80s Hip Hop Fashion
Hip-hop was more than music in the 80s; it was a cultural movement. This can be seen through clothing styles and accessories popular at that time – for instance; rappers often adopted a high-top fade (also known as box fade).
Dapper Dan was known for creating one-of-a-kind streetwear pieces using authentic designer bags, often cutting them apart to create customized streetwear pieces for rappers like Run DMC and Big Daddy Kane. Oversized sunglasses and bucket hats became trendy items.
The 1980s witnessed hip hop’s dominance of the music industry and, consequently, everything from clothing styles to jewelry designs. This vibrant period is marked by revolutionary trends shaping looks today and defining eyes across generations. Here we look back at some of the most iconic fashion styles of rappers from this era, their rapper wearers, and the brands behind them!
One of the signature styles from this era was the track jacket. These jackets provided an alternative to sweatsuits and had an ultracool aesthetic; rappers like Run DMC were seen sporting them with Adidas sneakers to stand out. Beyond fashion trends, however, this look became an expression of African heritage and black nationalist movements.
Hip-hop artists often sport long jeans and leather boots, known as the “b-boy” style, to distinguish themselves in this genre of music. This iconic symbol is a form of resistance against police brutality and other social injustices. This fashion trend has also become known by many as an act of protest.
Popular styles for hip-hop celebrities included oversized shirts with gold chains, ringmaster earrings, and camouflage pants. Rappers often accessorize with hats that enhanced facial features – many designed by Dapper Dan himself! His line of high-end clothing was beloved among hip-hop celebrities.
LL COOL J and other rappers often wore jackets from the Starter brand jackets with partnerships with professional sports teams, showing their loyalty by offering support. Each arm had an attached zipper, while there was also a neck warmer attached to its hood and a visible logo sewn onto the left front side of its jackets.
Jewellery was an increasingly fashionable trend among rappers during the 1980s. Many artists sported huge chains known as ‘dookie chains’ as status symbols to symbolize wealth and power, especially prevalent amongst gangsta rappers who popularised street culture through their music. Rappers such as Run DMC, Kurtis Blow, LL Cool J, and Ice T often donned rings on their index fingers to show they had won an on-street battle rap battle.
Roxanne Roxanne, MC Lyte, and Queen Latifah used fashion to express their individuality as female rappers. Their feminine hip-hop clothing styles included vibrantly colored spandex outfits with brightly-hued overlays; oversized college or bomber jackets; asymmetrical tops, and gold jewelry with hoop earrings that became staples during hip-hop’s golden era.
Some rappers embraced their African heritage, wearing dashikis, headwraps, and Kente cloth as part of a trend-setters look that included heavy jewelry and boots; Salt-N-Pepa is an example of this trend wearing thick gold jewelry. Public Enemy was another group known to eschew such attire to highlight their fight-the-power position against corrupt politicians and police force officials.
In the 80s, many rappers started their clothing lines – most notably Wu-Tang Clan (Wu-Wear), Russell Simmons (Phat Farm), and Kimora Lee Simmons (Baby Phat). These trendsetters helped put hip-hop fashion on mainstream radar screens.
80s hip-hop fashion continues to have an immense influence on modern style. Designers like Marc Jacobs have used its aesthetic as inspiration for his 2017 fall collection of women’s clothing featuring tracksuits, oversized coats, name belts, and chunky gold jewelry. This influence continues to inspire even younger generations of hip-hop fans today.
The B-boy subculture of hip-hop emerged during the 80s as a means for young people to express themselves creatively. Centered around street dancing, its members donned fashions both loud and stylish; hip-hop artists like Grandmaster Flash and Run DMC popularised a rock-influenced biker look featuring leather jackets, pants, baker boy caps, and high boots; Afrocentrism/Kente cloth helped celebrate African heritage through vibrant prints and colors that marked this sartorial trend.
