Prediction: Kanye West’s “Pablo” hoodie will be the most prevalent street style item on fashion editors and street style photographers alike this Spring/Summer 2017 season.
That, or Justin Bieber’s face.
I also wouldn’t be surprised to see more stickers covering the backs of cell phones, a surplus of baseball hats, and long-sleeved tees and crew neck sweatshirts (despite the hot weather) all boasting concert tours and a bevy of brand labels. Merchandise — or “merch” if you already know — is the trending, hip-hop influenced*, post-normcore answer to our newfound desire to flaunt the logo.
Pause for a brief fashion catch-up: Logos were big in the 90s and early 2000s. Think linked C’s, double G’s, CK underwear bands and rainbow LV’s. Remember? Of course, because every action has an equal and an opposite reaction, it eventually became uncool to state your status. Quietly, brands began hiding their monograms.
Then sort of recently, because the twenty-teens are about irony, the logos came back.
But what happens if you’re not in on the joke? Ironic or not, a wallpaper pattern of “LV” on a bag can tell the entire world exactly how much you spent. If it’s fake, others will go ahead and assume price for you. Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci and the like (all brands whose logos are as iconic as the houses) aren’t just luxury labels, they’re universally-known names. Which means everyone — including those who don’t follow fashion — know that certain logos imply “expensive.” That makes luxury brand-stamped accessories aspirational for some, while others see designer logos as a sign that these items = not meant for them.
Merch, on the other hand, is doing for wardrobes’ cool factor what the internet did for the fashion industry: it’s democratizing a previously exclusive concept. Merch doesn’t just welcome everyone into the club, it’s proof that you’re a bonafide member of it. Do you wear Glossier? Here’s a sweatshirt. Do you like Rihanna? She made hats. (Read Man Repeller? So did we.) Do you skate, wish you could or just point-blank like the aesthetic? Get the flat brim and the sticker: it’s the Supreme kid’s starter pack.
The price is approachable even if it’s technically outrageous: “Life of Pablo” tees start at $55 for a short sleeve and go up to $108 for a hoodie. He’s getting shit from fans for it. My JB “Purpose Tour” tee was $75. (I gave myself shit for paying that.) Sold-out Supreme sweatshirts went for $148. Off-White and Hood By Air — two fashion brands that show actual collections during fashion week — sell merch that’s far more expensive ($408 for an HBA crewneck, $305 for this Off-White long-sleeve) but it’s “cheap” relative to what you see on the runway.
…Let’s not talk about Vetements. That’s runway made to look like merch. Doesn’t qualify.
All dads will tell you that back in their day a t-shirt came three to a pack and could be purchased for ten bucks. So, yeah, the margin-hike is nuts. But it’s more reasonable than a pair of “It” shoes that cost more than a plane ticket to a foreign country. It’s more affordable than a bag that’s higher than one month’s rent. It’s kind of like spending $100-something on your favorite designer’s perfume. It’s not the dress of the season, but it’s a way to participate. Like Instagram, it’s a way to show the world your taste.
I guess the difference is no one cares about whether you went to the concert or not. Just show your member’s ID in the form of merch at the door and get ready to hear the most craved sentence within the human language: Welcome to the club.
* No, I am not calling Justin Bieber’s music “hip hop.” But I am calling his “aesthetic” heavily hip-hop influenced. I am still working through how he wore a bandana around his head like Tupac. It was so strange. Here if you want to talk about it.
Special thanks to our lovely model Yohana Zecarias; follow her on Instagram @godesssgracious. Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis.