Fashion, Film & TV

Costume Design in The Wire & Its Influences

I am more than late to the party on this one, but I finally watched The Wire this summer. I watched seasons 1 – 3 in a week and after that I didn’t want to do anything but watch it. I totally get why this is ranked fifth on IMDBs Top 250 TV Shows. In fact, it could be higher. As an HBO classic, it ranks up there with The Sopranos. However, the main difference to me is how well the costume department did in making it culturally relevant. The characters wore what they would actually wear and it looked authentic, but still so damn stylish.

The first season, without giving away any spoilers for anyone is even later than me to watching the show, focuses on the operations of a group of drug dealers, called the Barksdale crew, and the police who are trying to catch them. These kids, and most of them are still kids, are dressed in a way that I found so exciting to look at. They wore Sean John and Rocawear, the streetwear brands created by rappers. On top of that, they had the baggy jeans and the vests. It was straight out of an early 2000s hip-hop video, and I love that. As they made more money, they wore more expensive items. Timbs fresh out the box, DKNY sweaters, real brands that you would buy in Barneys.

D’Angelo’s closet. PS – It is damn hard to find good photos of the costumes from this show

When I was flying transatlantic a couple of months ago I watched the documentary Fresh Dressed. Ever since watching it I have been really into watching the evolution of hip-hop style. Visually it is interesting. The documentary starts back with Run DMC and moves through chronicling the different trends and brands that musicians wore and made popular. Whatever the rappers wore trickled down into the streets – their influence was immense. After watching The Wire, I started thinking again about the documentary and how the clothes translated into regular people’s wardrobes, people who would listen to the music and want to be a part of it, even if it was just through the way they dressed.

When you think of hip-hop fashion, what do you think of? There are several looks that are iconic. Think of Coogi sweaters (the colourful knits worn by Biggie Smalls); the spread of logomania – heralded, I’d say, by Dapper Dan who used to take symbols like the Louis Vuitton monogram or the Gucci logo and customise individual pieces – which reached the mainstream (not just underground fashion); the popularity of preppy brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren (you can read online about a crew who used to shoplift anything Ralph Lauren, I’m almost sure I read that people got shot over it); oversized, chunky framed Cazal glasses (to put this into context, vintage pairs are listed for hundreds of pounds on Etsy and eBay at the moment). Karl Kani. This is just the 80s and 90s.

Run DMC

When we move into 2000s and a new generation of rappers who are at the top of the game, the fashion changes. This is the fashion worn by the Barksdale crew in The Wire. They have all the cool brands. They wore the right silhouettes, their pants the right width and slung at the right place on their hips. Looking at this to me just takes me back to a music video. I love it.

The success of brands started by musicians seems very 2000s to me, but nowadays image and style is just as important to rappers as their lyrics, honestly. Think of what Kanye West is doing. He is now more than just a rapper. Yeezys are some of the most coveted shoes. People actually buy his Adidas line. His tour merchandise is worn by people who, lets be honest, aren’t even big fans. Somehow I think of his line as a different category than Diddy’s line, but really what is the difference? The price? Diddy always aimed high end with his pricing, as does Kanye (regardless of what he may say on Twitter). I’m not sure. Think again of another Roc Nation artist, Vic Mensa, who is also known for his style – sort of mini-Kanye/Urban Outfitters/cool guy. Then there’s ASAP Rocky who has even been in Vogue and has a penchant for Raf Simons.

Kanye & his protege Vic Mensa

If The Wire was made again today, would the cast be dressed like Kanye? Like Rocky? Or someone entirely different?

For further content:

How Rappers Became the Most Important Fashion Ambassadors” – Complex, August 2016

Fresh Dressed” – 2015

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