"The 50 Years Of Hip Hop Fashion

"The 50 Years Of Hip Hop Fashion" Event At The MODA Museum

                 By:  Lauren K. Clark

Photographers: Renita Vanzant 

 Tanicqua "Twitch" Hamilton 

It's a name of two words, deriving from the English language.  A style. Vibe. Way of life. It is a cultural expression, which represented the marginalized stories of people living in the inner cities and ghettos of these United States of America.  An extension of one of the musical genres of Black American culture, identity, and heritage, as others came to join this musical celebration. It was born in the Bronx, New York; later spreading to other areas of New York City. Simultaneously,its roots lay in the Dirty South.  "The Great Migration urbanized the southern, Black American population, and expanded Blues music from the southern states to the rest of America.  From the Church, street corner, to the worldstage, this genre has grown into one of the world's most prominent musical genres and cultural influences," states Dr. Courtney A. Hammonds. It's name was founded in the English language.  Yet, it became celebrated and performed in nations, and foreign tongues, throughout the world.  Two words and two syllables. Hip Hop. 

While the musical platform is what propelled this specific genre, it all started with image.  In the world of Hip Hop, fashion is image.  In fact, not only is it the source of identity, but it highlights the very essence of "making a way out of no way." Similar to its other elements, Hip Hop Fashion makes it very clear that creativity is limited to no particular spacing.  Poverty does not halt creativity.  On the contrary, it amplifies it.  Famed Hip Hop MC, Bronx Native, and co-founder of the first all-women's DJ and Hip Hop group-"Mercedes Ladies," Sheri Sher expresses the fashion sense, which made her group iconic.  "We were known for our flygirl style.  Different colored sweatshirt or T-shirts, with the velcro letters; with the crease iron gown in the middle, with shrimp earrings."

In the city of Atlanta, the very discussion and celebration of such creativity came into the limelight, with the "50 Years Of Hip Hop Fashion," event, at the MODA Museum on Tuesday December 13, 2022, from 6-8pm.  A collaboration between Upscale Magazine and Sustainable Fashion Week Atlanta, the event was co-organized by Upscale Magazine fashion editor, author, professor at Capella University, Chairman of CAH & Co. and "The Dean Of Fashion, himself," Dr. Courtney A. Hammonds. In Hip Hop, the four original pillars are Rapping/MCing, Breakdancing, DJing, and Graffiti art. What has started in Atlanta, will continue as a 7-city tour, where Dr. Hammonds, and other panelists, will highlight a fifth pillar of Hip Hop culture: Fashion

"In alignment with MODA's exhibition schedule, Close To The Edge: The Birth Of Hip Hop Architecture, it was the perfect backdrop to discuss Hip Hop fashion.  Dr. Courtney Hammonds attended a panel discussion about Hip Hop Culture In France at ATLSFW and saw synergies with Upscale Magazine.  This is how the event came to be," states Tanjuria Willis-Founder Of Sustainable Fashion Week Atlanta. 

The panel consisted of "heavyweights" of the Hip Hop Fashion scene: Minister Server Tavares-Hip Hop Cultural Strategist; Kris Shelby-Fashion Stylist, Image Consultant; Exclusive Game-Fashion Designer and Owner Of Exclusive Game Style House; Dr. Adia Winfrey-Founder Of HYPE (Healing Young People Through Empowerment) and the first Black woman to use Hip Hop as a rallying tool for the youth; and Sheldon G. Horton (Facilitator)-Fashion Enthusiast, Stylist, Make-up, Hair, Production, Fashion, and Media. Special guest, and famed, "celebrity makeup professional (i.e. Jill Scott, TLC, Toni Braxton and others), Gwynnis Mosby of the Gwynnis Mosby Makeup Training Center, was also in attendance. Kicking off the panel discussion, Dr. Courtney Hammonds described his initial exposure to the international, Hip Hop scene, through his parents.  His father was a pastor and his mother was a model.  Growing up in the 80's in Berlin, Germany, Hammonds observed the international impact of Hip Hop Music, when he saw graffiti on the Berlin Wall. As the "Dean Of Fashion," Dr. Hammonds mentioned the use of fashion in "showing up" in the room, and the inner, fashionable work needing to be done by us all. 

