During the 1980s, hip-hop icons wore clothing items such as brightly colored name-brand tracksuits, sheepskin and leather bomber jackets, Clarks shoes, Dr. Martens boots and sneakers (usually Adidas-brand shelltoes and often with "phat" or oversized shoelaces). Popular haircuts ranged from the early-1980s Jheri curl to the late-1980s hi-top fade popularized by Will Smith (The Fresh Prince) and Christopher "Kid" Reid of Kid 'n Play, among others.
Popular accessories included large eyeglasses (Cazals or Gazelles), Kangol bucket hats, nameplates, name belts, and multiple rings. Heavy gold jewelry was also popular in the 1980s; heavy jewelry in general would become an enduring element of hip hop fashion. In general, men's jewelry focused on heavy gold chains and women's jewelry on large gold earrings. Performers such as Kurtis Blow and Big Daddy Kane helped popularize gold necklaces and other such jewelry, and female rappers such as Roxanne Shanté and the group Salt-N-Pepa helped popularize oversized gold door-knocker earrings. The heavy jewelry was suggestive of prestige and wealth, and some have connected the style to Africanism.
1980s hip hop fashion is remembered as one of the most important elements of old school hip hop, and it is often celebrated in nostalgic hip hop songs such as Ahmad's 1994 single "Back in the Day", and Missy Elliott's 2002 single "Back in the Day".
Black nationalism was increasingly influential in rap during the late 1980s, and fashions and hairstyles reflected traditional African influences. Blousy pants were popular among dance-oriented rappers like MC Hammer. Fezzes, kufis decorated with the Kemetic ankh, Kente cloth hats, Africa chains, dreadlocks, and red, black, and green clothing became popular as well, promoted by artists such as Queen Latifah, KRS-One, Public Enemy, and X-Clan). In the early 1990s, pop rappers such as The Fresh Prince, Kid 'n Play, and Left Eye of TLC popularized baseball caps and bright, often neon-colored, clothing. Kris Kross also established the fad of wearing clothes backwards. Kwamé sparked the brief trend of polka-dot clothing as well, while others continued wearing their mid-80's attire.
The Nike capture of soon to be superstar basketball protege Michael Jordan from rivals Adidas in 1984 proved to be a huge turning point, as Nike dominated the urban streetwear sneaker market in the late 80's and early 90's. Other clothing brands such as Champion, Carhartt and Timberland were very closely associated with the scene, particularly on the East coast with hip hop acts such as Wu-Tang Clan and Gangstarr sporting the look.
Gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A. popularized an early form of gangsta style in the late 1980s, consisting of Dickies pants, plaid shirts and jackets, Chuck Taylors sneakers, and black Raiders baseball caps and Raiders Starter jackets. Starter jackets, in addition, were also a popular trend in their own right during the late 1980s and early 90s. They became something of a status-symbol, with incidents of robberies of the jackets reported in the media.
Hip hop fashion in this period also influenced high fashion designs. In the late 1980s, Isaac Mizrahi, inspired by his elevator operator who wore a heavy gold chain, showed a collection deeply influenced by hip hop fashion. Models wore black catsuits, "gold chains, big gold nameplate-inspired belts, and black bomber jackets with fur-trimmed hoods." Womenswear Daily called the look "homeboy chic." In the early 1990s, Chanel showed hip-hop-inspired fashion in several shows. In one, models wore black leather jackets and piles of gold chains. In another, they wore long black dresses, accessorized with heavy, padlocked silver chains. (These silver chains were remarkably similar to the metal chain-link and padlock worn by Treach of Naughty by Nature, who said he did so in solidarity with "all the brothers who are locked down.") The hip hop trend, however, did not last; fickle designers quickly moved on to new influences.
Tommy Hilfiger was one of the most prominent brand in 1990s sportswear, though Polo Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Nautica, and DKNY were also popular. When Snoop Doggy Dogg wore a Hilfiger sweatshirt during an appearance on Saturday Night Live, it sold out of New York City stores the next day. Hilfiger's popularity was due to its perceived waspiness, which made it seem exclusive and aspirational. Moreover, Hilfiger courted the new hip hop market: black models featured prominently in the company's advertising campaigns, and rappers like Puffy and Coolio walked during its runways shows.
