Behind the overpriced t-shirts, mile-long lines at sneaker releases and designer logos slapped on everything imaginable, there’s a lot more to street wear than meets the eye. With roots in counterculture and DIY, street style isn’t about faking it—it’s about being yourself and making your own rules.
In the past, fashion designers dictated what trends made it to the runway, buyers determined what styles made it into stores and magazine editors told consumers what they should and shouldn’t buy for the season. But, with streetwear’s predominantly direct-to-consumer business model, today it’s the consumers themselves who are driving trends.
Whether they’re looking to stand out on the subway or cruise around town in comfort, the people who love streetwear are always on the hunt for something new that’s cool and original. They’re also a diverse group, spanning every age, socioeconomic status and corner of the world. From skate and surf culture to hip-hop music, urban workwear to K-Pop, streetwear has become the most inclusive form of fashion in the industry.
Streetwear’s beginnings can be traced back to the punk rock, new wave and heavy metal cultures of the late 1970s and 1980s. With a focus on self-expression and individuality, these subcultures gave rise to DIY culture that still drives much of the style’s aesthetic to this day. For example, surfboard designer Shawn Stussy started by selling T-shirts with his own branded signature stamp that he used to sign his custom surfboards, and now, the same style of DIY tees is a staple in skate and surfing culture.
Hip-hop, breakdancing and graffiti culture have also significantly influenced streetwear. Created as a form of rebellion against social and racial injustice, these youth-driven movements encouraged inner city African American communities to embrace streetwear, including Adidas tracksuits and laceless shell-toe sneakers that were popularized by artists like Run-DMC. They were the first to embrace the streetwear look as a way to express themselves creatively and individually.
These days, many streetwear brands leverage platforms such as TikTok and Instagram to promote their products and build a community of followers. By doing so, they reach a large audience of Gen Z consumers who value authenticity and social currency. They’re willing to spend money on items that reflect their personality and lifestyle and are drawn to the high-quality, functional design of streetwear pieces. And because these platforms are rooted in peer-to-peer commerce, it’s easy for customers to swap or return items they don’t want, which further builds trust between brands and their fans. In fact, many streetwear brands sell their products exclusively through these platforms, eliminating the need for traditional brick-and-mortar locations and other costly infrastructure. street wear