       "If you can walk in a room, and still be insecure, that's a problem.  If you can walk in a room and be a Run DMC, though there are only two; if you can walk into a room.  Not what you wear, but the cure of who you are.  Allow your inner man to have a wardrobe change.  Your inner has trauma, that you have not healed from.  All of us have a uniform and that is fashion. Fashion is powerful. I did not get a chance to go to school for fashion, but life was my school."

Colorful, hip, and, lively, as previously mentioned, the lecture event was an extension of the current exhibition at the MODA museum, "Close To The Edge:  The Birth Of Hip Hop Architecture."  The exhibition will be on display until January 29, 2023.  During the event, attendees, guests, and panelists alike dressed in some of the most iconic pieces of Hip Hop fashion.  Neon colors, geometric patterns, large, golden earrings, skytower hats, the trademark Adidas jump suit, and other fashionable Hip Hop pieces were part of the space.  In fact, cultural aesthetics of the 80's and 90's decorated the vibes of those Hip Hop enthusiasts, who were part of those Golden era of Hip Hop's legacy.  For that particular night, the very aesthetics of Hip Hop had been personified with a Southern twist. 

In many respects, the "50 Years Of Hip Hop Fashion," was a reminder to attendees for the very foundation, and existence of this musical genre.  The words of all panelists was very clear.  Hip Hop Fashion is a restoration of dignity.  Such is the legacy of fashion for Black American people.  After the eradication of slavery within the United States of America, clothing became a weapon for the restoration of dignity for a people, who had been portrayed as, undignified.  The his/herstory of Black American people's use of style and fashion, as a nurturing of humanity, is vigilant throughout U.S. history.  Concerning Hip Hop fashion, attire re-claimed the dignity of inner city, Black American youth. Latino Americans and others of NYC's urban persuasion also joined in the re-decorating of their humanity. In addition, the presence of "Grandmaster Flash (Barbados) & The Furious Five" and "DJ Kool Herc" (Jamaican-American) in Hip Hop, and their creation of iconic songs, (i.e. "The Message") demonstrates its appreciation from Caribbean-Americans.    They were marginalized.  However, Hip Hop demanded that mainstream America see them. The creativity of urban, Black youth  forced the Black American middle, upper class, and bourgeoisie, to acknowledge that they too were part of Black America's artistry, history, and image-whether they wanted to claim it or not.  The foundation of Hip Hop fashion was rooted in the celebration of a particular humanity.  One question is posed. Has Hip Hop gone wrong?

During the panel discussion, youth empowerment, freedom from oppression, and the current direction of Hip Hop were themes of discussion.  Certain panelists gave their stance on the misdirection and misguidance of the Hip Hop scene.  One statement was "there was Hip Hop and then there was the corporate takeover. . .There were 6 years before dealing with corporations." There was a list of heavyweights on the panel, who clarified the authenticity of Hip Hop.  From the Dirty South to the Bronx, New York, where Hip Hop was born, each of the speakers brought their truth, work, and experiences to this culture.  A reclaiming of Hip Hop's origin for truth-telling was a central point, during "50 Years Of Hip Hop Fashion."  Afterall, it began with a musical, ethnological performance of the rough and tough spaces of poverty in the ghetto.  It was a rallying cry for a people, who had been ignored and marginalized; cast aside like trash and hidden from the American gaze. Ironic? Has Hip Hop gone wrong?

One of the voices on the panel, who addressed the reimergence of Hip Hop culture for the rallying of the youth, was Dr. Adia Winfrey. Coming from Taledga, Alabama as a Black American woman, Winfrey has examined and observed reflections of that Southern artistry coming to light.

       "As a Black woman from Talledega, Alabama, I have seen the Southern impact on Hip Hop fashion over the last 20 years.  Tall tees, gold teeth, and long chains were key elements of Hip Hop fashion originating in the South," states Dr. Winfrey.  

The work of Dr. Winfrey reiterates the Southern origins of social justice, Hip Hop, and its fashionable style.  Another person in attendance was that of Tanjuria Willis.  Willis is the owner and founder of the Atlanta Sustainable Fashion Week.  In conjunction with MODA, and Upscale Magazine, Atlanta Sustainable Fashion Week, also played a key role in organizing the "50 Years Of Hip Hop Fashion" event. Like any Black American, who is a native of Chicago, the lineage traces back to the Mississippi roots.  

       "I'm a Native of Chicago.  However, just like many others, my parents are both from Mississippi.  The Southern culture and Hip Hop culture have many parallels, such as information sharing through the music, telling the story, and how clothing tells the story of who they are and where they are from. . their identity, as well as their individual."

