The Pros and Cons of the Urban Fashion Phenomenon

The Pros and Cons of the Urban Fashion Phenomenon

There’s something bothersome about the unapologetic way the retail world appropriates hip hop culture. Stores like Forever 21, H&M, Urban Outfitters and Brandy Melville have capitalized on urban clothing and I can’t help but feel some type of way about it, especially when I see shirts like this:

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Do people know where these phrases originate? Do they really listen to the Wu-Tang Clan? The answer to both questions is probably no, but that isn’t the real issue here. Retail chains are borrowing from Black artists and exploiting hip hop culture. Below I put together a pros and cons list of the urban fashion phenomenon.


  • Retail stores have recognized that this is an important market
  • It’s become a part of popular fashion as a whole across the world for all ethnicities
  • You don’t have to wait for your favorite artist to come to town to buy merch
  • Pays homage to celebrated artists
  • The hip hop world has inspired retail fashion


  • Retail fashion takes inspiration from a culture that has been historically oppressed
  • Customers are unaware of the broader experience and history of hip hop
  • Oversimplification of complex issues as they enter the mainstream, i.e. “gangsta rap made me do it”
  • Unintentional ignorance
  • Hip hop culture isn’t a costume that you can just put on when you want to “look cool” or “fashionable” — there are decades of meaning behind that “gangsta rap made me do it shirt” or that Wu-Tang shirt.

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