Rihanna struts through John F. Kennedy Airport looking like a sneakerhead’s kid sister instead of a Grammy-winning recording artist. Rocking shades, a loose Chloë Sevigny for Opening Ceremony top, a Trapstar cap (turned backwards) and Playoff Air Jordan 12s, the Barbados-bred singer’s attire reads tarmac trendy. Though the ensemble may not be runway-worthy by Anna Wintour’s standards, the fashion blogs are going to grade her fashion street smarts as meticulously as Joan Rivers on Fashion Police within hours.
While dressing down may be on the come-up, ladies in street wear is nothing new. In the early 1990s, singers Aaliyah and TLC were glamorizing tomboy threads, rocking baggy jeans and over-sized shirts out of personal preference. Over a decade later, starlets like the “We Found Love” singer are swapping their tight-fitting wardrobe for boyish duds, tying high-end names with it.
“People have always believed that you had to have the highest heel and the shortest skirt to be attractive but [female celebrities] are letting you know that it’s okay to have a bit of a tomboy edge and flare,” says Claire Sulmers, Editor-in-Chief of fashion site Fashion Bomb Daily. “It’s about time women should be comfortable.”
Before the recession of 2008 hit, male celebrities seemed to be the pioneers of the high-end-low-end frontier. Sean “Diddy” Combs launched his contemporary Bad Boy clothing line in 1998 that initially tailored to the men but eventually expanded to the women. Jay-Z and Dame Dash then built Rocawear, which has grossed $700 million in annual sales since its inception in 1999. The owners doubled as brand ambassadors, appearing in public with logo-tatted jeans, white tees, leather jackets and Timberlands–the upscale version of urban.
Now the women are following suit.
Online retailer Karmaloop hosts the world’s largest collection of street wear for both sexes, and recently launched MissKL.com, a ladies-only urbanwear spin-off. KL’s lifestyle marketing coordinator Heather C. White says female street garb has been prevalent in their inventory since the site’s launch in 2000. “Our buyers are a mix of hardcore street wear [and] feminine designs [with] street influences,” says White. “They love anything that’s borrowing from the boys like sneakers, varsities and snapbacks.”
A penchant for street attire may be copycat in essence, but the style choices seem more premeditated for today’s generation of femme fatales. From sky-high Christian Louboutin heels to thigh-hugging denim, women are now looking to the streets for more down-to-earth couture. “Cassie attended a Givenchy fashion show wearing a Givenchy tee, quilted leather pants and red Nike blazers–it’s phenomenal but it’s also part of her personality,” says Samia Grand-Pierre, Co-Editor of Highsnobette.
ROC star Rita Ora is another kick-back enthusiast. Even with a red pucker, bright blonde curls and soul-soothing pipes, the singer’s footwear catches more attention. “I love my sneakers,” Ora says. “I have an impressive heel collection but I can’t perform in [them].” At her MTV Unplugged taping, the “How We Do” vocalist also gave props to a fan rocking Timbaland boots, mentioning that she had recently copped a pair of her own.
The ghetto street chic isn’t exclusive to music artists, as reality television’s leading lady Kim Kardashian has been snapped up by paparazzi donning sneakers with upscale pieces. The famed entrepreneur has paired “Cement” Nike Air Jordan IIIs with romp-accentuating leather leggings and a Hermes bag while strolling through New York City. She’s grown a footwear fetish since dating rapper boyfriend Kanye West, even posting his-and-hers Yeezys on Instagram.
Though the men have forged the way for ghetto couture, the ladies are elevating it with their self-made swank. Grand-Pierre says style has fled from the catwalk and creeped into urban settings that happen to overlap with the fashion capitals of the world. “The runway gives a direction but when you look around on the streets, you might see silhouette [dresses] and skinny jeans,” she says. “Fashion has become open.”
Even if the thrifty urbanista can’t afford comma-in-the-pricetag designs, high-brow street wear makes it seamless to mix and match curated trends. The only prerequisite is a passion for fashion. Grand-Pierre adds, “It takes that woman who is edgy [and] not afraid to rock the boat that wants to make her own style, not just the look of the moment.”–Adelle Platon