The fashion of this period was heavily influenced by punk and alternative styles. Rapper Grandmaster Flash famously donned a black leather biker jacket teamed with a T-shirt, dreadlocks, and black leather biker boots, while Run DMC would sport oversized logo tees worn with straight-leg dark jeans, Puma or Adidas sneakers and gold chains up to two arms long as accessories; hip-hop artists would often compete to see who could wear the most extravagant pieces.
Other clothing trends of this era included tight denim jeans for both men and women, which could be worn with either sleeves rolled up to the elbows or fully down over a T-shirt. Some fast denim pieces for women even featured pink hues due to an innovative blend between punk rock and hip-hop culture.
The 1980s witnessed the proliferation of hotpants – short pants worn for comfort and style – which became synonymous with B-boy style. Sartorially iconic B-boys paired these short pants with baggy T-shirts for maximum effect before accessorizing with bucket hats, black sneakers, and Starter caps or black jackets to complete their look.
The 1980s was a period of transition in which hip-hop became an influential cultural force. Drawing inspiration from street fashion, African-American culture, and urban fashion trends, hip-hop style emerged as a significant fashion trend that transformed music and the way people dressed. Track jackets, baggy pants, flannel shirts, jewelry styles, and sneakers became essential components of 80s hip-hop fashion and became iconic brands such as FUBU, Adidas, Nike, and Puma became widely associated with it in this decade; other famous hip-hop celebrities such as LL Cool J, Run DMC Big Daddy Kane and Salt-N-Pepa helped popularize these styles further.
B-Boys were responsible for adding break-dancing elements to hip-hop during this era. These dancers would wear sporty track jackets and baggy pants and often pair them with Adidas sneakers for added flair. Hi-top or flattop haircuts also became iconic looks among b-boys during this era.
At this time, hip-hop witnessed a revival of old-school sportswear such as Adidas, Nike, Puma, and Reebok; sneaker producers paid famous Hip-hop artists to wear their sneakers in videos for free publicity, which ultimately helped increase sales.
The 1980s was an era of political hip-hop, with artists such as Public Enemy using their platforms to advance social agendas and call attention to injustices within their communities. Artists also embraced Afrocentric fashion through designers like Dapper Dan, which helped popularise this style further. Furthermore, military-inspired clothing made its debut during this era; camo print clothing also rose in popularity; plus rappers, including the Fat Boys, donned unique biker punk styles featuring leather jackets, baker boy caps, and flared jeans;
Hip-hop culture quickly expanded as it gained more recognition through MTV and other media. Fashion styles quickly varied as hip-hop culture grew; during this decade of experimentation Brooklyn and Harlem hip-hop styles combined sneakers, oversized sunglasses, fedora hats, fedora hats, and denim jackets to form unique looks that Adidas, Nike, Fila Kangol Lee jeans became staples among both artists and fans.
Outsiders initially perceived hip-hop fashion as a mere fad; however, its significance extended far beyond. Hip-hop fashion became an influential cultural movement that promoted Black pride and highlighted African clothing’s role in their lives – such as when Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest adopted an Afrocentric aesthetic and included thick gold chains and African prints into their attire.
Run DMC represented a “new school” of hip-hop music during the early 80s. Their style showcased more refined and clean-cut imagery while still adhering to hip-hop roots; for instance, they would wear matching tracksuits paired with Wallbee shoes and trendy sneakers, and thick gold chains to mark their success in rap music.
At around this same time, NWA gained prominence. Bandanas became a staple in hip-hop culture due to their influence from Los Angeles gang colors and styles; The Sugarhill Gang’s famous tracksuits and bucket hats reflected this, as did Public Enemy’s military-inspired techniques.
Throughout the 1980s, rap beefs were an everyday reality. Busy Bee and Kool Moe Dee engaged in an epic freestyle rap battle where they exchanged barbs. Meanwhile, LL Cool J and Ice Cube’s song “F*ck the Police” explicitly responded to Rodney King being brutalized by Los Angeles police forces.