Other brands, such as FUBU, Ecko Unlimited, Mecca USA, Lugz, Rocawear, Boss Jeans by IG Design, and Enyce, arose to capitalize on the market for urban streetwear. They followed in Hilfiger's footsteps by manufacturing all-American styles emblazoned with huge logos.
The "hip-pop" era also saw the split between male and female hip hop fashion, which had previously been more or less similar. Women in hip hop had emulated the male tough-guy fashions such as baggy jeans, "Loc" sunglasses, tough looks and heavy workboots; many, such as Da Brat, accomplished this with little more than some lip gloss and a bit of make-up to make the industrial work pants and work boots feminine. The female performers who completely turned the tide such as Lil Kim and Foxy Brown popularized glamourous, high-fashion feminine hip hop styles, such as Kimora Lee Simmons fashion line of Baby Phat. While Lauryn Hill and Eve popularized more conservative styles that still maintained both a distinctly feminine and distinctly hip hop feel.
In the 1990s and beyond, many hip hop artists and executives started their own fashion labels and clothing lines. Notable examples include Wu-Tang Clan (Wu-Wear), Russell Simmons (Phat Farm), Kimora Lee Simmons (Baby Phat), Diddy (Sean John), Apple Bottom Jeans (Nelly), Damon Dash and Jay-Z (Rocawear), 50 Cent (G-Unit Clothing), Eminem (Shady Limited), 2Pac (Makaveli) and OutKast (OutKast Clothing). Other prominent hip hop fashion companies have included Karl Kani and FUBU, Ecko, Dickies,Girbaud, Enyce, Famous Stars and Straps, Bape, LRG, Timberland Boots, and Akademiks.
Today, Hip hop clothing is produced by popular and successful designers, who charge significant amounts for their products. Hip hop fashion is worn by a significant percentage of young people around the world, with a significant number of retailers that are dedicated to the sale of hip hop inspired fashions. Several web sites are dedicated to hard to find hip hop sneakers and apparel.
Due to the recent trend in hip hop fashion to revert back to the "old school" gaining popularity, the clothing is becoming similar to early 80's form of dressing. It has geared toward a more Hipster-inspired style of dressing with a nod towards irony, and may include items such as slim-fit denim jeans, tighter-fitting "vintage style" t-shirts with shorter arm sleeves, polo shirts, sportcoats, woven button shirts, large ornamental belt buckles, cufflinks, skull and skeleton decorations, elaborately decorated zip-up hoodies, trucker hats, lumberjack button-ups or plaid designed shirts, keffiyehs, and snow inspired fashions. Shorter length t-shirts have become involved in recent trends, in order to expose decorated belts and belt buckles and biker chains. Although the "baggy" style of dress remains relevant, some hip hoppers forego that particular style, opting for colorful fitted and hipster-inspired clothing as exemplified by the growing influence of rappers such as Kanye West, Common, will.i.am, and Andre 3000, as well as the tighter-fitting skater influenced styles in the case of Pharrell and Lupe Fiasco. Other re-emergent 80s trends include Members Only jackets, huge oversized chains, and large eyeglasses.
Commentators from both inside and outside of the hip-hop community have criticized the cost of many of the accouterments of hip hop fashion. Chuck D of Public Enemy summarized the mentality of Hip hop fashion and some low-income youths as "Man, I work at McDonald's, but in order for me to feel good about myself I got to get a gold chain or I got to get a fly car in order to impress a sister or whatever. In his 1992 song "Us", Ice Cube rapped that "Us [African-Americans] will always sing the blues / 'cause all we care about is hairstyles and tennis shoes. Some fans have expressed disappointment with the increased amount of advertising for expensive hip-hop brands in hip-hop magazines. In one letter to the editor in Source magazine, a reader wrote that the magazine should "try showing some less expensive brands so heads will know they don't have to hustle, steal, or rob and blast shots for flyness. In fact, there were many highly-publicized robberies of hip-hop artists by the late 1990s. Guru of Gang Starr was robbed at gunpoint of his Rolex watch, Queen Latifah's car was car-jacked, and Prodigy was robbed at gunpoint of $300,000 in jewelry.