Walking down the High-Street: Streetwear in the 2020s
Updated: May 21
From Stussy in the 90s to Supreme today, streetwear has come a long way. Originating from Cali surf and skate culture, Shawn Stussy had printed his iconic logo from surfboards and skateboards onto clothes. In those days, skateboards were symbols of rebellion and the refusal to conform.
This identity led to a distinct fashion style drawing heavily from skate culture: skate shoes like Vans, printed graphic tees, and ripped jeans. Other key influencers in the Streetwear scene of the 90s were the Hip Hop subculture and the punk movement. Each contributed their fair share to the grunge-y aesthetic of urban Street culture.
However, alongside meme culture, ‘woke’-ness and TikTok, the 2010s brought with it the Hypebeast. Brands like Supreme, Off-White and Vetements produce apparel for the alt and ‘edgy’, though ones with spending power.
This is a side alley of Street culture only the affluent can venture down into — an odd cross between street culture and luxury that has left culture commentators buzzing. It is a parallel, dystopian world where hoodies, sneakers, and sweatpants cost ridiculous amounts of money, where streetwear brands have fashion shows that get covered in Vogue.
Is high fashion appropriating the Street in efforts to appeal to younger audiences and maintain relevancy as a dominant cultural power? Or is the Street appropriating the runway to challenge the exclusivity of the High Fashion canon?
A world where the Baggy aesthetic is described with a whole other set of sophisticated lexis. The sleek, glossy language of fashion design is appropriated and adapted:
‘Baggy’ does not suffice. Instead, the words ‘drop-hem’, ‘longline’, and ‘relaxed-fit’ are used. This suggests the premiumization of a fashion movement which, at its core, stands for the anti-premium.
Invading Haute Couture: moving towards a new Counter-culture identity
Bringing symbols representing the Counter-culture into the domain of luxury shopping malls defies the exclusivity of High Fashion, carving out a space for fringe groups in a domain of fashion that has been largely criticised for its lack of inclusivity and tolerance.
On this note, we decided to study the fashion of Hypebeast culture in contrast with High Fashion. How much has streetwear become expensive fashion? And how exactly do we describe their similarities and differences?
Turning to Instagram, we studied 200 images from Fashion Week’s official Instagram account, which photographs all the official fashion weeks across the world. We also studied 200 Instagram images each from Vetements Clothing, Supreme and Off-white, as well as the Hypebeast Style Instagram account.
Here’s what we found:
High Fashion is about Sensuality.
Our emotion AI detected the images in the Fashion Week set as being significantly more "Sensual" above all other emotions.
This observation might come as no surprise to some, but it was interesting to us because “Sensual” had connotations of being soft, lush, appealing in a gentle, quiet way. Our conception of the runway was that of Glamor, of having the Dazzle factor. A louder, more overt magnetism.
Photos from @fashionweek, Instagram
The Venus — or Adonis- of the Runway exudes appeal in a subtler, reserved manner. Examining the images within this set, we see that controlled poise is the code.
The models in these images have impeccable posture, and where they are posing for the camera, we see that their frames are still formal-esque, squared shoulders and a direct, pouty stare, or slightly angled with a coolly calculated head tilt.
Images from the High Fashion set were identified as being significantly more sensual than the images from the combined set of street fashion.
Additionally, when examining the confidence scores of the two image sets: hypebeast and high fashion, our machine was 50% more confident in identifying the high fashion set’s images as sensual.
In the Hypebeast group of images, the overall vibe was less homogenous.
‘Sensual’ was also detected as one of the top few. However, closely following that were other ‘stronger’ emotions.
Photos from @off____white and @hypebeaststyle, Instagram
We observed that Hypebeast streetwear draws strongly on elements of sensuality, adopting the soft appeal from the runway in the positioning of their style subculture.
The slight pout, the stiff, human mannequin posture, and the direct, front-facing positioning of the models resemble those we see on the runway.
However, an element of incongruence is created through the juxtaposition of such postures with contrasting objects. In the two images above, incongruence is established through the gritty background of rocks in the left image and the grimy face make-up of the right-one.
Through this, Street fashion maintains its rebellious undertone.
Images from the hypebeast set also profiled strongly for emotions synonymous with anti-establishment and resistance.
The machine-generated label of ‘Dread’ was detected as a strong sentiment in the hypebeast set of images.
Photos from @supremenewyork, @vetements_official , Instagram
In other words, the images in the hypebeast fashion set were interpreted as being scary to look at, experimenting with elements of the gothic and grotesque. Shots are experimental and boundary-pushing. Photographs play with blurry focus, dark color palettes, and slanted angles.
Photos from @hypebeaststyle, @off____white, Instagram
These bring out a sense of unease and discomfort: unlike haute couture, hypebeast fashion refuses to be pleasing to look at, or even easy on the eye, intentionally curated to be more jarring than typical fashion photography.
The hypebeast streetwear subject, thrust into the glamorous spotlight of high fashion, refuses to cooperate.
Models in these images often refuse to look at the viewer. We observed a lot of images featuring back-facing models, as if the camera wasn’t worth their attention — the rebelling of the subject from the camera.
The theme of explicit avoidance prevails- also common are frontal shots with hoods drawn over the eyes, or sometimes even closing away the entire face.
‘Creativity’ was the next strongest emotion detected.
Pictures from the hypebeast set differ greatly from the high fashion set in their prop use and color composition: Bright, pop-art backgrounds feature, experimentation with texture and lighting is evident.
Photos from @supremenewyork, @hypebeaststyle, @off____white, Instagram
The use of subjects like animals (such as a cat peeking out from under a chair) instead of human models shows an element of playfulness. In line with Street culture, the social feeds of these brands celebrate challenging the norm.
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