Cuddly or cool? It’s been a hundred years since the first commercially produced hoodie loomed up. The hoodie’s history suggests that the coolness of hoodies outweigh the softness of their cuddly wool. Here’s why!
The innocent beginnings
In 1919, the Knickerbocker Knitting Company manufactured the first commercially produced batch of hoodies in Rochester, New York. The hooded sweater seemed like a completely innocuous yet ingenious invention as it had the same sweat-absorbing and warming qualities as a sweatshirt while offering a drawstring hood to protect the head from wind and rain. No wonder that the hoodie was a hit among athletes and American football players.
High-school kids soon adopted the new garment and the schools themselves issued sports gear with the name of their institutions splashed across them. Universities were quick to follow suit and gave us very recognizable merchandize articles.
The hoodie goes street
In the mid 1970s, it was street artists and kids doing graffiti who wore hoodies to go unrecognized when taking out the spray can for a midnight spree. By 1980, there wasn’t a subway train or station in New York that hadn’t received a graffiti treatment by some hooded artist or other. And it was also a time when the first musical subculture embraced the garment, popularized by break-dance artists strongly associated with the graffiti scene. 1980s fashion saw MCs wearing hoodies and rapping along to tunes emerging from a boombox in a subway station. Add a few flashy gold chains customized with DJ Bling-Bling’s name to the mix, and you’ve travelled back in time.
The hoodie and its social stigma
Ever wondered why such a ubiquitous item of clothing is seen as casting such a sinister shadow? By the mid 2000s hoodies were very popular among shoplifters to conceal their identities when raiding stores and malls. In Britain, it even came to a point when politicians and the prime minister himself sided with hoodie-wearers after ordinary members of the public were barred from entering shopping centers while wearing hoodies. The opposition made fun of this issue by starting the hug a hoodie campaign.
In North America, young black or Hispanic men draped in hoodies are often associated with racial profiling and violence, and there have been multiple instances of unfounded police violence towards youth simply because they were wearing a hoodie (and therefor assumed to be suspect). What’s more, many youth culture movements at the fringes of the mainstream, from punk to hip-hop and skater to heavymetal, have adopted the hoodie as a central part of their look. This is what has given the hoodie its emblematic and sometimes criminal potency. Once big mainstream clothing and sports brands had embraced the hoodie after the first instalment of the Rocky movies (remember Balboa running up those stone steps in Philadelphia?), the hoodie ascended to the zenith of fashion and soon became unstoppable. Curiously, though, it could never truly shake off its shady reputation.
Custom hoodies today
Fast forward forty years, and the custom hoodie personalized with designs and slogans from any kind of movement still is the most iconic piece of clothing for anyone in their formative years. Gangsta rappers and metal freaks alike use it as a means of rebellion against the system. In this respect, hoodies work as a unifier for urban styles of youth culture without racial borders. The hoodie is an emblematic icon of our very social fabric.
In the UK, for example, personalised leaver hoodies have become huge at schools. A leaver hoodie is personalised with the year students take the leave, the school’s logo and the names of the leavers. A prime example of hoodie customization!