Movie review: ‘Fresh Dressed’ tracks the rise of hip-hop fashion
“Fresh Dressed” tackles some broad issues — the relevance and roots of fashion, the constant churn of popular culture, the mainstreaming and appropriation of subcultures — while looking at the rise of hip-hop style.
Unfortunately, the film skips over some important basics on its way to eventually laundry listing prominent hip-hop designers. Still, you don’t have to be either a hip-hop or fashion aficionado to follow its trail from the streets to the department stores; this is the path of so many cultural movements.
The power of, and craving for, aspirational fashion is engrained in the black American experience. Even if you’re impoverished and oppressed you can look good, and looking good can help you feel less impoverished and oppressed. By boosting your self image, you hopefully boost your self esteem. “Fresh Dressed” traces this impulse back to plantation life and Sunday going-to-meeting clothes.
Fast forward — and the film does lurch forward too quickly — to the ’70s in New York City, where gangs sport group jackets and colors, finding solidarity in fashion. Hip-hop music and rap evolve with innovative, “fresh” looks, driven by street-level designs and fads. As the music begins producing stars, fans mimic those stars’ fashions.
The music gets bigger and bigger, and so do the fashions. Eventually every passing hip-hop star wants to set up his own fashion line, and the suburbs are filled with white kids buying their own supposed hip-hop authenticity at J.C. Penney and people are getting killed for the latest hip Nikes.
It’s a manner of madness, but then so was Beatlemania. And to its credit “Fresh Dressed” returns again and again to the aspirational nature that drove hip-hop fashion. Kanye West, Sean Combs, Nas, Pharrell Williams and a long line of designers, fashion industry insiders and historians are interviewed and the theme of self-improvement and self-expression is constantly stressed even as baggy pants become a standard-issue, middle-class junior high school uniform.
The individual effort gets sucked up into a mass production whirlwind. Such is the magic and monstrosity of popular culture. “Fresh Dressed” shines a light on the hip-hop fashion phenomenon, but it’s not just about hip hop; it’s about ambition and absorption and our need — black, white, brown, whatever — for authenticity.