From Streetwear to Fashion Mainstay, the Evolution of the Hoodie

The hoodie is not only the most important item of clothing in your closet on DGAF days, but it’s a pretty important piece of clothing in our collective cultural history. Seriously. While we were busy writing the hoodie off as an innocuous sweatshirt to be reserved for post-gym brunches or shameless evenings of Netflix and chill, it was subverting its way right into the fabric of our cultural consciousness. We don’t often think of clothing as having an agenda, but the hoodie definitely does.

“Most people see the hoodie as the representation of anything anti-social,” says Laura McLaws Helms, a New York–based fashion historian. “It’s this anti-establishment, anti-social thing, and probably the ultimate garment that represents those ideas.”

The hoodie has what you might call a paradoxical history. When it first hit the retail scene in the ’30s, the hoodie had a pretty practical intent: keeping athletes warm, a purpose that was quickly appropriated by blue-collar laborers. But not too long after its vanilla beginnings, the hoodie started to get a rep on the streets. According to McLaws Helms, this, too, was purely practical—the hood provided the perfect shroud for ne’er-do-wells up to no good. From there it really took off. In the ‘70s, the hoodie solidified its counterculture rep, largely thanks to the army of graffiti artists sporting the style as they left their marks on major urban centers. In rapid succession came the hip-hop crowd and the skater scene of the ‘80s and ‘90s—two more countercultures borrowing the uniform of their predecessors.

Sweatshirts on display in the ’50s.

The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

For a brief second, it looked like the hoodie might swing back toward its squeaky-clean roots, says McLaws Helms. “The hoodie has had this other tread that’s all about leisurewear and resort wear,” she says. “You can go through old issues of WWD and Vogue from the ’70s, and it’s all pictures of pretty blondes on the tennis court wearing hoodie sweatshirts.” It provides an interesting commonality between the country club set and some of the era’s most relevant counterculture movements.

But the hoodie held down its street cred heading into the 21st century, when it was adopted by the early recluses who pioneered Silicon Valley—most notably, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

How to wear a hoodie all day:

Which brings us to the latest incarnation of the hoodie. In an almost poetically perfect throwback, the athleisure trend has taken the preppy hoodie of the ‘70s country club set and the humble uniform of the 1930s football star and married the two. But there’s also a much more ironic trend happening with the modern sweatshirt. As the street-style trend has moved away from the fringes of fashion into the mainstream, so has the most authentic piece of street-style wear. All of a sudden, labels like Supreme, Vetements, and Yeezy are slapping three- and four-figure price tags on oversize versions of the uniform of graffiti artists and tech nerds in a kind of modern-day counterculture move that might have you scratching your head.