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Chuck Taylor All-Stars Hang from A Chandelier: Pop-Culture and the Identity of Streetwear

Walk through the main roads of any metropolitan-esque city and the playful slashes of graffiti will welcome you, burgeoning in colour on the most conspicuous wall or hidden away, waiting for you to discover them as you turn a corner. The streets thrum with the verve of urban youth. If the grizzled tar-roads, vibrant lights and constant movement were to be peeled off and made sartorial, one would be left with streetwear. Encompassing sneakers, hoodies, t-shirts, logos and more, streetwear evolved from the New York hip hop scene, Californian surf culture and skateboarding to include sportswear, punk and Japanese street fashion. Streetwear isn’t just a trend within fashion, it is “the fashion leg of a larger shift that has given power to popular culture,” explains Strategy & HYPEBEAST. Pop-culture and streetwear operate as sister-movements.

Streetwear’s identity grew in the gaping divide between an ethos high fashion wasn’t willing to cater to and an appetite for the designs it employed. “The art world has a tendency to feel a little bit hard to enter from the outside if you’ve never been or you just didn’t grow up in that kind of culture,” reasons contemporary American visual artist Daniel Arsham. The energy of street art and life mirrored the fast-paced, ever-evolving and expressive youth. There was a warm amateurism here that could fuel electric creativity if given the chance. Pop-culture presented an inclusive entrance into a world of creation – to art, film, music, celebrity – and catalysed an experimental yet welcoming movement now termed “streetwear.”

Street fashion influences from pop-culture are everywhere. A rabble of feet emblazon the stone tiles of schools with the unmistakable diamond grid print and “Converse” label of Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Pink Floyd’s album covers become moving print-art on the graphic t-shirts swarming through shopping malls. The Chuck Taylor All-Stars shoe in particular, is a shrine for pop-culture and sports heroes – named after basketball player Chuck Taylor and bearing his signature on the ankle medallion. It became popular on the basketball court and, soon, a streetwear staple worn by children, punk rockers and skateboarders late in the 20th century.

“The shoe is beloved for its unassuming versatility and relatability – themes core to streetwear.”

Further, hip-hop culture drives streetwear’s design identity because they both blossomed in the shared context of 1970’s and 1980’s New York City. “I live around Flatbush, where you hear hip-hop all the time. And we've got it down to a science when it comes to what rappers are dressed in, their turns, what they say. We really try our best to emulate them,” Nathaniel, teenage streetwear and art enthusiast from Brooklyn, tells Highsnobiety. From Rick the Ruler’s 1985 love letter to Kangol bucket hats, layered chains and rings in “La Di Da Di” to Run-D.M.C.’s 1986 song “My Adidas” securing the Adidas tracksuit’s place in fashion, the fresh, rapidly growing New York hip-hop scene built the attitude and sense of community inherent to streetwear.

Hip-hop, in fact, was relentless enough to help catalyze another streetwear revolution: across the world in Japan. Japan is a street-style landmark: from the streetwear haven of Urahara (“hidden Harajuku”) rose modern, global streetwear titans like Bathing Ape. The arrival of American pop-culture with American soldiers in Japan after WWII sparked interest in casual attire over traditional wear– especially in the Japanese youth. While hip-hop’s dexterous turns of phrase may have been missed, its cutting, courageous tone hooked listeners. The taste for sparky quick-wittedness was universal. By the 80’s, hip-hop had introduced baggy clothing to Japanese streetwear. The decade also bore an identity of Japanese streetwear that remains distinctive and pervasive even today: Kawaii. What would follow from the 80’s would be the energized, “golden years” of Japanese streetwear– where an appeal of a chic Parisian style and an intrigue in grunge fashion inspired by Kurt Cobain, for instance, could simultaneously fester in the receptive, diverse streetwear community.


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But more recently, this symbiotic relationship between pop-culture and streetwear is under duress. Streetwear thrives when it is accessible and is subversive in its accessibility. But today, an average Box-Logo Supreme T-shirt sells at a $38 retail price and over 30 times that ($1140) at resale. Supreme, a $1 billion company that reigns over popular streetwear, “under produces to the demand”, explains Business Insider, and uses exclusivity of the brand to create a massive resale market.

“The raucous experimentation of youth subcultures reinterpreting high fashion as accessible to the ethos of working-class people is lost.”

Pop-culture’s elevation from the status of subculture is reflected in how high fashion more often corresponds with it as opposed to being challenged by it. This change is not lost on streetwear, which is facing gentrification – the toughest challenge to its identity. Younger people buying into streetwear today often confer value upon the brand as opposed to the style of the clothes or the story they tell. “Luxury fashion and streetwear will [never] be one and the same in a real sense,” says musician and designer, Hiroshi Fujiwara, because luxury fashion always comes from a context of affluence that directly contradicts the origins of streetwear. Streetwear culture holds “this idea about creating something that's for us,” says Ashram, and the lasting nature of this theme sparks hope – that one need only wait out luxury fashion’s ephemeral interest in the movement.

Dapper Dan
Dapper Dan

When Harlem designer Dapper Dan repurposed luxury pieces to create styles for hip-hop artists shirked by high fashion in the 1980’s, it was fashion responding to community. It was streetwear. Streetwear as a genre of apparel still endures, but its identity is greatly changed as pop-culture, its strongest influence, metamorphoses.



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