Something strange has been afoot in the world of men’s style over the past few years. The lines between what we once referred to as “streetwear” and high fashion have been becoming increasingly blurred.
Recent seasons have seen historic haute-couture houses partnering with skatewear brands. Meanwhile, hoodies and harness bags are now routinely sent down fashion-week runways by labels that, until very recently, were using the same platform to wheel out razor-sharp tailoring and trench coats.
Some say this crossover marks the final nail in the coffin for the term “streetwear”, but while there’s no denying we’re in the midst of a new fashion climate, the labels that have always championed this style are still very much doing their thing.
Here we run through the best streetwear brands on the face of the earth, and why they’re worth having on your sartorial radar.
Streetwear, in its purest sense, may never have come to exist had it not been for Californian surfer Shawn Stussy and his line of graphic T-shirts back in the 1980s. It all began when Stussy began scrawling his surname on his handcrafted surfboards with a marker pen. The logo soon found its way onto tees, hoodies and beyond, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Ask anyone to name a streetwear brand and chances are one of the first names to roll off their tongue will be that of skateboard label Supreme. The transcendent New York brand’s unique approach to the supply-and-demand model revolutionised the scene by introducing “drops” as a means of releasing new products in highly limited numbers. This created a sense of hype that sees fans routinely queueing up for days just to get their hands on anything bearing that iconic box logo… even if that does happen to be a brick or an ashtray.
If there’s one brand that could be called the living embodiment of London’s gritty skate scene, Palace is surely it. In just 10 short years, the UK label has gone from an underground imprint for skateboard decks and T-shirts to one of the most respected names in men’s fashion. Head to their webstore on drop day and you’re likely to find five-panel caps juxtaposed against velvet smoking jackets and snakeskin loafers. More recently, there’s even been a Polo Ralph Lauren collab.
It was arguably the Americans that invented streetwear, but if anyone’s serious about it, it’s Japan. Neighbourhood is one of Nippon’s proudest exports when it comes to dark, moody streetwear, and has been a frequent collaborator with heavyweights such as Adidas, Converse, Dr. Martens and even affordable watch brand Timex.
After cutting his teeth at Fendi alongside Kanye West, Off-White founder Virgil Abloh exploded onto the scene, quickly becoming one of fashion’s most prominent figures. Now at the helm of Louis Vuitton’s menswear arm, the designer somehow still finds time to run his own label, poking fun at the industry with tongue-in-cheek branding and an ever-present sense of irony.
The basketball GOAT, Michael Jordan revolutionised sneaker culture (with a little help from Nike and legendary sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield) with the launch of his signature line of footwear. Since the beginning of the scene, the Jordan brand has been a cornerstone of streetwear, churning out some of the most iconic trainer silhouettes in history.
Dutch brand Patta began life as so many streetwear brands do – as limited line of graphic T-shirts. The tees were originally sold out of Patta’s multi-brand boutique, but as demand grew for them, Patta began to morph into a streetwear label in its own right. Now with a string of high-profile collaborations with everyone from Carhartt to Nike under its belt, the brand has cemented its name as one of the finest around.
There are a handful of brands that have earned respect in all corners of casual menswear. Oregonian sportswear behemoth Nike is one of them. From iconic sneakers to genre-bending sportswear, as well as knockout brand hookups with every major name on the scene – including the likes of Supreme and Virgil Abloh – Nike is one of the kings of streetwear.
For a long time, in the States, Carhartt was nothing more than a workwear brand, making high-quality overalls and apparel designed to take a beating. However, in Europe, the label took on another form. Here, you were more likely to see DJs and skaters wearing its goods than mechanics and carpenters. Carhartt’s response to its newfound fanbase came in the shape of Carhartt WIP (Work In Progress), a streetwear-orientated line that focussed on ultra-cool designs, without sacrificing any of that trademark rugged quality.
Polar Skate Co.
Skate culture and streetwear have always gone hand in hand, to the point of often being indistinguishable. Polar Skate Co. is a solid example of this. A skatewear company at its core, the Swedish brand has found favour among the streetwear community too. Expect graphic tees, cool outerwear and, unlike a lot of streetwear, prices that won’t leave you with a hole in your pocket.
BAPE (A Bathing Ape)
When thinking of Japanese streetwear, it’s impossible not to think of BAPE. DJ and fashion designer Nigo’s colourful and quirky label has long served as a gateway for teens getting into streetwear for the first time. Famous for its iconic camo print and bizarre design motifs (shark hoodie, anyone?), the brand is one of the most coveted and respected in the world of alternative fashion.
The North Face
You may be wondering what a mountaineering brand is doing in a rundown of streetwear labels. The North Face has a knack for nailing brand hookups, the products of which often go on to become “grail pieces”. A frequent collaborator with Supreme, TNF also has a habit of enlisting the help of renegade talent to create new and interesting garments for its Japanese “Purple Label” line, as well as teaming up with veteran designer Kazuki Kuraishi as part of The North Face “Black Series”.