My final presentation for Icons of the 20th Century, the class I took last fall at San Francisco City College, was on the hoodie.
The hoodie has an extensive and colorful history. Having started out as a simple utilitarian piece of clothing, it has become a go-to staple for teens and elders alike. (My 89 year-old mother sports one.) But it also became associated with criminals and outlaws such as The Unabomber, making it one of the few fashion choices that carries with it much controversy.
The first hooded sweatshirt was created in the 1930s by the American athletic wear company Champion Products, initially designed for athletes and outdoor laborers to wear for extra warmth. It stayed within that group of people, worn for practical reasons not for fashion.
But over time it was adopted by different groups for different reasons.
Starting in the 1970s, NYC graffiti artists sported the hooded sweatshirt to help cover their faces as they spray painted outside walls and subway trains. At the same time, break dancers performing in the streets also wore the hoodie to keep warm.
The character Rocky in the 1976 film of the same name, wore sweats and a hooded sweatshirt while training for a shot at becoming World Heavyweight Champion. That film raised awareness of the hooded sweatshirt in mainstream America as a symbol of working class values.
Fast forward to 1987 when a forensic sketch was released of The Unibomber sporting a hoodie. The Unibomber aka Ted Kaczynski, was an American terrorist who for years had been mailing bombs to various people working in academia. This image has become iconic in itself further complicating the hoodie’s reputation now associated with a criminal.
Through the 1970s and 1980s the hoodie was adopted by punks, skaters, artists, and other rebellious groups. But at the same time it was still an athletic staple.
Around 1991, designers such as Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren started to take notice of the hoodie in street style and incorporated it into their lines. That was the beginning of the hoodie in fashion.
In the aughts, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerburg chose a hoodie as part of his casual work attire. Many tech workers picked up the trend and it soon became a common fashion item worn everywhere. It was also controversial, as business professionals judged the hoodie to be too casual and affront to tradition.
In 2012 African American teenager Trayvon Martin was fatally shot while walking in a Florida suburb. He was unarmed and wearing a hoodie. Following that, the various perceptions of the hoodie were widely discussed in the media posing the question – who can safely wear a hoodie? At the same time people, angry about the senseless murder of Trayvon, sported hoodies in protests around the country.
And the hoodie lives on. Perhaps the only article of clothing shared by criminals, rebels, teenagers, athletes, fashionistas, and even grannies.
Oh but there’s more! Check back tomorrow for The Hoodie Part 2: Inspired Design.
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