Streetwear in itself is a phenomenon that has been researched and documented by many people over time, but it is truly something enigmatic that can never be completely solved. Even if you look back through its history, no one can say that there was one singular event or action where streetwear became what we may think of it today.
One could say that streetwear first gained serious worldwide attention and influence with the golden age of hip-hop and graffiti culture in the late 1980's and early 90's, where the bold flashes of color and the overall styling of every rapper was in competition to be more on point than the next. The fashion was often just as competitive as their lyrics.
The rise and takeover of hip-hop on pop culture in the 80's was also where the 'flex' began, and the linking up of the original Jordans to what you were wearing was guaranteed to turn heads. And if we're going to talk about clothing, back then the world saw the rise of the legendary Dapper Dan of Harlem, a master tailor who was the true originator of the art of appropriation and remix in streetwear. For many up and coming rappers of the time, getting the god mode cosign of Dapper Dan was the first thing you did beyond making a hit record that announced that you were now a force to be reckoned with, and his clothes were in nearly every major rap video.
One can even say that streetwear goes back even further than the inception and rise of hip-hop, back to the earliest days of Dogtown southern California skateboard culture in the early 1970's. Skate culture is literally inseparable from streetwear, because the skaters are the ones on the front lines that are feeling the streets analog style and getting seen every day in action.
And does anyone remember the background story of Stussy, and how integral he was to the rise of streetwear at this point? Stussy was a surfer that designed and made his own surfboards by hand, and originally made t-shirts to promote his business. It is apparent that surfing, skate culture, and hip-hop are all absolutely integral parts of the streetwear formula, and that's even before we get to the underground 1970's punk rock scene of New York, and how punk later influenced legendary streetwear figures like the Beastie Boys.
So if it can't be solved or quantified, then what really is streetwear? In part, streetwear is the independent spirit of what is created by artists and supported by those outside of the mainstream, like a synergy or fusion that couldn't happen any other way. Streetwear is like alchemy, a practice that almost only by accident or serendipity can spin lead into gold, and has a secret formula not readily shared. Streetwear speaks loud and clear to people who understand it, like a secret language, and is instantly recognizable by those in the know.
Is Nike or Adidas streetwear? Partially, but never in full... for it to be truly authentic on every level, streetwear has to be created and supported by independent people like us, who are out there creating, hustling and displaying the colors of our tribe for those that recognize and support what we do. The authentic and elusive streetwear formula cannot be recreated in a board meeting or replicated by a test-market focus group; it's from people who have to do this, and are authentically a part of it because it runs in our veins.
Streetwear remains an elusive mystery; it was never really born from one event or limited to one movement. It evolves and is ever changing, so it can never truly go out of style or die. All in all, perhaps it's better that the question 'What is streetwear?' can't really be solved by anyone, because if we knew what it was directly or if someone could quantify and duplicate the formula, it would have been packaged for the masses and would have died out a long time ago.