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The Future of Streetwear Is Community Over Subculture

The lines between streetwear, luxury and fashion are blurring, thanks in part to how consumers access and interpret information.

“In order to talk about streetwear, it’s really important to define streetwear,” Thom Bettridge, Highsnobiety editor-in-chief, said at Project Las Vegas during a seminar about the category.

Though the textbook definition of streetwear links the fashion genre to club music, skateboarding and hip-hop, fashion watchers would be remiss to drill the category down solely to youth culture. During a period that saw street style come to a halt, demand for loungewear spike and tastemakers like Ye swath themselves in Balenciaga and latex face masks, the streetwear label now means many things to many demographics.

Kanye West
Ye KCS Presse/MEGA

“I think a definition that we talk about a lot is the idea of streetwear being something that’s connected to creation and consumer behavior in the era of the internet,” Bettridge said. Looking at the “cultural agreement,” he said streetwear brands are now defined by the way they come up on platforms like Instagram or TikTok, where they develop their community versus trying to capture the attention of everyone.

“Brands have a lot less control over their own messages than they used to,” Bettridge said. “But I think a lot of brands are starting to understand that if they can find ways to show up in people’s lives in the places where they’re most interested, they can suddenly take on new meaning.”

Fashion in gaming is one space where brands like Balenciaga, which created digital fashion for the gaming platform Fortnite in 2021, are strengthening their connection to consumers. When fashion brands showed up in video games, Bettridge said it is unlikely that the gamer is learning about the brand for the first time. But by being in a place the consumer is interested in, brands can “redefine” their relationship.

Showing up in unconventional places means streetwear now has a broader umbrella definition that can be applied to more styles of clothing because it’s no longer contained to specific subcultures.

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Luxury or “new luxury,” Bettridge said, are categories benefiting from streetwear’s permeating nature. “For a lot of young people, streetwear is synonymous with luxury,” he said, noting that luxury labels are copping streetwear hallmarks.

Here, “knowing over owning” is key. “I think nowadays, a lot of the way we engage with fashion actually doesn’t involve buying stuff,” he said. “We look at fashion as a sort of hobby and follow it almost the way that…people who like sports watch ESPN, even though they’re not playing sports.”

This “fashion fanship,” he added, is just as valuable as flexing an actual purchase.