The Southern heritage of Dr. Ava Winfrey, Dr. Hammonds, and Tanjuria Willis is what amplifies the "50 Years Of Hip Hop Fashion" in Atlanta.  The fact that this 7-city tour began in the city of Atlanta-an area rich in Black American culture, and currently known as the Black Mecca, is what paints an exciting picture of Hip Hop fashion.  With Atlanta being home to innovative Hip Hop groups, who brought a unique style to the music scene, such as TLC, Kriss Kross, and OutKast, the event's conversation on fashion highlights Atlanta's unique contribution to Hip Hop's fashion culture. There is a particular style in the Atlanta, Hip Hop Fashion scene, which makes the Southern city a different platform for Hip Hop's style.  Native Atlantan, "50 Years Of Hip Hop Fashion" attendee, and founder of Wisdom Fashion House, Latif Rashad, highlights that ". . . The Southern elements in fashion and Hip Hop are unapologetic and very individual.  Growing up in Atlanta, I deeply feel that its fashion has an element of status.  In certain communities, you will see trends become widely painted on everybody as a form of communication that says, 'I'm up.'"

While being part of the world of fashion, Rashad also addresses particular areas in Atlanta, which depicts the unique taste the city brings to Hip Hop's fashion culture.  

     "In other pockets, you will find an unapologetic artsy style, which I believe to be influenced by Andre 3000, usually seen in places like Little Five Points, Ponce, or Peter's Street.  My favorite version of Atlanta fashion can be found in places like the High, MODA, or the Atlanta Contemporary.  I call it high-street-a combination of High Fashion and Streetwear." 

The role of family, love, healing, and an appreciation for Hip Hop fashion was presented even more into this lecture event.  An emotional reaction from Dr. Courtney A. Hammonds conveyed his excitement for the lives he had touched as a fashion professor.  "I feel so full today. I see former students.  I see former co-workers.  I just see former everything.  And, that is just making my heart happy," states Hammonds.  After the panel discussion, attendees were given the opportunity to network and mingle with the panelists, and other guests, who attended the event, to interact with others, coming to celebrate Hip Hop fashion at the MODA Museum in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Of course, when it comes to the healing component of attire, the direction and state of Hip Hop is brought into question.  As panelists discussed that phase of corporate takeover, other conversations are coming to the table. Another issue, which had been brought to the forefront was the use of Hip Hop fashion to address destructive messages in the genre.  Regarding Hip Hop music, some may feel that the genre had deviated from its original purpose.

         "I don't think Hip Hop has served as a.  healer to my life and/or the African-American [Black American] community at large in recent years.  The original healing effect has been buried under what seems to be degradation of Black women and hyperviolence to the Black community," says Sheldon G. Horton-Fashion Enthusiast and Stylist. 

As the year 2022 came to a close, the discussion on Hip Hop fashions will carry into the upcoming year.  The exhibition at the MODA Museum will continue to entertain guests on one particular facet of Hip Hop artistry and culture-Hip Hop architecture.  Such also brings up more discussions on the interwoven dynamics between architecture and fashion.  How is the interconnection between fashion and architecture another category of artistry in Hip Hop?  Furthermore, how do the two contribute to the inspiration, enhancement, and creativity of the other?

As the Hip Hop Fashion scene goes through its own re-birth, the return to its Southern roots and influences is becoming more prominent.  Specifically, the fashion, music, and creativity scenes of the city has become a hub for Hip Hop conferences, festivals, fashion shows, and recently architectural projects, which are celebrating the art. 

    ". . .I believe that the dawning of a new day is upon us and the original knowledge and intent of Hip Hop will re-emerge and change the trajectory of our youth for decades to come," comments Sheldon G. Horton. 

What makes the "50 Years Of Hip Hop Fashion" Upscale Magazine, MODA Museum, and Atlanta Sustainable Fashion Week ATL collaboration a foreshadow of Hip Hop's re-birth is how panelists, and audience members from the North, Midwest, and other regions came in to support the celebratory event. Does the "50 Years Of Hip Hop Fashion" event foreshadow reconnecting Hip Hop's fashionable essence to its Southern heritage? Furthermore, how can this return establish a Hip Hop fashion's Renaissance, whose Earthly, metropolitan roots, character, and Southern perfumes can paint a more peaceful and nurturing design to a peculiar,  textile fabric, known as, Hip Hop?