by Drew Martin
The African-American community is arguably the most creative and inventive culture in the world, especially when trends bubble up from small, close-knit neighborhoods as a way to get local attention and respect, and anything mainstream or out of reach gets customized for that community.
Yesterday I watched Fresh Dressed, a 2015 documentary about the history of fashion behind hip-hop. It's a wonderful sartorial time capsule that begins with the territorial gang outfits of the boroughs of New York City, builds up to the big-name performers with their own clothing lines, and then returns to high-end brands with staying power that were once sought after, when the popularity of musician-backed lines waned; an issue of style being too closely associated with a personality.
One thing emphasized was how hip-hop music put the spotlight on street styles that were already there, and how as hip-hop spread around the world and people liked the music but could not always relate to the English lyrics, the fashion became an even more important way for kids in other countries to identify with the music.
Ralph McDaniels, the creator and host of Video Music Box says that the colors of hip hop came from the spray paint can selections that were favored in graffiti and that the first canvases for hip hop individuality were on the backs of jean jackets.
Dapper Dan's Boutique in Harlem was the first store that was tailored to the hip-hop scene. Dan did with fashion what hip-hop did with music: he sampled and mixed fashion, and brought the music scene's imagination into reality. He also introduced urban luxury brands when luxury brands were unattainable for people living in the projects. Dan did big, bold outfits as well as simple things, like put Louis Vuitton's LV mark on caps, when they would not think about doing something like that. Dan says he blackenized those famous designers for his people.
A "fresh starts with the feet first" comment leads into a funny anecdote by rapper Jim Jones about the importance of sneakers. His school required a uniform so sometimes kids would fake a sprained ankle in order to be able to wear at least one of their new sneakers, albeit while fake-limping with a cane.
Now people buy fat laces but before they were available for purchase they had to be customized. Kids would take the standard laces that came with the sneakers, then stretch, starch, and iron them before lacing them the opposite way - looped over the eyelets.
Personally, I was less interested in seeing the late-comers such as Kanye, and was more interested in the beginning of the movement. I especially liked the breakdown of the "flavors" from the different parts of NYC that were unique to each borough:
A guy from Brooklyn would have on Clarks, shark skins, Cazal glasses with no lens in it, and a Kangol crease like I don't know what. That was a Brooklyn cat. He didn't have to say anything. You knew he was from Brooklyn.
A guy from Harlem would have on...a velour sweat suit, and whatever brand the sweat suit was from, he would have the sneaker to match.
Same with the Bronx. The Bronx was a mix of Harlem and Brooklyn together.
Queens - - Queens had their own flow too.
If one of your New Year resolutions is to take your fresh to another level then definitely watch this flick.