Fashion, like many other parts of the culture at large, tends to be cyclical. Trends and brands whose heydays were long passed can come back at any time with a vengeance. Streetwear has added a new layer to this phenomenon, as the fashion genre loves to harp on vintage looks with a twist of irony. Brands that used to be the pinnacle of uncoolness have been transformed by the culture of streetwear and have been able to rebrand as ironic, or even fashionable.
The brand that has exemplified this the most is Champion. Champion reached its casual fashion peak in the mid-1980s, but was soon cast to the side in the early 2000s. The brand became popular among the poorer youth, and became known as a “struggle brand.” Then, seemingly out of nowhere in the mid-2010s, Champion was suddenly seen again everywhere. This new relevance was reached through its collaborations with popular streetwear brands like Supreme, A Bathing Ape and Wood Wood.
Streetwear’s popularization of the chunky sneakers, specifically the Balenciaga Triple S’s or the Gucci Rhythons, has allowed for formerly ugly shoe brands to shine. Fila Disruptors, aka “chunky Filas” or “dino stompers” became so popular that there was a brief meme touting its basic-ness. Sketchers, a brand whose name is synonymous with the light-up sneakers of elementary school, has made a comeback with their D’Lites. Even ugly shoes that are not part of the streetwear trend, such as Birkenstocks, have been able to thrive through their perceived “tackiness.”
A large part of streetwear is tackiness for tackiness’s sake. Larry David, an actor/writer who is known for his ugly sneaker and blazer outfit combo, is a style icon. Adam Sandler’s pointedly lazy style is often recreated on runways. A true streetwear artist knows that there needs to be a sense of, “I picked this up off the floor,” in each look. Because of modern streetwear’s SoCal skateboarding origins, cosmetic changes like ironing are generally discouraged.
People often invoke the growing class divisions when they talk about how formerly “tacky” brands can come back as mainstream and fashionable. As soon as brands become affordable for everyone, they are quickly dropped. The end of Juicy Couture came after it became available at Kohl’s and Marshalls. For something to be deemed fashionable by society, it typically must also be exclusive. However, this phenomenon becomes a double-edged sword when people who experienced ridicule for wearing brands like Reebok, Champion and Fila have to watch everyone get praised for it merely years later.
Streetwear is a big tent, and there’s room for all types of styles and brands within it. The problem arises, however, when only a token group of people are allowed to be considered fashionable.