Dope jerseys are nothing new to hip-hop heads, but would you consider paying more than $400 for one?
Streetwear and hip-hop have always embraced sports and athletic gear. But star players retire, teams change ownership, and longtime fans associate nostalgia with certain jerseys—which makes a John Starks Knicks jersey inherently cooler than a Melo one. Companies like Mitchell & Ness make a killing with throwback reproductions, and brands like Supreme flip known logos of sports teams to make something new yet cool, like the hockey jersey Frank Ocean performed in on Saturday Night Live. They might look different from a league-licensed jersey, but the message is the same: When you put one on, you're representing something.
Although plenty of menswear staples are rooted in sport—Rene Lacoste designed the pique cotton tennis shirt to help his on-court game, the button-down collar was invented by Brooks Brothers to keep polo players' shirts from flapping around, and you already know what Michael Jordan and Tinker Hatfield did for sneakers—what makes the jersey special is that it represents more than a player on a team, it stands for a whole fanbase, sometimes an entire city. Within that niche, standing out from the pack or representing a specific set meant your jersey game had to be next level. Every '90s kid remembers the custom jerseys prevalent in the hip-hop world at the time—Mobb Deep's "HENNESSY" joints got homage from Supreme in 2011, and the Ruff Ryders' hockey jerseys are iconic in their own right.
In the capricious world of men's trends, fashion designers are aiming to take athletic apparel off the courts and onto the runways, giving a literal meaning to "sportswear." Designers like Alexander Wang are tapping into the athletic world for inspiration—creating a suede baseball jersey in Spring 2013 worn by A$AP Rocky, and following it up with an orange and white take on the hockey jersey for fall. London up-and-comer Shaun Samson also kitted out the rapper in a hockey jersey-inspired sweater with exaggerated details like flared arms and a baggy fit. But it's not just designers getting in on the action—it's their fans too.
LPD New York took Tumblr and Instagram by storm with its jersey-inspired T-shirts. The back of each of their tees is emblazoned with the last name of a fashion designer, juxtaposed with his or her birthdate, or in the case of Phillip Lim, a "3.1," an overt reference to the designer's label. Started by NYU graduate Benjamin Fainlight, the label pays respects to these lauded fashion figures, while falling way underneath their price points. An LPD New York T-shirt costs $85, while its new mesh jerseys run for $120. Fainlight thinks that the current, more casual state of menswear has been a boon to his brand.
Modern men still want to look good, but want to feel comfortable while doing it. - Charlie Casely-Hayford, Casely-Hayford
"Contemporary menswear has become more and more accepting of streetwear," says Fainlight. "There's been a gradual movement where people don't want fashion they can't live their lives in, and consumers like that because the clothing is more versatile."
Hearkening back to the days when Stussy's linked "S" logo subverted the cachet of labels like Chanel, streetwear has a long history of aping luxury brands as aspiration. In fact, the fashion parody has become a genre of streetwear itself, with brands like Conflict of Interest and MALA NY putting out T-shirts emblazoned with designer name flips like "Mar Ghell Uh" and "Ballinciaga."
However, Fainlight frames LPD New York as appreciation, not imitation.
"With the jerseys, there's no distinction between menswear or womenswear—just an easy way to show your love for a brand," he says.
Charlie Casely-Hayford thinks that sporting gear is more than just a trend, it's the subculture uniform du jour.
"The disillusioned youth of my generation have chosen sportswear as their uniform in the way that punks had the biker jacket or skinheads had the bovver boots and MA-1," says Casely-Hayford. As sharp as a guy looks in a suit, it's not the most practical thing to wear 24/7. Casely-Hayford believes casual clothes can still make a man look smart, but also decidedly more relaxed. "Modern men still want to look good, but want to feel comfortable while doing it—sportswear bridges that gap."
His latest collection reinterprets the hockey jersey into colorblocked button down shirts and cozy marled knit sweaters. The back of one of the shirts has the number 24 on it with "Kingsland" right above, a reference to inner city London. But can slouchy silhouettes and athletic-inspired sweaters eclipse a perfectly tailored jacket and trousers? Hayford thinks so, and he's not alone.
Danish designer Astrid Andersen has been in the game since 2010, and got on our radar for her collection inspired by hip-hop and basketball. Rappers like A$AP Rocky and Odd Future's Left Brain have already co-signed the designer, as well as up-and-comers like Ian Connor, who modeled some of her latest gear. While LPD New York's tees and jerseys barely break the $100 range, Andersen's designs run up to almost $500, putting the prices well within the realm of luxury brands. Andersen suggests that the sports-meets-fashion trend has long been brewing, and is finally reaching fever pitch.