They say comfort is king, but in these—cringe—unprecedented times, even that feels like an understatement. Well into the second month of a pandemic-induced global quarantine, in which leaving the house is a no-go and waist-up dressing is the new norm, comfort is everything. The king of kings, and unrivaled champion of our current WFH landscape? The humble hoodie. Loungewear sales are skyrocketing by the double digits as dressing down becomes the new dressing up—but even before fashion was pushed indoors, the hoodie was in the sartorial eye like never before. The journey of the hoodie started nearly one hundred years ago, bouncing from warehouse workers to hip hop tastemakers, resulting in its current role as an unequivocal status symbol.
The hoodie silhouette as we know it today was first produced by Champion in the 1930s, and marketed as nothing more than a utilitarian garment. With thick fleece lining and a durable hood, the sweatshirt was designed to keep workers warm in the freezing warehouses of New York. Since Champion worked directly with many universities and high schools’ athletic departments, it wasn’t long before budding football players were suited in school-branded hoodies of their own. Those football players lent those hoodies to their girlfriends (thus beginning a high school courtship and rom-com trope that has endured to this day), and the garment jumped from a uniform to an expression of personal style.
The 1970s catapulted the hoodie into fashion’s mainstream, thanks to a collision of adaptation from three wildly different corners of culture. Universities across the United States began printing their logos across hoodies and selling them, taking the style off the track and into the all-encompassing collegiate culture. In New York City, break dancers of the city’s budding hip hop scene wore hoodies to stay warm before hitting the floor. Then, in 1976, Rocky saw the world cheer for a humble boxer in a battered grey hoodie, scaling Philadelphia steps and pummeling slabs of meat.
As Los Angeles and New York City became hotbeds of hip hop in the ‘90s, the hoodie became part of the uniform across artists who represented a widespread simmering of anti-authority anger. Cypress Hill, Wu-Tang Clan, and Snoop Dogg were among the countless artists who, suited in oversized hoodies and fitted baseball caps, embodied the sonic and sartorial revolution that would change their industry forever. As Supreme-clad skateboarders and Stüssy-shopping surfers carried the trend through their own tribes, and hip hop gained widespread commercial success, “hoodie” had cemented itself into the mainstream vocabulary by the end of the decade.
Somewhere between Rocky’s warm-up and Enter the Wu-Tang, the hoodie had quietly slipped into the broader youth conscious. In 1980, New York-based designer Norma Kamali unveiled her Sweatshirt Collection, peppered with neutral-toned fleeces and boxy pullovers paired with pleated skirts and leggings alike. Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren quickly took note and followed suit. Thanks to these brands’ pre-existing roots in sportswear—and, in Tommy Hilfiger’s case, the help of ‘90s darlings like Kate Moss and Aaliyah—hoodies seamlessly hop-scotched from a subcultural nod to a chic wardrobe essential among young trendsetters and pop culture tastemakers.
But while hoodies were seeping into the upper echelon, below the luxury glass ceiling, they couldn’t shake an unsavory reputation that had been festering since their inception. It started in the 1970s when graffiti artists took to the style, using the hood to conceal their faces while illegally tagging subways or buildings. With the rise of subversive hip hop artists across the ‘90s, spitting pro-gang or anti-police bars across America’s biggest metropolitan hubs, their baggy hoodies were linked with criminality by those outside the movement.
The association between hoodies and crime persisted into the 2000s, with some UK shopping centers enforcing “no-hoodie” policies to deter loitering, shoplifting, or other “anti-social behavior.” These bans were originally targeted towards teenage boys, but the anti-hoodie campaign cloaked a deep-rooted racial undercurrent.
Things reached a fever pitch in 2012, when unarmed 17-year old Trayvon Martin was gunned down in his family’s Florida gated community. Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman, mentioned the teenager’s hoodie to dub him “suspicious” just moments before killing him, and later cited the garment again to justify the shooting. Following Martin’s death and the subsequent trial, hoodies became a symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement. Protestors, from politicians to the entire Miami Heat roster, donned hoodies in Martin’s honor, and the Million Hoodie March swept cities across the United States in the weeks following the trial.
