Fashion And The Hypebeast: A Brief Love Affair

Hypebeast is a slang word for someone who is a beast (obsessed) with the hype created around certain clothes in fashion, and will do whatever it takes to obtain the items surrounded by that hype. Hypebeasts buy their clothes for the logos and brand names primarily, regardless of personally liking them or not. In general terms, they just buy whatever the brand puts out and dress to impress others. – Urban Dictionary.

Disclaimer: This piece is about this specific definition of hypebeast, which is the one I consider to be the most accurate.

Almost two years ago, my younger brother, then 15 years old, asked me to bring him some Supreme stickers from Paris. I didn’t give it too much thought at the time – Supreme has always been a cool brand, and they were just stickers anyway -, so I brought all the stickers I could find. My brother was never someone who cared about fashion or the way he looked – he had always been a t-shirt and jeans kind of kid, wearing whatever my mom or family gave him for Christmas, and that was it.

But shortly after the Supreme stickers episode, my brother started buying lots of sneakers. It became his thing, which I understood – as a 15 year old male, chances are you really want to impress your 15 year old male friends, or maybe you just want to build a sneaker collection because you think they’re cool -, most of them from brands like Nike and Adidas and very generic looking, so similar that I was constantly wondering about his need to buy so many pairs of pretty much the same black shoe. But I know a phase when I see it, a temporary obsession, and that’s what I called it.

Eventually, my brother asked me what my thoughts were on brands like Off-White and Yeezy. He had been a big fan of many famous rappers for the last few years and was now getting into their clothing brands as well. It was a natural transition, getting into that universe, because music artists – rappers especially – were becoming the incredibly powerful fashion influencers they are today. When your favorite artist starts their own brand, you might as well at least follow it on instagram.

But suddenly my brother had all these very strong opinions on fashion and designers. Not old school names like Prada or Givenchy, but any popular names doing streetwear (or something that Migos would wear) were cool enough for him to google. I was confused for a while, listening to him talk about fashion brands with such determination – was my brother into fashion now? I asked him if he wanted to pursue a career in the industry, and he said no; he just cared about (certain) trends. There was something about me having a fashion design degree that made him think that maybe I was worth talking to, even though I was definitely not cool enough to have an influential opinion.

For Christmas, he wanted to buy a pair of shoes. He sent me pictures of a few pairs so I could give him my opinion on which one to choose, and there was one pair in particular that was so, so far away from what I considered to be his personal taste, that I really had to ask him why it was even on the list. It was a pair of ugly, brown, dad-on-vacation shoes (but not dad sneakers, nothing like dad sneakers!) from Margiela. He said they were “classic”. I asked him if he would buy them if he saw that exact same pair at a store with no brand; he said well, of course not. That’s when I realized that my brother was turning into a hypebeast.

When people from the music industry started actively participating in fashion – Kanye created Yeezy, Virgil Abloh started Off-White, Jaden Smith was all over fashion week -, their fans were naturally drawn to it as well. Streetwear became so cool that high fashion brands had no choice but to bring it to their runways, Supreme became bigger than ever before (remember that Louis Vuitton collab?) and brands like Vêtements and Balenciaga, following Demna Gvasalia’s lead, turned into big names inside the hype culture. Wearing a certain style was not enough to be considered cool, now; you had to wear specific brands. In fact, what you wore wasn’t relevant at all, as long as it had a big logo on it. Extra points for limited editions.

This trend led to many people starting their own brands, endless lines outside Supreme stores, people who had never thought of fashion before trying to get jobs in the industry, and it democratized fashion, in a way. It was a positive change, a breath of fresh air. However, all of this also came with a sense of entitlement to the hypebeast, something that only a 15 year old kid who wears Balenciaga can acquire so blindly. And while it’s never wise to generalize, it’s safe to say that most hypebeasts know nothing about fashion outside their own circle of obsession, adopting a kind of reddit superstar, I-already-know-everything-I-need-to-know mentality.

It makes me wonder what their intentions are, what their goal is – are they really into fashion or is this all for social media engagement? Are you better than your peers if your outfit is the most expensive? And is it possible that our obsession with being accepted, with belonging to something, has turned into fashion’s biggest money maker? It would definitely be ironic, since individualization and customization and “being yourself” are such big trends as well. Hypebeasts are definitely very influential customers right now, and that means something to brands; but at the end of the day, unless you’re catering to their favorite rapper or influencer, this is a group which is very hard to figure out: as a brand, how do you read your client, how do you profile them, if they lack individuality? How do you cater to someone who decides their clothes based on what somebody else is wearing? How do you make accessories for someone who only knows how to follow, how to mimic their influential leaders?

The way I see it, hypebeasts are to fashion what those hardcore Justin Bieber fans with his name tattooed on their arms were to music: they bring money to the industry, their enthusiasm is quite endearing, but maybe they could use some old fashioned common sense. It’s important to get excited, to find something new, to develop an obsession, but as far as fashion goes, there is a lot more to be explored besides hype brands and best selling sneakers, and that’s usually where great personal style is found. The best part of fashion is how it can help create an ever evolving visual identity, a personal way of dressing, and I see the hypebeast phase as the first stage of this whole process. It’s the first approach, the let’s see-what-everyone-else-is-doing phase.

In my brother’s case, I think he’s finally growing out of it now, just like we eventually grow out of wanting to impress our group of friends at school. As for the entire hypebeast community, just like any other trend, I believe it’s something temporary – their favorite artists will start doing something else eventually, and streetwear will go out of fashion really soon, at least as far as luxury brands are concerned. And while there will always be brands like Supreme or Thrasher, which might stay successful within their own niches, when it comes to “big” designers, to fashion week, to the core of the industry, streetwear will become irrelevant until they bring it back again in a few years.

When that happens, will hypebeasts still be here, or will they move on to the next big trend and suddenly leave the fashion industry? Just like any conscious mom at a Justin Bieber concert, I look at the crowds and hope they will evolve into wiser, independent versions of themselves.