The Style Legacy of
Boyz n the Hood
The Style Legacy of
Boyz n the Hood
- Words Brenden Gallagher
- Date September 19, 2017
South Central LA street style has had a deep impact on American fashion, and it was Boyz n the Hood, along with the concurrent rise of N.W.A., that pushed early 90s LA street style into the national imagination. In creating the world of the film, director John Singleton drew on his native LA for inspiration. Because Singleton was only twenty-three years old when he made the film, he was immersed in the culture of the period. His knowledge of and concern for the style for the style of the era showed up in the film, helping launch numerous national trends.
Boyz n the Hood was a hit, returning a gross box office nearly ten times its budget. This allowed for a wide release beyond what Singleton could have initially hoped for. Boyz played shopping malls and multiplexes across the country, marking South Central LA as a hub of black culture and street style. Over 25 years after the film’s release, Boyz n the Hood is not just an essential piece of American filmmaking, it is also a testament to the ways that early ‘90s West Coast street style has become integrated into America’s fashion DNA. In tracking the style trends in the film, you can also track how South Central’s street culture permanently impacted America’s style.
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On the West Coast, N.W.A. is credited with popularizing snapbacks, which had grown popular in Compton and Crenshaw in the late-’80s and early-’90s, with a broader audience (Mobb Deep had a similar influence on the East Coast). Boyz n the Hood played an essential role in spreading the snapback gospel, which was quite intentional on the part of director John Singleton. When filming began, Singleton “called [Ice Cube] up and told him to bring all his N.W.A. paraphernalia to the set.” The director rightly recognized that the group’s black outfits with black snapbacks spoke to a trend that was hitting Southern California neighborhoods at the time. Singleton had hoped to get all the members of N.W.A. in the film, but the studio didn’t know who they were and the some members of the group weren’t interested. Singleton saw N.W.A. as emblematic of the particular moment in Compton and felt that their presence in the film would add an air of authenticity. Also, as anyone who has seen Straight Outta Compton knows, he deeply admired the group personally.
After the snapback became an iconic part of both New York and Los Angeles street style, athletes, actors and other musicians began wearing snapbacks as well. The hats dominated streetwear culture throughout the ‘90s. The early 21st century saw the rise of fitted hats, leading to stores like Lids all but discontinuing snapbacks. As with all trends, things eventually swung back to other way; in recent years, the snapback has returned to prominence. While now a few years old, the return of the snapback as a style icon in 2010s hit a pop culure peak in 2011, when Tyga and Chris Brown trumpeted the return of the hats with the song “Snapbacks Back.”. Today, the hat is as ubiquitous as the leather jacket was to a previous generation in defining casual cool.
Representing South Central
It may seem odd today, but the idea of representing Compton, Crenshaw, or South Central was relatively new when the film was released. You certainly didn’t see shirts with “Compton” emblazoned on the front being sold in suburban Ohio shopping malls. The Crenshaw shirt that Cuba Gooding Jr. wears in the film only appears because costume designer Darryle Johnson was selling these shirts at local fairs. Internet screen printers have been turning profits on Johnson’s design ever since.
Following the national success of Boyz n the Hood and N.W.A., hats and shirts shouting out particular urban neighborhoods become a fixture in American streetstyle. Not to sound #sponsored, but this cultural expansion has stretched so far that today, you can even pick up your Compton snapback at your local Champs sports.
Denim on Denim
In the early ‘90s, denim on denim was already a popular look in hip urban areas. Tre’s (Cuba Gooding Jr.) denim on denim look wouldn’t have been out of place in LA in the early-‘90s. Films like Boyz and hip-hop artists of the era first popularized this fashion trend that dominated the entire decade. Not only did hip-hop artists like Coolio and The Fugees make all-denim outfits a part of their look, but eventually stars far removed from the streets of Compton like Jennifer Love-Hewitt and Britney Spears would have denim moments of their own. Tommy Hilfiger found massive success when his preppy, denim driven designs gained popularity specifically in black street style. Hilfiger’s red, white, blue and denim became a defining look of ‘90s style, ultimately launching a hostile takeover of shopping malls across the country.
Two-tone denim outfits have remained a street style staple, even if ‘90s mainstays like Hilfiger, FUBU and ECKO have faded away. The multi-denim look has come back into vogue lately among men and women, though in slimmer frames than were popular in the early-’90s. Considering the ubiquitousness and ease of denim, it should surprise no one that fashion icons—even those on the level of Rihanna and Kanye—often mix denim shades as part of their fashion arsenals.
Bold Color and Pattern
The ‘90s were a time when street style was anything but muted. Bold colors, popularized by brands like Cross Colours, and striking patterns, as seen with brands like Coogi, were emblematic of ‘90s fashion. While this trend was already emerging when Boyz n the Hood was released, the taste for the bold continued throughout the decade, as Fresh Prince of Bel-Air featured Cross Colours regularly and Biggie brought Coogi sweaters into the mainstream.
This bold, colorful street style grew up in South Central and then spread to the rest of the country. Cross Colours, the brand that grew to be the face of this style, was originally an LA based company before expanding nationwide in 1989. When Singleton made Boyz n the Hood, these styles felt revolutionary to the country as a whole, but Singleton was only reflecting what was going on in the streets of his neighborhood. In fact, Cuba Gooding Jr’s iconic yellow rayon shirt came from his own personal wardrobe.
These looks also started popping up elsewhere in media because Boyz n the Hood furthered the career of costume designer Darryle Johnson while Do the Right Thing launched the prolific black costume designer Ruth E. Carter. Both wardrobe artists would bring similar styles to various projects set in black communities in years following Boyz. Johnson went on to work on projects like The Wood, Poetic Justice and 187. Carter has dozens of credits to her name, including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and B*A*PS*.
More vibrant streetwear styles fell out of favor for a bit as the decade drew to a close, but in recent years, bolder colors and patterns have seen a resurgence. Brands like Supreme have brought back patterned rayon. Artists like Migos and Frank Ocean often sport patterns and bold colors. Though we may never get back to the extreme color palette of the ’90s, the nostalgic influence of this era is still felt in fashion today.
Some directors, like Wes Anderson or Tom Ford, set out to create worlds that allow them to show off a particular sartorial palette. A filmmaker like Singleton, who sets out to reflect the reality of their own lived experience, can have just as big an impact on fashion. With Boyz n the Hood, Singleton didn’t present what Hollywood executives imagined people in South Central were wearing: he showed the people Crenshaw as they were. An uncompromising vision can yield amazing dramatic results, but it can also offer a glimpse into the culture that shapes an artist. In the case of Boyz n the Hood, the style that shaped the artist went on to encapsulate both time and place, simultaneously influencing the way Americans would dress for decades.