The debate of whether streetwear is an art form is a prolonged one. Perhaps, it’s one with no end and with no right or wrong answer.
Even still, those in favor of fashion as art are having trouble accepting another concept—streetwear fashion as art. When people pose the question “Is streetwear art?” it almost seems to have a condescending undertone that instead asks, “Is streetwear legitimate?” If art, as defined by the Oxford dictionary, is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination,” then one could conclude that streetwear is visual art.
Streetwear and mainstream luxury now collide, giving us globally recognized brands such as Off-White and Vetements, but before becoming an It aesthetic for the masses, the style was birthed by youth subcultures. At its core, streetwear is a form of expression for those who are oftentimes unheard.
In the early 1970s, what we know today as streetwear style began to manifest in hip-hop fashion, and in the 1980s Shaun Stussy founded his namesake brand, Stüssy. For many this marked the beginning of what would become a global spread of the streetwear aesthetic. Following the 1990s, this style of dress became more widespread across America and spanned globally, most notably in Japan, where the brand A Bathing Ape was birthed as well as European brands adopting the increasingly popular aesthetic.
Now more than ever, we see the impact that urban culture and streetwear have had on modern luxury fashion. Large fashion houses are inclined to incorporate logo and graphic tees and hoodies in their collections, which is likely to appeal to younger markets. Sneakers are now a fashion statement, unlike before, and brands like Gucci, Chanel and Balenciaga are catering to this growing desire. Prominent figures like Pharrell Williams, A$AP Rocky, Tyler the Creator and Kanye West are among the names of people who can be credited with contributing to the staying power of streetwear in mainstream fashion.
“Was streetwear made to be understood?”
However, even with mainstream recognition and evidence supporting the notion that streetwear may now be cemented in the fashion industry, the question still stands—is this art?
The Twitter handle @pughatory posed the question via an online poll, and of 1,168 voters, 80 percent voted “yes [streetwear is art],” while 20 percent voted no. Users elaborated on their opinions in the following thread:
The general consensus seems to be this, fashion is an expression, which is a form or art and streetwear is fashion. Behind the print tees and exclusive sneakers is a story. A story of the creators and influencers. A reflection of where the youth has been and, as streetwear evolves, where they are headed. A demographic who formed their own society because they were societal outcasts.
Where the disconnect in speculation seems to lie is between two groups, those who understand what and who streetwear represents and those who do not. And as such, the question should be this: Was streetwear made to be understood?