PART FOUR: What Are You Wearing Today?
Kevin Ma, founder of Hypebeast, started his blog in 2005 but didn’t implement a message board until a year later. While the term “hypebeast” has become something of a pejorative towards streetwear’s primary consumers, it remains one of the most popular lifestyle websites for men’s products. During its seven years in existence, Hypebeast has stayed relevant by broadening its scope without losing its filter. It claims to garner about 20 million pageviews a month.
“Though our content has evolved over the years, our mission remains the same—to continuously discover the latest in cool stuff,” said Ma. Before, Hypebeast was the website people would come to and find out about releases from brands like A Bathing Ape, The Hundreds, FUCT, and Supreme. Today, they continue to cover those brands—alongside designers like Givenchy and Alexander Wang, as well as cult Japanese labels like Visvim and White Mountaineering, but he doesn’t believe that it’s solely forum culture that dictates trends.
“Musicians and cultural icons speed up the process as well,” he says. “Celebrities have a strong reach because of their fame and media attention and when they do something bold, it easily leaves an impression.”
But forums did have their own celebrities—whether button-pushers like wEstsIdE or knowledgeable sources like Kiya on Supertalk, or Ben Baller and future Complex Sneakers Editor Russ Bengtson on NikeTalk. Still, the most popular faces tended to be the ones you could actually see, and most of that action took place on street style’s precursor: the What Are You Wearing Today? (WAYWT) and What I Wore Today (WIWT) threads.
Nowadays, WAYWT forum threads have evolved into websites like Lookbook.nu but the phenomenon definitely has its roots in the forums. - Kevin Ma, Hypebeast
“WAYWT kicked off on Superfuture in 2005 or so, and I'm down to fight to defend the fact that we were the first fashion forum with a heavy skew towards male members that had a highly active WAYWT thread,” claims Mejia. “I definitely didn't anticipate that it would grow into a huge phenomenon. If anything, I thought it was something that only appealed to the typical Supertalk member.”
“It takes a certain kind of personality to post their own outfits on the forums—people can be quite harsh, and it takes courage to withstand the criticism and still stay true to your own style. I admire people who do that and contribute to the fashion community,” Ma notes. “Nowadays, WIWT/WAYWT forum threads have evolved into websites like Lookbook.nu but the phenomenon definitely has its roots in the forums.”
Much like Reddit’s Male Fashion Advice subreddit, brave guys (and a small number of girls) post photos of their outfits, effectively throwing themselves to the wolves. Sometimes it was a way for men in remote locations with a big bank account to stunt—dressed in head-to-toe designer gear. Other times it was merely clueless guys just wondering if their outfit matched.
“Everything from WAYWT photos turning into popular Tumblr posts to people tweeting photos of their new purchases the second they show up at the door. These were things that started on forums,” says Babzani.
“I always thought this was an online extension of the way magazines would document street fashion,” says Berkowitz. “This goes all the way back to the ‘80s with magazines like I-D and all the Japanese street fashion magazines.”
Supertalk’s WAYWT threads got more attention when photographer Sidney Lo, an avid Supertalk contributor, decided to spend three years documenting some of the thread’s inhabitants for a self-published book: Taking Pictures of People Who Take Pictures of Themselves.
“Somehow that became the first ‘hit’ for Superfuture—‘What Are You Wearing Today?” says Lo. “Before it was actually a pretty small group of people. They were definitely a lot older streetwear heads who were familiar with the NYC street scene.”
Everything from WAYWT photos turning into popular Tumblr posts to people tweeting photos of their new purchases the second they show up at the door. These were things that started on forums. - Kiya Babzani, Self Edge
One of the book’s subjects, clad in skin-tight zebra-print pants, electric blue Nike Blazers, and a sea foam graphic T-shirt from Cassette Playa, was an infamous poster known as “wEstsIdE.”
“He was a big fucking troll,” recalls Lo. “But he was a really intelligent person. He was doing it thoughtfully.”
Fischer remembers him dearly: “wEstsIdE is a legend. He changed the way half of the forum typed, and the way I speak to this very day.”
Much of the forum slang and vernacular spilled over into the world of blogging and tumblr. Fischer says wEstsIdE helped popularize terms such as “cop,” meaning impulsively buying, and “jawns,” which usually referred to clothing.
“My very basic understanding of the word ‘jawn’ is that it’s from Philly. It just means thing, any random thing,” says Lo.
Lo’s travels for the book took him to Singapore, Canada, and all over the West and East Coasts of the United States. By the time Lo had resolved to make his book in 2008, a new website, lookbook.nu, served to further popularize WAYWT? culture. Lo said he had worked with the founders prior to launch.
“Lookbook.nu and other bloggers remind me of the fact that retailers now have to acknowledge the online market as a larger demographic that they’re missing out on. The fashion industry could no longer ignore the online presence of fashion.”
In today’s culture of Instagram and Twitpics, anyone who follows a menswear blogger has seen a pair of cordovan shoes or sought-after Nikes, usually shot from the crotch down. It’s not uncommon for both well-known bloggers and the average consumer to photograph new purchases—a practice referred to as a colloquial “haul photo.” Forums predated this practice, with entire threads dedicated to members’ recent purchases: ranging from mall brand pickups to luxury gear worth thousands of dollars. According to Lo, the main difference between now and then is that it’s never been easier for the average person to take a decent looking photo.
“I would say like a good 90% of people in New York probably have a camera phone. And it just so happens that some of the people who take photos of themselves are wearing insanely expensive stuff,” he laments.
“Back then I set up a tripod every fucking day, pulled out a camera, pointed it at myself, auto-focused, and took a shot,” he says. “That required way more effort than most people would willing to care to try.” When Lo's book finally got printed, about 80 Supertalk members had their portraits taken for it, including Kiya Babzani, Jose Mejia, Billy Fischer, and Josh Kissi of Street Etiquette.
“I don't mean this in any negative way at all, but you can follow Street Etiquette's own style evolution as a guideline to track how the forum tastes evolved—except for the goth ninja set,” says Fischer.
Anyone who’s followed the sartorial tastes of Street Etiquette’s Joshua Kissi and Travis Gumbs can see how they went from beanies, cardigans and Air Max sneakers to crisply-tailored tweed suits and camouflage button downs. They won’t, however, find any indication of the “street goth” look currently favored by rappers like A$AP Rocky and brands like En Noir.