With the mid-2010s came hypebeast culture, which catapulted the pared-down essentials of streetwear’s DNA into commodities for droves of hungry (and usually well-off) fans. Streetwear veterans like Supreme and X-Girl, which had been fitting the New York City and Los Angeles skate scene in logo tees and hoodies for nearly two decades, entered the high-fashion lingua franca. Newcomers to the street scene—Palace Skateboards, Golf Wang, Awake NY, and Kith, to name a few—jumped into the ring with ‘90s-inspired debut capsules, each starring a logo-emblazoned hoodie that would go on to define each brand.
As the hypebeasts secured their seats at the high-fashion table, streetwear permeated the luxury realm. Rookie players of the 2010s—Off-White, Yeezy, and Vetements—made runway debuts with logo-splattered or distressed hoodies. Collaborations, such as 2017’s Fenty x Puma or Supreme x Louis Vuitton, brought streetwear influences directly into the highest grade of fashion. Although such partnerships were integral in streetwear’s industry acceptance, they effectively shut out a majority of the kick-flipping customers who frequented the original shops. While a typical Supreme hoodie retails for around 0, the Supreme x Louis Vuitton model retailed for 5—and is currently on StockX with bids creeping towards ,000.
Meanwhile, hoodies began cropping up on the runways of both newcomers and heritage houses. Alexander Wang‘s 2007 debut emphasized his now-synonymous luxury sportswear aesthetic, and every collection since has unveiled a fresh crop of pullovers. Youth-centric names like Gucci, Balenciaga, and Marc Jacobs were quick to plaster hoodies with their logos, pushing their product to the streetwear market in doing so. Even remarkably not-streetwear houses like Dior and Saint Laurent debuted their own takes on the style. With each triple-digit hoodie from an esteemed luxury giant, a new layer of privilege was woven into the once-bummy garment. A Gucci or Balenciaga-stitched hoodie became just as much of a commodity as the tailored formalwear that upholds the pillars of such luxury houses—arguably more so. By sending out hoodies alongside bespoke gowns and suits, the luxury industry (and those who could afford them) effectively held a middle finger to the dress codes and sartorial class divides that they themselves had constructed.
Meanwhile, a new corner of the hoodie market emerged from the hands of style-savvy hip hop giants, whose music industry ancestors had set the loungewear precedent. In 2016, Kanye West capped his Life of Pablo release with a slew of pop-ups in 21 cities, stocked with T-shirts and hoodies branded with the shop’s location and album lyrics in the signature gothic font. Travis Scott’s 2018 Astroworld tour unveiled merch that, after selling out from its own set of pop-up shops, now has its own section in both Stadium Goods and Round 2. In 2019, Kid Cudi enlisted Cactus Plant Flea Market for a glow-in-the-dark Entergalactic hoodie that remains one of the most in-demand streetwear grails on the market. Most recently, West’s latest Sunday Service merch follows in Life of Pablo’s footsteps in both demand and influencer clout.
Today, after a long journey bouncing between football fields, protest frontlines, and runways, the hoodie reigns as one of the wardrobe’s most quietly indicative status symbols. Over almost a century, the humble Champion hoodie went from overworked warehouses, to Walmart shopping carts, to the Farfetch homepage (priced at about one-third of typical New York City rent).
With streetwear now an industry in and of itself, the hoodie is both a staple and a catalyst as this evolution continues. Some hoodies boost the wearer’s street cred through drop-fueled exclusivity alone, while others flex under-the-hypebeast-radar brands that trigger double-takes or nods of respect. The modern hoodie finds status in representing ultra-niche communities, blending the if-you-know-you-know wink of streetwear with the exclusivity or price tag of privilege. Cult-favorite millennial-minded brands like Glossier and Erewhon Market have released hoodies stamped with their logos, borrowing streetwear’s drop model to stir fans into a frenzy. These hoodies represent the same quiet affluence and sartorial FOMO of their hypebeast relatives—not everyone can afford the coconut yogurt at Erewhon, just like not everyone could hit the Sunday Service merch line at Coachella.
With the world at home for the foreseeable future, it’s safe to say that the hoodie’s reign is nowhere near its end. With every celebrity street style snap, hip hop pop-up, and streetwear drop, the garment only grows stronger in its endurance and versatility. And while its clout-carrying abilities remain intangible—fueled by FOMO, password-protected releases, and increasingly niche customer bases—the hoodie is rightfully resting on its throne. Comfort is, and will always be, king.END
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