Urban Fashion RETROgrade
You would’ve thought you ripped open a time capsule. Deep in the dungeons of a New York Urban Outfitters, with every other “borrowed” trend was three different colors of Juicy Couture sweat pants – red, green and black. And then, you conjure your favorite Instagram trend setters – the classic 90’s Tommy Hilfiger look, the inspired FILAs, the ironic t-shirts and summer toned snapbacks. The vision was mystifying. It was devilishly appropriated, but mystifying. Likely because I didn’t entirely hate it. Because I saw something exactly like it in my mom’s closet, and I liked it, and in such an unironic sense. Here, it depressed me and it shattered my scope of modern looks and fashion. Fashion: it wasn’t really black and white until you considered it in black and white.
I ignored how tacky the look had immediately felt now that appropriation had tainted its zest. There was a dual-nature in the look depending on its place with the culture. In my mother’s closet: The FILA was legendary. In this Urban Outfitters: it was cheap.
Recent fashion has a guideline: make it retro, but make it unironic. Rock something like it wasn’t a signature look in an Aaliyah music video, or something beautiful on a Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopez à la “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” or “Red Light Special.” Something you dreamed of wearing as a little girl in puff balls, crisscrossed and naïve. And now that we got money, and access to a thrift shop, you can make it real.
Why? Because all Millennials are defined by nostalgia. It’s a whole market. Give them something they wanted, something they loved, but spray it in color, because the good ole days always look vibrant and new. It’s a potent bit of snake’s oil. But it’s like that for a reason, particularly when looking at the era.
Back in the 99’s and the 2000s, fashion had a carefree attitude that enamored many. Hip hop had a defining renaissance that molded the culture altogether. A verse gained meaning; a hook had its structure. Slowly, showmanship dripped into the Kool-Aid and you had to construct a visage of cool and creativity.
Tupac Shakur, an undisputed legend of the rap game, was known for many of his iconic experimentation in looks -- a forward knot bandanna, silk and lace clothes, even the occasional wool vest and waistcoast; meanwhile, the men of this generation can barely agree if a jumper can permanently alter their very intangible, poorly articulated definition of masculinity with people they will never meet in their lives. It had a culture sewn into it that had to be experienced to sustain in any era.
Now, in the age of Hip Hop imperialism, where everyone and their lip kits can claim something, flip it and overprice it. The ultimate come up is reaching into thrift stores or a motherly closet plunder away and finding a style you inherited without the prices that are afforded. The difference is based on context: an allotment of benefit because of cultural connection. It’s true, because of the retrograde of urban fashion, Black culture has been offered up to the highest bidder. However, purchasing culture will never be inheriting it. Inheriting it means when it came back, it never left you – it was always a part of your spiritual culture.
Hip-hop’s culture – Black culture – inspired fashion to revisit eras of originality and vibrancy: attempt to lay claim to it, and fail. This style requires that something extra to transcend the lewd cringe inspired by the Urban Outfitters.