Is streetwear getting preppy?
The streetwear landscape is ever-evolving with players such as Market, Joe Freshgoods, Anwar Carrots, Verdy, Palace, Dime, Olivier, Brain Dead and more introducing new takes on skate culture and carrying the torch lit by urbanwear pioneers in the late ’80s. But a small pocket of brands — such as Kith, Noah, Aimé Leon Dore and Awake NY — are showing streetwear’s dressier side.
Noah and Awake NY, two companies founded by Supreme alums Brendon Babenzien and Angelo Baque, respectively, have streetwear roots but their brand offerings can be considered contemporary as well. For every graphic T-shirt from Awake NY, there’s a houndstooth suit or double-breasted coat, or a twill raincoat and tan double-breasted blazer from Noah.
Aimé Leon Dore founder Teddy Santis launched his label in 2014 with slim sweatpants and down vests that paired with Air Jordan 1 sneakers, but the brand offering today hearkens to 1990s Polo Ralph Lauren advertisements and the more recent but defunct Rugby Ralph Lauren brand. Kith has offered elevated pieces such as knit cardigans from its namesake label for some time, but the true coming-out party for a preppy offering was with its BMW collaboration collection last fall.
“Streetwear has always been a reflection of two things. One, how culturally engaged young people dress, and two, the personal tastes and inspirations of the people making the clothes,” said Jian DeLeon, men’s fashion and editorial director of Nordstrom. “It’s always been a mash-up of subcultures like punk, hip-hop, surfing and skateboarding, which have all had their own ways of subverting various types of uniforms and dress codes.”
Prior to Nordstrom, DeLeon covered men’s fashion and trends for Complex, Valet, WGSN, GQ and Highsnobiety and authored two books: “The Incomplete Highsnobiety Guide to Street Fashion” and “Culture and The New Luxury.”
He sees streetwear as a means to remove the fuss from fashion — “It’s easy to do that with graphics on a T-shirt, hoodie, or a jacquard sock, but it’s also been done with chinos, button-down shirts, suits and loafers,” he said — and believes the segment has grown up with its consumer.
Streetwear pioneers Cross Colours, Walkerwear, Phat Farm and Fubu were established roughly 30 years ago when the segment was called urbanwear. The category grew and changed over the decades, becoming staples at retailers, and dabbling in luxury fashion.
Preppy and tailored offerings have been part of the streetwear offering in the past. Fubu expanded into suits in the 2000s and last year did a suit line with Karako Suits. Bape launched Mr. Bathing Ape, a tailored offering to complement its popular Baby Milo T-shirts and Bapesta sneakers. It also created a capsule with Montblanc in 2019.
Some brands begin their venture in streetwear and stay in that lane because it’s how they can best express their ideas while others are more willing to try their hand at alternative categories.
DeLeon said Stüssy offered suits as well and praised Awake NY’s tailored offering. He noted that Noah perfected its formula for “making premium garments that are specifically anti-hype. Quite literally [it] hit the ‘not your grandfather’s men’s wear brand’ aesthetic on the head in a subtle way,” he added.
One could argue that streetwear is becoming preppy as more labels begin offering collegiate sweaters, blazers and turtlenecks and introduce loafers to their sneaker-centric consumers. Though Aimé Leon Dore’s footwear program is noted for its New Balance collaboration, the brand offers penny loafers as well. Kith carries Loewe shoes and created a program for footwear label Blackstock & Weber. Noah teamed with Sperry on boat shoes in 2019.
“You don’t ‘grow out’ of brands as much anymore,” DeLeon added. “Hardly anyone who grew up wearing Supreme, Kith or Stüssy is going to give that up easily in favor of a brand that might be more traditional but feels less unique. It’s why it makes sense to see guys like Brendon Babenzien helm J. Crew Men’s. There’s certainly a demarcation between what 30-year-olds think looks cool and what 12-year-olds think looks cool.”
DeLeon noted how collaborations bridged gaps for streetwear. He mentioned a collaboration from the early 2000s between Supreme and New Era, a ball cap made out of Loro Piana cashmere, as a project that “really exemplified the gap that streetwear still continues to bridge,” he said.
The bottom line is: some will and some won’t, and only time will tell if both the new and longtime streetwear brands take pages out of the books of Kith, Noah, Awake NY and Aimé Leon Dore and head to a preppier path.