THE BLOG
08/24/2010 12:55 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hip Hop's New Fit

Hip Hop is going through an identity crisis. If it were a person, it would be Wynona Ryder as Susanna Kaysen in "Girl Interrupted," trying to decide if she was crazy or just suffering from teenage ennui.

From the eyes of a fashion editor, Hip Hop is similarly suffering from split personality disorder. Is Hip Hop represented by the Louis Vuitton luggage toting pseudo-hipsters Kanye West and Pharrell or are Lil' Wayne and Soulja Boy the (tattooed) faces of the movement?

Lil' Wayne's "hood style". Getty Images. Kanye West at Givenchy Paris Fashion week. Getty Images.

As the market editor of VIBE Magazine, it's something I'm constantly asking myself. Who exactly are we speaking to? Is it the guys with the saggy jeans that hang out around the 6 train in Harlem outside our offices? Is it the kid with the Billionaire Boys Club raw denim jeans and $400 Gucci kicks?

In the 80's and 90's, Hip Hop was uniformly about baggy jeans, oversized Jerseys and enough diamond ice to sink the Titanic. The look was part hood gangster, part nouveau riche with an emphasis on flaunting newfound wealth. Think Beverly Hills Hillbillies, except from Compton and The Bronx.

As taste generally becomes refined overtime with money and Diamonelle chains could be found on Canal Street for little more than the price of a Big Mac, such overt and obvious displays of wealth became passé. If you wanted to show you were truly successful, you had to have the rarest, one-of-a-kind pieces: hand painted dunks, jeans from a little factory in Japan that only produce one pair a day. A whole new movement and look diverged that both inspired and was inspired by downtown street wear. Still, there are plenty that aren't rocking Nudie jeans with Lanvin kicks.

The two camps seem to be easily divided into the artists with cross-over or mass appeal: the Ushers, Kid Cudis, and Kanyes whose music is on the iPods of white suburban kids next to Katy Perry and Lady Gaga embrace a flexible view of fashion that can range from Japanese-inspired street style to tailored gentleman in Tom Ford. The other camp is occupied by the more hood artists: Lil Wayne and Soulja Boy, who could easily pass for Wayne's offspring, born fully tattooed from his dreadlocked head like the Greek goddess Athena from Zeus, and who unlike Kid Cudi, would never be caught dead in a kilt.

The reason may also have something to do with physical size. "Hip Hop fashion is physically made for Hip Hop guys," Phillip Bloch, celebrity stylist and author of the new book, The Shopping Diet said. "Most brotha's can't wear a skinny jean. The thighs are too thick. Kanye is tiny, he can work it. LL Cool J in a skinny tie and jeans? That's not happening. The fashion side is leaning to that, but the reality is the function. They can't wear it: they own the Gucci belt, the hat, and sunglasses, but they can't fit into the clothes. They rap about it but they can't really wear it."

Ralph Reynolds, creative director of AKOO, rapper TI's clothing line agrees. "Now, it's the slimmer, trimmer look [inspired] from the skate kids and the Japanese kids. But that body type doesn't necessarily fit an American. While Kanye and Pharrell may be able to do that, I don't think that look can go through all of Hip Hop, because everybody can't wear that type of that thing. The next era is about relaxed and comfortable. As it's growing into its adolescence into urban fashion, it's growing into the main stream of American fashion."

Even so, one can't discount the geographical divergence. While kids in New York and Los Angeles might be dressing one way, the interpretation can change entirely in the South or Midwest. "If you go to hoods in Atlanta, Miami or Houston, chances are you're not going to see people dressed like Kid Cudi," said Jermaine Hall, Editor in Chief of VIBE. Fashion outside of major cities has always been slower to evolve, so whether that means the sagged, Dopey the Dwarf look is on a slow Shakespearean exit or ingrained into the culture is yet to be seen.

Ultimately, the truth may be that both styles: the vintage baggy look and today's hipster-co-opted style equally represent the Hip Hop movement, two sides of a gold-plated coin. "They have made the category so small," Reynolds said. "They've tried to make one look represent what the movement should be. There should be a wider range in that look. The kids wearing baggy jeans hanging off may be representing an older look. The slimmer, trimmer look is probably the leading edge of where it's going. But both truly represent hip hop and urban fashion."