Fashion has always been tribal. From the pitched battles between mods and rockers along the Brighton seafront to teddy boys battering punks up and down the King’s Road, what we wear signals who we are, what we represent and who we identify with. Though today the violence has lessened – unless you count catty Instagram photos of kids queued up for the new Air Jordan drop – the demarcations haven’t. You could be a hypebeast repping Palace and Stussy; a rudie in Savile Row tailoring and pork pie hat; or a menswear jedi in Yohji Yamamoto and Rick Owens. But the likelihood is that you know
Lesson 1: Embrace Youth
Image: Supreme New York
There’s a tendency in menswear to romanticise the past. Brands trade on heritage, their social feeds trumpeting so many decades of design history among photos of the long dead wearing their products. But in streetwear, freshness is all. The scene’s daddies were teen parents – Supreme has only inspired urban camp-outs for two decades and even old-timer Stüssy has barely logged three decades. But the really exciting things come from brands metaphorically still in nappies. That’s because young labels with low overheads and a hunger to make their mark don’t have shareholders to get antsy if the new collection doesn’t sell. They’re willing to innovate – think County of Milan’s oversized silhouettes or Cav Empt’s glitchy graphics, which punch through the pared-back aesthetic other brands are currently pushing. What does that mean for you? That for all the Huntsman in your wardrobe, looking to upstarts like Thom Sweeney – whose suits have a slimmer, more youthful shape than Savile Row’s stalwarts – will set you apart. If your pocket’s only deep enough for the high street, swap the established names for brands like Australia’s Streetx or the recently launched JOY sub-label HYMN, whose staples are bank balance-friendly and shot through with personality. It’s a young man’s game.
Lesson 2: Seek Out Exclusives
Image: Reebok Classic Nylon x Maison Kitsuné ‘Arctic Fox’
The streetwear scene is fuelled by one-upmanship; to best your squad, you need to cop stuff they can’t. Which is why brands like Supreme release lines in strictly limited numbers – unlike the near unlimited queues the day these exclusive collections drop. “There’s something about wearing an item that none of your mates have that lends you an air of confidence,” says Calum Gordon, author of Contemporary Menswear. “Though I will never, ever recommend that you camp out overnight to secure it.” Instead, go digging. “Scouring eBay for items from past seasons, or picking up occasional items from niche shops, will ensure you never turn up to the pub in the same T-shirt as anyone you know.” And that your #OOTD snaps don’t look like rip-offs. “It’s about picking more exclusive stores,” agrees Breaks Mag editor Tom Kirkby. Streetwear heads know the best trainers aren’t at Size?, but smaller independents like Footpatrol, where the focus is tighter and you’re more likely to find something no-one else is wearing. Emulate them by stepping away from stores that stock everything to ones with a more curated selection, like London’s Present, Autograph in Birmingham, Newcastle’s End Clothing, or Manchester’s menswear Mecca, Oi Polloi. It’s also worth checking the digital racks at Grailed, where guys with too much swag for their wardrobes sell designer gear, often from sold-out seasons. Simply scour the images then add what you like to your personal fitting room. You can either make an offer or wait for the price to drop, when your inbox will ping to tell you that Raf Simons x Sterling Ruby bomber is now in your price bracket. Hit purchase and prepare for your Instagram to blow up.
Lesson 3: Strip It Back
Diving too deep into branding takes you into fuccboi territory. You might be proud of dropping a month’s wages on your wardrobe, but don’t overdose on logos. A whisper lingers long than a scream. “Keep it simple and concentrate on accessories,” say Kirkby. “A nice quality plain white tee with good selvedge jeans is always a winner, then spend on everything else – shoes, watch, a tasteful bracelet.” With an always on-point skeleton it’s easier to dress yourself up or down. Where the streetwear don reaches for his Yeezy Boosts, you can either swing more formal in a pair of brogues or keep the weekend vibe going by getting on board the luxury sneaker trend with a pair of Feit’s handmade leather trainers. Both will mark you out as a man who appreciates craftsmanship over queuing.
Lesson 4: Keep Your Style Sharp
“No self-respecting streetwear aficionado is going to be seen in battered trainers,” says Gordon. Some take this to the extreme, spending nights in with a toothbrush to obsessively shift every stain from uppers they’ve dragged round the city all day. But while that’s overkill, maintaining your wardrobe is key to make your whole outfit look tight. Footwear needs particular care. That means polishing leather weekly and leaving at least 24-hours between wears to ensure your shoes dry out. Brush up on what your laundry labels mean and invest in a good quality iron – nothing’s as depressing as torching your favourite shirt because you skimped on its upkeep – and a pilling razor, so bobbles don’t kill your knits. For your own trainers, take a tip from the experts. “The occasional wet wiping and changing out the laces will keep them from looking too worn-out,” says Gordon. And keep an eye on the forecast if you’re wearing box-fresh Stan Smiths. Or suede desert boots.
Taking a note from streetwear’s dons can elevate even the most traditional dresser, by taking you out of your comfort zone and opening you up to new approaches. Not that you need to swap the double-monks for double-zipped bombers. Where do you find style inspiration? And do you feel like you identify as part of a style tribe? Share your thoughts and opinions below.