Why It Matters: How Baggy Denim Came To Lead the ’90s Style Charge

“Why It Matters” is a compact editorial series analyzing the concepts, products and research shaping the discourse of contemporary design. From unique core offerings, to inspiring in-line rarities, One Block Down is shinning a light on the evolutionary releases that may have flown under your radar.

With trends coming and going, the garments of today soon become obsolete, often revived years later by so-called visionaries. No decade defined this ideal quite like the 2000s, a muddled reinterpretation of the many great steps made throughout the ’90s.

And even though many of us are quick to judge the style choices of yesterday, framing them as little more than a flash of bad taste, we cannot overlook the importance of nostalgia they bring with them. With such sentimentality for the past giving rise to some of today’s most prolific new trends, it also brought many forgotten styles out from the shadows. It is for this reason that a prediction of the future is very much rooted in the past, further underlining fashion’s more cyclical side.

For our second installment of “Why It Matters, we turn our attention towards the indelible cultural mark left by the ’90s. Characterized by great revolutions, both culturally, economically, and stylistically, it was a decade that straddled the line between functionality and expressivity. Projecting familiar silhouettes into new, unfamiliar territories, the ’90s taught us the power of recontextualization, stripping the humdrum connotations from blue-collar and war-time silhouettes.

Click down below to read One Block Down’s second edition of “Why It Matters,” detailing the far-reaching influence of the ’90s and how baggy jeans spurred on an unstoppable style revolution.

From a cultural standpoint, the ’90s marked an essential change in the mainstream, rock-and-roll-ruled landscape of the ’50s. And with the birth of Hop-Hop in the ’70s, soon to be propelled forward by the likes of Tupac and The Notorious B.IG. some decades later, the scene was set for the ’90s to unite these opposing style camps. And once Eminem burst onto the scene towards the end of the decade, it was clear that Hip-Hop was on the verge of becoming the most popular music genre in the world, beaming its style in front of a global audience.

The ’90s also played host to a considerable economic revolution, driven forward by the success and popularity of the internet. Not only did this open up the world to the concept of globalization, but it boasted significant consumption growth as companies rushing to take advantage of the new digital niche. As with any boom, a culture of excess was soon born, with consumerist and hedonistic tendencies pushing millions around the world to “buy, buy, buy!” With shopping’s euphoria spreading, the ’90s can be considered the last decade of positivity, reaching its peak before the 2000’s economic crisis and war on terror.

As general culture swung through peaks and troughs, the global fashion market and youth discourse moved with it. With the the decades following the aesthetic of rock-and-roll bolstered by Hip-Hop’s inception and flashes of early-sportswear throughout the ’80s, the ’90s shook all pre-existing trends to their core. And while many key silhouettes can be credited with supporting this revolution, none will be remembered quite as fondly as baggy denim jeans.

Baggy pants first broke through into the mainstream in 1990 when MC Hammer released the seminal hit, “Can’t Touch This”. The release was as much a revolution in sound as it was in style, with Hammer’s unapologetic appeal introducing the “Hammer pants” to the world, the now-iconic baggy style , tapered at the ankle with a sagging rise. Even though Hammer pants may now be considered one of the decade’s most questionable trends, they represented a collision of cultures that would go on to enforce countless other ’90s trends.

Originally designed as an interpretation of Harem pants, the popular middle eastern garment was adopted to outfit the West’s rising interest in breakdance. Building on Hammer’s cultural collision, the further spreading of Harem pants epitomized the decade’s need for self-expression, opening everyone’s eyes to the new possibilities of interpreting culturally rich and historical designs.

Next to the practice of breakdancing, sports like skateboarding helped push the popularity of baggy pants. Before the inception of performance fabrics, those who took part in such activities turned to roomier designs, showcasing the earliest examples of something functional also being used in a considered and stylistic manner. A similar approach was also ingrained in the practice of artists such as DMX and The Ruff Ryders.

With breakdancing forming one of the five pillars of Hip-Hop, together with MC’ing, rappers from all around the globe were quick to embrace the trend of “baggies”, eventually cementing them as a cornerstone trait of ’90s fashion. This popularity however developed in tandem with that of oversized denim, creating another aesthetic hallmark for the decade to lay its claim to.

Having long been a symbol of rebellion since the years of James Dean, denim, and more specifically, baggy denim, would go on to represent the idea of rebellion throughout much of the ’90s. America’s rebellious side was however in flux, transitioning from privileged suburban kids going against their families and the realities of their small town upbringings, to those who were part of minorities, rebelling instead against the wider societal structure that consistently forced them into last place and saw them fight more only to receive less.

Jeans were also part of various other subcultures throughout the ’90s, including the likes of the metal heads. Despite this, the fit changed everything, with the baggier styles setting the writers, skaters, breakdancers, and rappers apart from all other communities that wore denim at the time. In the 2000s however, the trend would slowly faded. The famous “Clash of the Titans” in 2007 between Kanye West and 50 Cent established melodic rap as the most popular genre at the expenses of gangster rap, proving that the world was in need of a considerably more “indie” look. With general clothing becoming the trend, departing from a focus on specific silhouettes, ’90s baggy fit jeans would soon go on to lose their traction alongside Hip-Hop.

Needless to say, the last couple of years have shown some signs of a ’90s revival. First, streetwear became a cultural phenomenon, and some of today’s most relevant streetwear brands were created in the ’90s, some even earlier in the ’80s. This brought people to re-evaluate the decade, and slowly start bringing back some its defining styles. First it was the graphic T-shirt, wide-brim hats, and big logos, inevitably followed by baggy jeans, helped mainly by the fact that skaters never stopped wearing them.

What this tells us is that baggy jeans were always going to be more than a piece of wide-cut cotton. In the eyes of the Hip-Hop community, they represent an era in music that is still missed today, and for skaters, they represent unity, allowing them to connect with like-minded people across the globe without ever having to say a word. But, even if you are not a skater or a Hip-Hop fanatic, “baggies” speak to everyone: they are comfortable, durable, and steeped in powerful cultural relevancy.

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