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The Museum at FIT Exhibition Marks Hip-Hop Fashion’s Half Centennial

Denim and denim-friendly pieces will be front and center at the Museum at FIT’s forthcoming exhibition that celebrates the 50th anniversary of hip hop.

“Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous: Fifty Years of Hip Hop Style” opens at the museum at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) on Feb. 8 and will run through April 23. Curated by Elena Romero, journalist and assistant professor of marketing communications at FIT, and Elizabeth Way, associate curator of costume at the museum, the show will feature more than 100 garments and accessories associated with the influential musical genre which was birthed in the Bronx in 1973 by and went on to have a profound effect on pop culture and fashion.

The exhibited items will include 1980s-era designer jeans by Calvin Klein, Jordache and Guess as well as now iconic hip hop gear such as Kangol hats and Adidas shell-toe sneakers. Other featured brands will be Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Versace, Cross Colours, Karl Kani, FUBU, Rocawear, Wu Wear, Mecca USA, Baby Phat, Pelle Pelle and Sean John, among others.

Romero said including denim was pivotal to the assortment’s curation. “Denim has always been a staple within the hip-hop wardrobe. While the brands have changed, the category has been a favorite due to its durability, versatility and comfortability,” she said. “Hip hop has gone from creased to straight legged, baggy to fitted, ripped to skinny over the past 50 years.”

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“In the ’90s, Kriss Kross made wearing backwards jeans their signature look along with backwards sports jerseys while girl group TLC donned brightly colored and oversize Cross Colours from head to toe,” she added. “Denim brands like Guess and Marithé + François Girbaud became the early status brands in hip hop until Tommy Hilfiger came along and became one of hip hop’s favorite American designers.”

The exhibition will also cover how that style evolved to the preferred “baggy look”—low-slung baggy jeans, snapback baseball hats, do-rags, basketball tops, work boots, puffer jackets and a push for casual sportswear—that dominated later in the ’90s. “The baggy era lasted over two decades and was represented by just about every brand—FUBU, Mecca USA, Maurice Malone, Walker Wear, Karl Kani, Pelle Pelle, Ecko Unlimited and more,” Romero said.

“Luxury denim took over in the last decade with the emergence of millennial and Gen Z rappers and the influence of designers like the late Virgil Abloh,” she added.

The show, the museum’s first to be focused on a specific type of music, will be broken down into sections including The Designer Dreams, High Fashion Does Hip Hop, Collaborations, Celebrity Style and Hip Hop Glam.

An accompanying book of the same name with a forward by rapper Slick Rick will be published by Rizzoli to coincide with the opening.

Romero is an apt curator for the exhibition as she is the author of the 2012 book “Free Stylin’: How Hip Hop Changed the Fashion Industry.” A nameplate belt buckle of hers from hip hop’s heyday will also be one of the exhibited items.

The co-curator offered a preview of the show on Nov. 17 when she sat down for a public discussion with celebrity stylist and designer Misa Hylton—whose work is featured in it—on FIT’s campus. Hylton mentioned that naming fashion brands in lyrics is standard in hip hop and quoted the 1994 Nas song “Represent” as an example: “When I dress, it’s never nothing less than Guess.”

Another free and public symposium about “Fresh, Fly, and Fabulous” will take place at FIT on the evening of Feb. 24.