We’ve all seen this odd sight – scores of teens, come rain or sunshine, waiting tirelessly outside of pint-sized, pop up stores in Shoreditch or Hackney to get their grubby little hands on overpriced tat. Come on… £1000 for a BRICK, just because it has the logo Supreme on it? Seriously? Has the world gone mad? Evidently so…
For the last five years the world of street style, and to a growing extent high fashion, has slowly been swallowed up by hype culture and its mindless drowns known as Hypebeasts. Once hype was a bad thing: people considered it embarrassing and uncreative to buy clothes or items in order to follow the crowd, rather than doing so because you actually liked something. Then, all of a sudden come the 2010’s and being a sheep, looking exactly like everyone else is now a good thing? Well, my friend, it seems like the times have truly changed. We now live in a world of Trump, Brexit and now, Hypebeasts – the latest infliction mankind.
Urban Dictionary defines Hypebeasts as: “A kid(s) that collects clothing, shoes, and accessories for the sole purpose of impressing others. Although the individual may not have a dime to their name, they like to front like they are making far more than everybody else. Equipped with mommy’s credit card the [Hypebeast] will try his hardest to make sure he has every pair of [Nikes] he saw Jay-Z wearing on 106 & Park.”
But, where did the term come from? Hypebeasts owe their lifestyle to the ‘stunting’ or ‘flexing’ trend in the early hip-hop era. In particular, it found its roots in the streetwear culture of the time and the desire to gain street-cred for rocking a specific brand that was hard to attain and thus, coveted. For instance, during the emergence of hip-hop culture, brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren were often worn and rapped about by artists (e.g. Snoop Dogg and Puff Daddy). But, for the average hip-hop consumer in the late 80s – early 90s, mostly poorer and Black, such labels were often out of their price range. Thus, when someone from these neighbourhoods was seen rocking either Hilfiger or Ralph, instantly they acquired respect and an air of means.
Then came the founding of the popular online magazine HYPEBEAST (2005), which birthed the actual term and more importantly, created a platform to present the lifestyle and aesthetic more widely. However, it was really the eventual ubiquity of social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, and the ability to portray faux, curated lives online that catapulted the culture into a new, loftier stratosphere. With the magic of the internet: any teen or young adult could go from an average Joe offline to a superstar online. As well as kit themselves in the most expensive and talked about brands, and then get a lot of attention because of it. Essentially superficially has become normalised.
Capitalising on the proliferation of hype culture and the desire for the coveted, brands such as Bape, Palace, Yeezy, Off-White and the daddy of them all – Supreme, have modelled their marketing and distribution to cater to it. The biggest hype brands now produce only limited-edition runs of their products to increase exclusivity. Because of this, Hypebeasts are now more than willing to spend hours upon hours waiting in long lines to get their hands on the merchandise.
However, such dedication is by no means a guarantee that they’ll even get anything! Often, the shops are sold out, even before they’ve reached half-way up the queue. Such truths have led to the emergence of the lucrative world of ‘flipping.’ In which entrepreneurial individuals buy extra products in order to resell them online (e.g. eBay or Depop) with a substantial markup. Sellers may even expand their fledgeling businesses by paying, usually much younger kids to wait in line for them or to help get extra stuff – most brands impose a quota on individuals and purchases.
Don’t Believe The Hype
However, here lies the beginning of my problems with hype culture – the artistry of fashion has been replaced with greed. No longer are the clothes you wear a reflection of who you are as a person, rather how much money you are willing to spend on them. Essentially, superficiality has won over self-expression – which is sad. Secondly, such is the popularity and ubiquity of hype, generally uninspired, generic brands like Supreme and Off-White have wormed their way into actual high fashion.
For instances, last year the world went gaga over a collaboration between Supreme and Louis Vuitton, which essentially boiled down to Supremes’ brand logo being printed millions of times on EVERYTHING. While this year saw Virgil Abloh appointed Head of Menswear at LV, after becoming famous for having the audacity to charge £100s for white T-shirts. Madness. Oh yeah… let’s not forget how Supreme also sells crowbars, hockey masks and BRICKS for small fortunes! I mean, really? Yes, while I can admit a select few crafty individuals have a made killing buying and reselling clothes, at the end of the day hype is just a bubble and as we all know – bubbles burst. In the immortal lines of Public Enemy, “Don’t. Don’t. Don’t believe the hype.”