in today. Over to you, King Adz…
Culture moves in cycles. The design of the jacket you really want (but can’t actually afford) comes with it’s own story – it’s own slice of history if you will. A history that’s a little hidden perhaps. The one thing I came to understand from writing ‘This Is Not Fashion’ is that what goes around, comes back around again. Everything is influenced by everything else, and streetwear has some of the most unusual influences imaginable. For example…
Everything starts with a T. The tee began life as an undergarment in the USA. It rolled out into the public domain after it became a regular issue in the armed forces. The first mass-distribution of this cheap and easy-to-wash garment was actually during the Spanish-American war in 1898, when it was made standard issue by the US Navy. The first documented printed tee was on the cover of Life magazine in 1942, which featured a shot of a hunky serviceman rocking an ‘Air Corp Gunnery School’ tight tee (talk about using it for propaganda).
Twenty years later, during the counter-culture heyday of the 1960s, the tee became a personal billboard on which you could broadcast your own message of protest. By the 1970s, it was a space for humour through the ‘my Mom went to [insert city here] and all I got was this lousy t-shirt’ gimmick. By the 1980s, it had become an extension of your favourite brand. In fact, for many streetwear brands, as well as individuals, the tee is what started it all. Case in point – legendary Stüssy founder, Shawn Stussy, began screen-printing his name onto tees to supplement his surfboard-shaping business.
FILA TRACKSUIT TOP
Let’s kick this off with the Casual/ Dresser movement, by the way of the ‘preppy’ trend. I wore a Green Fila BJ tracksuit when I was a 14-year-old casual, and have the same one now even though I’m older. I never really liked the football hooligan element that came hand-in-hand with these garments, but I did like the way you go to do up your top button and give it ‘extra large’. This was the 1980s after all, arguably not the best time to be growing up in home countries suburbia, so what you wore played a vital part in ensuring you didn’t go insane.
The fashion journey of the tracksuit top started life in preppy circle, by way of the folks dressed in sportswear on their way to the tennis court at your average WASP country club. The garment then tipped over onto the football terraces and the high street. Today, it graces the digital playgrounds of blogs like this one. Blogs that grant us instant access to purchasing garments, through click-to-buy hyperlinks. This is progress! It highlights to us that modern life doesn’t have to be rubbish all of the time, and the fact you have just bought a limited edition FILA tracksuit top means you are actually subconsciously channeling your inner preppy/ casual.
HOODY / SWEATSHIRT
Streetwear originally involved a disparate collection of tribes – b-boy, casual, mod, punk, goth, skater – but today has a more fluid identity that can no longer be reduced to just one dimension, as we deliberately engage in multiple, complex strands of attitude and apparel. This is partly due to cultural bombardment and exposure to diversity via the internet, through which we’re able to study what everyone else is doing, wearing, being, watching, listening to. The sweatshirt or hoody was originally created for sportsmen and women to keep warm on their way to-and-from the track and field, but today the image of a youngster in a hoody has become something of a cliché of troubled youth or criminal-in-waiting.
After the tee, the sweatshirt is the next most popular garment of the streetwear industry. Starting with the Stüssy staple and its Chanel-inspired logo, then progressing onto the Calvin Klein sweater, one can see how the garment has been taken uptown into haute couture and labelled ‘premium casualwear’. A killer look that has been around since the 1980s is a hooded sweatshirt worn with an MA-1 jacket (see next garment), with something magical happening at the back of the head, where the hood meets collar and bunches up. Be careful with your colour combinations, though…
A retail movement started through army surplus stores in the 1970s, combat-wear is now a division of fashion that is worth a lot more and has way more influence than ever before. It is represented by the M-65 field coat, MA-1 bomber jacket, US standard-issue button-fly khakis, combat pants/shorts, camo-pattern everything, US Navy pea coat, British Navy duffle coat, leather flight jacket, parka and jumpsuit. All of these different garments have repeatedly dipped in and out of fashion, and will continue to do so.
The MA-1 is one of the most hard-wearing and eternal fashion garments that’s been around for yonks. Back in the 80s I had a customised one, after I saw Mark Wigan wearing his. Based on the classic US Air Force, Army and Navy pilot jacket, these jackets are traditionally sage green, with a bright orange lining that acts as a safety feature which allows the wearer to reverse the jacket and be visible from the air in the event of the plane going down. Over the last couple of years, the MA-1 has become so popular that the mass-market brands are all now selling copies of it, and it’s even been crossed with a parka (which in my opinion should be illegal). The MA-1 is one of the staple garments of streetwear because of its universality. Anyone can wear one. From old 2-Tone fans with Levi’s and tasselled DM loafers to amateur models with their Aviator Raybans and skinny ripped jeggings. To check the latest mutation of the MA-1 have a look at Liam Hodges‘ version.
Although the windcheater was originally found rolled up in outdoor-type rucksacks, as it was light and handy for when you get caught in the rain up a mountain, today it’s more likely to be spotted on a calm day on a high street near you, worn by another type of adventurer – the modern mutation of the Northern Dresser, usually with a Liam Gallagher-inspired haircut, some decent jeans and a pair of desert boots.
My nemesis wore a grey and blue Nike Windrunner when he beat me up in the toilets of a Sunday night youth club in St Albans in 1985. I didn’t hold it against him, as he probably needed to keep the chilly air out as he ran into the night. It was the uniform of the “Lad” and I’ve never been able to wear a Windrunner since. I used to wear a fake Peter Storm when I’d go on walking holidays with my folks, which was probably why he felt the need to sort me out in the first place.
There used to be a uniform you’d don when you reached a certain age, for both men and women, to show that you had settled down and ‘knuckled under’, and this must have been a horrendous time for all those involved. Most didn’t have a choice, as family or societal pressure would have stopped any ideas of rebellion. The mega-rich and outcasts were exempt from this but the masses had to give up the sharp suits, the mini skirts, the Hawaiian shirts, the denim jackets, the toreador flares and zany capes and settle into sensible suits, cords and sports jackets at the weekends – and that was just the women. The men had to get a range of white or cream nylon shirts and ties (middle class) or dark blue overalls (working class), as they would spend most of their time earning a crust and had to look the part.
A garment that always resisted the above is anything made out of denim – one of the founding mothers of streetwear. It may have come out of the great outdoors, with cowboy culture, but today it is probably the most common fabric you will see at any one time on the high street. The fact that it fades and gets distressed (ripped jeans go in and out of fashion over and over again) but is hard-wearing means that it is one of the most versatile fabrics out there. There are, however, rules against double or triple denim, as only a true style icon could pull this off. You have been warned. One fashion taste I thought would never make a comeback was stone washed demin, or ‘frost-wash’ as we used to call them, but I found a few pairs in Urban Outfitters that looked like it had made the quantum leap and stayed in style.